Spectrum Postgraduate Conference

Spectrum 1

On Wednesday the 20th July 2016, a cohort of MA Literature and Culture students hosted the first postgraduate conference to celebrate the interdisciplinary research being undertaken within the department. ‘Spectrum’ brought together students studying across a huge variety of research fields and time periods, ranging from Old Norse romance all the way to contemporary cinematic novels. ‘Spectrum’ took place at the historic Winterbourne House and Gardens, allowing for a very comfy and relaxing atmosphere looking out onto the beautiful vistas of the house’s impeccable gardens.

IMG_4814Winterbourne House

For many of the speakers, ‘Spectrum’ was the first conference they had taken part in – but was an extremely useful platform for developing ideas which will be central to dissertations and other future research. The day was a great success, and allowed students to share and communicate ideas with one another.

Spectrum 2

During initial discussions for the conference, the ‘Spectrum’ committee had originally intended to formulate an event based upon one central theme. However, it became clear when reviewing the eclectic set of abstracts which were submitted, that there really could be no one uniting theme. The committee thus felt that the aspect to be most celebrated was the absolute diversity of research being undertaken; that under the umbrella of one postgraduate literature course, not one person’s research topic was by any means similar to another’s. The central aspect of the conference thus became ‘interdisciplinarity’. ‘Interdisciplinarity’ is central to humanities research, making for a very rich, exciting and ever evolving set of academic disciplines – although the term caused a few hiccups during papers (in numerous attempts to say it without blunder, which proved to be difficult…).

‘Spectrum’ were honoured to welcome Professor Catherine Belsey as the guest speaker for the day. Professor Catherine Belsey is a hugely influential scholar and inspirational speaker. She is a Fellow of the English Association and a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales and has published a number of significant texts on the nature of literary criticism. Her writings encompass interests from cereal packets to Shakespeare and she examines obscure theoretical positions with lucidity and humour. Belsey has consistently promoted innovation in literary criticism; her publications include Critical Practice (1980), The Subject of Tragedy (1985), Culture and the Real (2005) as well as four books on Shakespeare and one on Milton.

Spectrum 3Professor Catherine Belsey

Belsey’s talk outlined the vast trajectory of approaches to literature over the years, considering the ways in which literary scholars are able to provide and apply a unique set of skills both within and outside academia. Catherine’s inspirational talk placed ‘interdisciplinarity’ at the forefront of literary enquiry and innovation in wider cultural studies.

The day was organised around four central panels: ‘Drama and its Critics’, ‘Literature & Science’, ‘Modernism’ and ‘Contemporary Media’, each containing 2-5 papers followed by audience questions and discussion. The papers included a huge range of topics, including power and reciprocation in Shakespeare’s plays, new Russian drama, seventeenth-century biography, narratives of mental illness, modernism and the popular press, film studies and virtual reality – to name but a few!

However, after judging both abstracts and presentations collectively, MA convenor Dr Matt Hayler announced Kit Richards’ paper ‘“Size Matters”: Reading Disability in Old Norse romance’ to be the winner of a £50 amazon voucher. As well as illustrating a range of nuanced readings of medieval works, Kit also demonstrated an immense ability to speak in Old Norse dialect, too!

IMG_4807Kit Richards

Not only was the day a great success, but it allowed students based at both the Birmingham campus and Shakespeare institute to broaden ideas and gain invaluable experience of writing papers and partaking in an academic conference. The committee were hugely proud of the day – and hope that ‘Spectrum’ will encourage future conferences for both undergraduate and postgraduate students in the department.

You can find out more about the day on the Spectrum twitter account: @SpectrumPGConf.


BBC Digital Cities Workshops: Survive The Future

On Thursday 17th March, four students from the MA in Film and Television: Research and Production attended workshops at BBC Birmingham as part of Digital Cities Week to pick the brains of broadcast industry insiders and participate in practical training with digital tools. In this post, Elena Tang and Yang Zhang share their reflections on digital storytelling, using new technologies to produce innovative content, and trying their hands at being weather presenters.

We were welcomed to the Mailbox with a 3D goggles show-zone and offered a chance to get immersed in this new interactive way to engage in previously 2D television programmes. After registering, , we were led upstairs and through labyrinth-like alleys and finally arrived at the BBC Academy space where the workshops were mainly held.


Digital Storytelling

The first session was hosted by writer Elaine Wilson. She explained how digital storytelling is different and what types of stories you can tell online. With the development of technology, the way to tell a story has changed dramatically and it is obvious that many people prefer accessing content through mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices rather than books and newspapers. Thus, digital platforms play a significant role in filmmaking and television production. After a brief introduction to the core points for a good story, Elaine suggested ways to take full advantage of social media in storytelling. Examples of short form vloggers like ‘MinutePhysics’ were also shown to demonstrate how effectively this type of content works.

We learned that a good character in a story should have a clear goal and motivation, being recognizable while having their own flaws and strengths. Critical elements of a story include consistency and consequence: what happens if the characters succeed or fail. During an activity we were divided into groups of four and given a nursery rhyme to adapt into stories to be told in digital forms. Everyone’s ideas seemed so unique and innovative, and it was great to see that people’s creativity could be ignited through simple inspirations like the owl and the pussy-cat falling in love with each other.

Next, in order to put the idea into practice, we were tasked with making a 10-second short film using Vine in a limited time. We grabbed the chance to make creative videos in small groups, and all videos produced were posted onto the big screen so everyone gets to see what the other groups had made: some hilarious, some very artistic, and many with innovative twists. The fun and relaxed activity helped us learn the art of digital platforms and see how swiftly a piece can be produced.


Hands-on Technology

During the lunch break we explored the BBC Public Space where we were able to try working as an anchor on either a weather forecast, the news or a natural history program. Reading the autocue was quite a challenge, but it was fun to see ourselves on screen on the hunt for polar bears or predicting rain, and we got a better understanding of how a presenter works.


In the afternoon session, we attended different workshops in smaller groups and tried making short form content with infographics, photos and audio using iPad and mobile apps like ‘Splice’ and Pictophile Pro. We got to experience digital content including Pint-sized Ashes for BBC Radio 5 Live facilities including green screen, 360º video and VR headset, all within 10 minute workshops.

The intense but fun workshops showed us how interesting and seemingly complex digital content can be produced in a short period of time with limited resources and on a small budget, especially using simple mobile apps. The future of creative media is indeed in the hands of everyone.

Elena Tang and Yang Zhang

Have a look at ‘Digital Storytelling: Filmmaking for the Web’, a free online course from The University of Birmingham, BBC Academy and FutureLearn.

This post originally appeared on the FTV Birmingham blog. Many thanks to Elena and Yang for allowing us to repost it here.

The British Graduate Shakespeare Conference

My name is Ella Hawkins, and I’m currently completing an MA in Shakespeare and Theatre at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute. During the course of my studies, I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with one of the most important events in the Shakespeare and Renaissance scholarship calendar: I was Chair of BritGrad 2016!

The British Graduate Shakespeare Conference – ‘BritGrad’, for short – has been an annual event at the Shakespeare Institute since 1999. The conference is run by students, for students, and gives postgraduates from all over the world an opportunity to share their research in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.

1Professor John Jowett giving the opening plenary presentation of BritGrad 2016 in the Shakespeare Institute’s lecture hall

This year’s BritGrad took place over three action-packed days. 92 delegates and 8 plenary speakers came together for a programme of 24 student panels and 8 plenary presentations. Some had travelled from China, Italy, the USA, or elsewhere in the UK; others were past or present students at the Shakespeare Institute. A huge range of topics were covered during the course of the conference. We heard about the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in relation to textual editing, queer theory, music, adaptation, stage design, early modern playing places, ecocriticism, rhetoric, and much more. While BritGrad frequently features a diverse and exciting programme, this year was particularly special. 2016 marks a number of significant anniversaries – the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare and of the publication of Ben Jonson’s first folio, to name just two – and this was reflected in the content of the conference.

2A student panel at BritGrad 2016

The plenary presentations were a real highlight of the conference programme. Eminent academics, early career researchers, and professional theatre practitioners gave us an insight into projects and debates they’re currently involved with, and fascinating conversations emerged from the Q&A sections of each session. This year’s lineup of plenary speakers was Prof. John Jowett (Shakespeare Institute), Dr Eoin Price (Swansea University), Dr Sarah Dustagheer (University of Kent), Dr Emma Whipday (Kings College London), Dr Stephen Purcell (University of Warwick), Ms Erica Whyman OBE (Royal Shakespeare Company), Dr Patrick Gray (Durham University), and Dr Harry Newman (Royal Holloway, University of London).

3A coffee break in the conservatory

Ideas were exchanged over lunch and coffee, and the conference included a programme of social events in Stratford-upon-Avon. Delegates attended Hamlet at the RSC (directed by Simon Godwin and starring Paapa Essiedu), a party at the RSC’s newly-opened Other Place studio theatre, and closing drinks at the same venue. Inflatable selfie props and a live folk band provided the perfect opportunity for party-goers to let their hair down mid-way through the event!

4BritGrad’s Secretary, Chair (me!), and IT volunteer enjoying the party at The Other Place

Between November 2015 and June 2016, I worked with a committee of ten fabulous fellow Shakespeare Institute students to organise this international event. It took a lot of planning! We met regularly and worked through a long list of tasks. Who would we invite to be plenary speakers? How would we advertise the event, and which papers should we accept to be presented at the conference? What should we do about catering for the event, how could we sort 72 papers into an interesting and well-organised programme, and – very importantly – where would the party take place? Spreadsheets, to-do lists, and Google Drive quickly became our close friends.

5(Most of) the 2016 BritGrad Committee posing with a lot of RSC tickets!

During the conference itself, committee-members all had specific tasks to complete. We chaired student panels and plenary sessions, collected food from our catering supplier, live-tweeted, provided tech support, managed the registration desk, and more. Some of us even presented papers of our own! A team of extra volunteers helped the event run as smoothly as possible, and a colour-coded committee schedule made sure that everyone was in the right place at the right time.

6The committee schedule for one of the three days of the conference. Who doesn’t love a good spreadsheet?

Organising and attending BritGrad has been a real highlight of my time at the Shakespeare Institute so far. It’s been wonderful to work alongside such a fantastic team; planning an event of this scale with them has been a hugely rewarding experience. I’ve had the opportunity to meet like-minded people at various stages of their academic career, to learn all about the exciting research currently under way in my field, and to be a part of such a well-loved fixture of the Shakespeare Institute and the wider academic community beyond.

For more information, find BritGrad on twitter (@britgrad), facebook, or the web.

Ella Hawkins is a full-time student in the MA Shakespeare and Theatre at the Shakespeare Institute.