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.
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.
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.
Professor 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!
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.