Berlinale International Film Festival: Top Tips for Attending

This blog post is written by Courtney Harmstone, a recent graduate of the MA International Film Business. Since graduating, Courtney has worked in freelance production on a variety of projects in London and across the U.K.  Courtney is currently assisting the University of Exeter as a Marketing Assistant and working on the development of two feature films.

Berlinale International Film Festival is one of the world’s largest and most respected film festivals and film markets.  The festival takes place in February, in Berlin, Germany, and attracts over 16,000 industry professionals from 122 countries. What is the difference between Berlinale and your local festival?  Berlinale is a film festival that hosts world premieres of feature films and is also the hub of business at the European Film Market.  The European Film Market, EFM, attracts exhibitors and professionals from across the globe, and is hosted in the Martin Gropius Bau building close to the festival hub of Potsdamer Platz.

Students on our MA International Film Business take a field trip to the Berlinale in the second term of the programme. This blog entry will discuss the dos and don’ts of Berlinale, and provides some top tips on how to navigate your way around a Class A film festival!  As an MAIFB alumna, and having also attended the festival twice, here are my tips!

Categories:

  1. Accommodation and Travel around Berlin
  2. How to see Films at Berlinale
  3. Exploring the Martin Gropius Bau, European Film Market
  4. Networking 101
  5. The buddy system!
  6. Dress code
  7. Best way to get access: Never Say No to a Party
  8. What to Carry at all Times During Berlinale
  9. The Marriott or the Ritz: Fancy and Warm!
  10. Most importantly – how to relax!

 Accommodation and Travel:

Berlin is not a huge city, but it can be complicated if you have never been to Germany before this field trip.  When looking for a place to stay, try to secure a hotel room or Airbnb close to Potsdamer Platz.  This is the hub of the festival and you will not need to worry about transportation to the festival or classes during the field trip if you are close by.

Bear in mind, these hotels and Airbnbs are sought after and are often booked quickly.  Do not wait too long to book, or you may end up staying quite far away!

If you can’t afford or miss your chance to stay around Potsdamer, then try to stay close to the U Bahn – an extremely reliable and well maintained subway.  Purchase the metro pass for a week – it’s only 20 euros.  The U Bahn also runs 24 hours a day over the weekends!

On the U Bahn, unlike London, there are no barriers where you put your ticket through, and so it can be easy to forget to purchase a pass.  There are ticket booths as you enter every U Bahn and you can change the language easily.  Be warned: they will charge you 60 euros if you do not have a valid ticket, so do not forget to purchase one before boarding!

 

How to see films at Berlinale:

Berlinale is one the premiere festivals for a reason – the films screened go on to major success and critical acclaim, and the tickets are sought after.  During the festival, you will notice a few films that generate a lot of “buzz”. Keep an eye out in Screen International Daily to catch the top films from the day before.

Berlinale has a strict ticket policy. You need to be prepared, with a huge list of films, for when you attempt to purchase tickets.  You will most likely not get to see your top choice of films.  The challenge with ticketing is they are on sale three days for films in Berlinale and four days for competition.  You will need to queue three hours before the sale in the Arkaden (a shopping mall where you find the ticket booths).  Be prepared, be flexible and make a list of top priority films. If your top film is sold out, have a backup at the desk!

 

Exploring the Martin Gropius Bau, European Film Market:

The Martin Gropius Bau (MGB) building is a catacomb of industry professionals, from sales agents, to film commissioners promoting their tax incentives.  When you first arrive, is can be extremely overwhelming. It is a fury of activity, with people on their phones, ordering a quick coffee at the coffee stand, and rushing with huge folders to their next meetings.  The best thing to do is to take a step back and breathe.  You do not need to conquer the MGB in one day!

My advice?  Take a look at the floor map. Learn where the commissioners or sales agencies you are interested in are located and make your way through each room and check out their booths.  Moreover, if you find your home country commission, that can be the first step to meeting and networking with people at the festival.

Keep in mind, the first few days of the market are the busiest, so best to find the companies you want to approach and then wait until the Monday or Tuesday of the festival to approach the desk.

As students, it can be intimidating to approach the film commissioners – what do you say, how do you talk to them?

TOP TIP: when you approach the film commission, ask for information on their tax incentive programs or how they help independent producers in their country.  This opens up a discussion about what they can offer, and then you can drop in that you’re a student and want to learn more!

TOP TIP 2: If they’re rude about you being a student, don’t worry. Usually this is because the first few days of the festival are extremely busy.  If you want to speak to a stand, wait until Monday, when the business is mostly completed.

 

Networking 101:

The festival is extremely busy and most people attending will only be around for three days (the first weekend).  Don’t let this discourage you from approaching industry members, but also don’t be offended if they can’t meet.

TOP TIP: Ask them for their business card and ask if you can email them after the festival.  This not only shows you respect that they are extremely busy and working, but also when you do email, that you follow through.

TOP TIP 2: Order business cards for the festival.  Put your name, your phone number and email.  You don’t need to put a title, but if you want to have one, put “Filmmaker”.  Moo.co.uk is a great resource for inexpensive business cards.

 

The Buddy System:

 Choosing one person to travel through the market with you not only gives you flexibility of movement, but also a safety net, if you feel nervous.  The best way to make connections is to be confident and speak to people.  If it is just two of you, you can really target the stalls you want to visit and spend the maximum time at them.  If you are in a large group, it can be difficult if you are in a huge group.  Moreover, if you are in a huge group, you may overwhelm the industry member.  While there are some bigger stalls, most of them are rather small and intimate!

 

Dress Code:

While this could seem superfluous, it can complicated to know how to dress for a festival.  While Sundance is generally après Ski (after ski, so lots of cute sweaters and warm boots), and Cannes is very glamorous, Berlinale is very much a “dark colour” festival. Black coats, black shoes, black shirts or dresses.  I would describe Berlinale dress code as “business casual”. Maybe a suit jacket for men, but no tie.

TOP TIP: Dress to impress, but don’t overdo it.  You want to look smart, not flashy.  Would you feel confident in someone who doesn’t present themselves well? You don’t have to have a beauty stylist on the side, but try to look nice and polished.

 

Best Way to Get Access: Never Say No to a Party:

If you get invited, definitely go. This is very important. Parties are where you make the best connections; people are calm, not running around, and almost all will have had a drink or two.  If you want to talk to an industry professional and they too busy during the day, try to catch them at an event.

That being said, always hang out at the MGB for happy hours (you don’t need to drink alcohol). These happy hours are hosted by different film commissioners and they are great opportunities to meet and mingle with people who can maybe help you in the future.  Plus, you never know who you’re going to meet! Be friendly, open and don’t be shy – everyone knows what it’s like to attend a market for the first time. If they’re rude, then they’re not worth talking to – usually these types of people won’t have anything to offer you anyway.

 

What to carry at all times during Berlinale:

Berlinale festival locations are strict with the size of bags you can bring into the buildings.  The festival provides a bag when you pick up your accreditation – my recommendation is to use this bag to carry your papers, magazines, and wallet throughout the festival. They are usually quite stylish and the right size!

Never leave your badge/accreditation at home.  While it may seem silly, the festival is extremely strict with entry. No badge, no entry.

 

The Marriott or the Ritz: Fancy and Warm!

Need a break from the hustle and bustle of the MGB or the market?  Take a break at either the Ritz Carlton Hotel lobby or the Marriott.  Order a fancy coffee (albeit, an overpriced one), sit down and observe. The Marriott and the Ritz are festival locations, with business meetings and interesting people hanging around.  Grab a seat, listen to conversations around you and offer up your surrounding seats. Again, you never know who you’re going to meet!

 

Have fun!

My most crucial and final tip!  Have fun. Relax. You are students exploring a market, most likely for the first time!  Have goals in mind for the future, but do not stress yourself trying to achieve these goals. You are here to learn and experience.   My main suggestion is to take your time, get to know people, make contacts, and then build the relationship over the time until you turn in your dissertation. Then hit them hard with what you want!

Written by Courtney Harmstone, alumni of the MAIFB and Film Producer

Oscar Wilde would have been on Grindr – but he preferred a more clandestine connection

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. This article was written by Jack Sargent, PhD student in History. 

It has never been so easy to find love, or sex, quickly. In 2017, there is nothing shameful or illicit about using dating apps or digital tools to connect with someone else. More than 100 years ago, of course, things were very different.

Oscar Wilde and other men and women who, like him, desired same-sex relationships, had to resort to attending secret parties to meet potential partners. The idea that it would become normal to meet and flirt with an ever changing group of strangers, sending explicit pictures or a few cheeky sentences on a device you hold in your hand, would have amused the writer. The openness about conducting such relationships would have amazed him.

But would Oscar Wilde have enjoyed the most famous gay dating app, Grindr, and the way it has contributed to gay culture? We know he would probably have welcomed the fact that gay men and women could easily meet new sexual partners. In the late-Victorian period, Wilde’s membership of clandestine homoerotic networks of clubs and societies, was far more furtive. They were gatherings of forbidden passions and desires, shrouded in secrecy.

Wilde loved being part of this underground community. He adored being with crowds of immaculately dressed people in beautiful rooms. He believed the most important goal in life was to experience emotion and sensuality, to have intense connections and embrace beauty.

This belief came from his involvement in a movement called Aestheticism. Late-Victorian aesthetes proposed that beauty and sensation were the keys to an individual’s authentic experience of life. They argued that beauty and connections with beauty should be pursued even at the expense of conventional systems of morality, and what society considered right or wrong. For Wilde, this meant he thought about whether it was aesthetically – not morally – right to sleep with someone.

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 and died in Paris in 1900, a few years after his release from jail for “gross indecency” with other men. Before his imprisonment, Wilde was (I think almost uniquely) shockingly positive and active about his desire for other men. This was a time when same-sex desire and intercourse was illegal, seen as illicit and monstrous – an abhorrent illness which should be exercised from Christian culture.

Wilde met and slept with many other men, continuing relationships for years, months, weeks, or maybe even only a night, before effectively dropping them and moving on. Is this so different to how gay relationships are conducted now?

Every part of gay culture today stems from the way that Wilde and the group of men he mixed with lived their lives. Their philosophy that they should have their own dedicated spaces to meet still stands. At first they evolved into gay bars and clubs. Now those physical spaces are closing as members of the gay community go online to meet each other.


The importance of being on Grindr. Shutterstock

Grindr, now eight years old, allows people to make connections, if they like the look of someone’s body. It is the same type of connection that Wilde was interested in, but it doesn’t give people the intense, sensual involvement with another human being he was looking for. You might see someone you like on Grindr, but there is no promise they will respond to your message. Downloading and using the app doesn’t automatically make you part of a network of people that are thinking and feeling intense emotional sensations. Wilde, at his parties and gatherings, taking risks and breaking the law, must have felt part of a group who came together to all feel something special and exciting.

This excitement was not only to do with the illegal nature of the acts undertaken in secret. It had something to do with the vibrancy and sensuality offered by being in a particular place, engaging sensually and physically with other people, reading them for signs of interest, right down to the smallest gesture.

Digital declarations

This is not possible on Grindr. Grindr offers instead a potentially unlimited amount of possible connections, but connections which are digital, not physical. Once downloaded, the app offers a digital network of people that can be loaded and reloaded with a simple swipe of the screen. The continual possibility of meeting someone different or better means that users don’t necessarily need to commit to connecting. It seems we are in danger of creating a generation of potentially disconnected individuals, who rather than going to a gay bar, choose to spend the night in, waiting for a stranger to send them a message.

Had he been able to, Wilde would have downloaded Grindr, of that I think we can be certain. Would he have liked it? Well, he may have found some beauty in the technology and the freedom it represents. And perhaps, sometimes, he would have enjoyed the novelty.

But he would probably have preferred the clubs, societies and networks he engaged with during the late 1800s. For while they did not promise successful or happy encounters, they did foster physical relationships between men within spaces of affirmation, liberation and fulfilment. And although Grindr also offers the chance for casual sex, I think late Victorian gay men would have been saddened by the lack of opportunity for their counterparts today to connect emotionally with others.

Being lovesick was a real disease in the Middle Ages

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. The piece was written by Laura Kalas Williams, Postdoctoral Researcher in Medieval Literature and Medicine at Exeter. 

Love sure does hurt, as the Everly Brothers knew very well. And while it is often romanticised or made sentimental, the brutal reality is that many of us experience fairly unpleasant symptoms when in the throes of love. Nausea, desperation, a racing heart, a loss of appetite, an inability to sleep, a maudlin mood – sound familiar?

Today, research into the science of love recognises the way in which the neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenalin and serotonin in the brain cause the often-unpleasant physical symptoms that people experience when they are in love. A study in 2005 concluded that romantic love was a motivation or goal-orientated state that leads to emotions or sensations like euphoria or anxiety.

But the connection between love and physical affliction was made long ago. In medieval medicine, the body and soul were closely intertwined – the body, it was thought, could reflect the state of the soul.

Humoral imbalance

Text and tabular of humours and fevers, according to Galen, c.1420. In MS 49 Wellcome Apocalypse, f.43r. Wellcome Library

Medical ideas in the Middle Ages were based on the doctrine of the four bodily humours: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. In a perfectly healthy person, all four were thought to be perfectly balanced, so illness was believed to be caused by disturbances to this balance.

Such ideas were based on the ancient medical texts of physicians like Galen, who developed a system of temperaments which associated a person’s predominant humour with their character traits. The melancholic person, for example, was dominated by the humour of black bile, and considered to have a cold and dry constitution.

And as my own research has shown, people with a melancholic disposition were thought, in the Middle Ages, to be more likely to suffer from lovesickness.

The 11th-century physician and monk, Constantine the African, translated a treatise on melancholia which was popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. He made clear the connection between an excess of the black bile of melancholy in the body, and lovesickness:

The love that is also called ‘eros’ is a disease touching the brain … Sometimes the cause of this love is an intense natural need to expel a great excess of humours … this illness causes thoughts and worries as the afflicted person seeks to find and possess what they desire.

Curing unrequited love

Towards the end of the 12th century, the physician Gerard of Berry wrote a commentary on this text, adding that the lovesick sufferer becomes fixated on an object of beauty and desire because of an imbalanced constitution. This fixation, he wrote, causes further coldness, which perpetuates melancholia.

Whoever is the object of desire – and in the case of medieval religious women, the beloved was often Christ – the unattainability or loss of that object was a trauma which, for the medieval melancholic, was difficult to relieve.

But since the condition of melancholic lovesickness was considered to be so deeply rooted, medical treatments did exist. They included exposure to light, gardens, calm and rest, inhalations, and warm baths with moistening plants such as water lilies and violets. A diet of lamb, lettuce, eggs, fish, and ripe fruit was recommended, and the root of hellebore was employed from the days of Hippocrates as a cure. The excessive black bile of melancholia was treated with purgatives, laxatives and phlebotomy (blood-letting), to rebalance the humours.


Blood-letting in Aldobrandino of Siena’s ‘Régime du Corps’. British Library, MS Sloane 2435, f.11v. France, late 13thC. Wikimedia Commons

Tales of woe

It is little wonder, then, that the literature of medieval Europe contains frequent medical references in relation to the thorny issue of love and longing. Characters sick with mourning proliferate the poetry of the Middle Ages.

The grieving Black Knight in Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess mourns his lost beloved with infinite pain and no hope of a cure:

This ys my peyne wythoute red (remedy),
Alway deynge and be not ded.

In Marie de France’s 12th-century Les Deus Amanz, a young man dies of exhaustion when attempting to win the hand of his beloved, who then dies of grief herself. Even in life, their secret love is described as causing them “suffering”, and that their “love was a great affliction”. And in the anonymous Pearl poem, a father, mourning the loss of his daughter, or “perle”, is wounded by the loss: “I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere” (I languish, wounded by unrequited love).


The lover and the priest in the ‘Confessio Amantis’, early 15th century. MS Bodl. 294, f.9r. Bodleian Library, Oxford University

The entirety of John Gower’s 14th-century poem, Confessio Amantis (The Lover’s Confession), is framed around a melancholic lover who complains to Venus and Cupid that he is sick with love to the point that he desires death, and requires a medicine (which he has yet to find) to be cured.

The lover in Confessio Amantis does, finally, receive a cure from Venus. Seeing his dire condition, she produces a cold “oignement” and anoints his “wounded herte”, his temples, and his kidneys. Through this medicinal treatment, the “fyri peine” (fiery pain) of his love is dampened, and he is cured.

The medicalisation of love has perpetuated, as the sciences of neurobiology and evolutionary biology show today. In 1621, Robert Burton published the weighty tome The Anatomy of Melancholy. And Freud developed similar ideas in the early 20th century, in the book Mourning and Melancholia. The problem of the conflicted human heart clearly runs deep.

So if the pain of love is piercing your heart, you could always give some of these medieval cures a try.

Children have long been unfairly hit by US presidential executive orders

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. This piece was written by Rachel Pistol, Associate Research Fellow (History). 

Around 75 years ago, in February 1942, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced relocation and internment of more than 110,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry. The majority of them were American citizens, and a large proportion were children.

But unlike President Trump’s 2017 executive order to halt immigration and ban refugees from American soil, Roosevelt’s sweeping political move did not provoke any protest or dissent. Both presidents had mentioned the notion of “national security’ in their orders, and both decrees were said to be aimed at specific national groups. So is President Trump merely copying the policy of one of his more popular predecessors?

From the moment the US entered World War II in late 1941, all “enemy aliens” living in America – German, Austrian, Italian, and Japanese – were subject to restrictions on their freedom. These included the imposition of curfews and a ban on owning radios. So the real significance of EO9066, as it is known, was that it authorised the detention not just of enemy aliens, but also of American citizens. In theory, any American citizen could be relocated by order of the military.

But EO9066 was created for a particular purpose, which was to enable the internment of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of America. It also made it possible for further orders to be authorised, such as Civilian Exclusion Order No.79, which ordered that “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien” be excluded from a portion of the West Coast.


Japanese American children pledging allegiance in California, 1942. US Library of Congress

Yet one of the most striking things about EO9066 is that, unlike Trump’s executive order, it does not once talk about nationality. Instead, Roosevelt gave military commanders the right to “prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate military commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded”.


Roosevelt declares war against Japan.National Archives and Records Administration

The creation of protected military areas during times of war is not unusual, and makes sense for security reasons. However, usually these zones surround military installations and coastal areas where the threat of invasion is greatest. In the case of the US during World War II, the whole of the West Coast was designated a military protected area. The most likely place for invasion, however, was the only place on American soil that had already been attacked – Hawaii.

About 40% of the population of Hawaii was of Japanese descent, as opposed to the West Coast, where they made up just over 1%. The military knew that Hawaii could not function if all the Japanese people were removed, and therefore decided to impose martial law. Individuals (usually men) considered the greatest threat to national security were arrested and interned, while the rest of their families were able to live at liberty.

The military’s decision to selectively intern on Hawaii was backed up by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, who was quoted as saying: “This evacuation isn’t necessary; I’ve already got all the bad boys.”

Currently, any immigrant or refugee who is given entry to the US goes through a stringent vetting procedure. This is partly why, according to American think tank the Cato Institute, no refugees have been involved in terrorist attacks on US soil since the Refugee Act of 1980. It is also worth noting that those behind major terrorist attacks in the US have mostly been born in America, or were permanent legal residents from countries not covered by Trump’s ban.

Land of the free?

But perhaps the greatest similarity between Roosevelt’s and Trump’s orders is how American-born children are affected. Half of those interned under EO966 during World War II were American-born minors. Some have said this was inevitable because of the decision to intern both Japanese parents in the continental US. However, not all German, Austrian, or Italian mothers were interned, which meant that not all of their children were taken to camps.

In some cases, German-American children were left without care when both their father and mother were arrested. In other cases, families could “voluntarily” request to join husbands and fathers interned. There was no choice for Japanese-Americans. In other allied countries such as Great Britain, most enemy alien women were allowed to remain at liberty, along with their children. In the US, the children were considered as much of a threat as their foreign born parents, leading to the internment of entire family units.

This seems to still be the case today, as demonstrated by the fact that an American five-year-old boy was detained for more than four hours as a result of Trump’s immigration order because his mother was Iranian. Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, defended the decision because “to assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong”.

American-born children, therefore, are still considered dangerous, but only, it seems, if they are born to non-white immigrant parents. For others born in the US their rights appear to remain linked to the country of their parents’ birth. Just as in 1942, the promise of “liberty and justice for all” still does not to apply to all American citizens.

The busy Romans needed a mid-winter break too … and it lasted for 24 days

This was originally appeared on The Conversation and is written by Dr Richard Flowers, Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter.

In the Doctor Who Christmas Special from 2010, Michael Gambon’s Scrooge-like character remarks that across different cultures and worlds people come together to mark the midpoint of winter. It is, he imagines, as if they are saying: “Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark!”

The actual reasons for celebrating Christmas at this particular time in the year have long been debated. Links have often been drawn to the winter solstice and the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Some people have also associated it with the supposed birthday of the god Sol Invictus, the “unconquered sun”, since a fourth-century calendar describes both this and Christ’s birth as taking place on December 25.

Such speculation has inevitably led to claims that this traditionally Christian festival is little more than a rebranding of earlier pagan activities. But questions about the “religious identity” of public celebrations are, in fact, nothing new and were being asked in the later periods of the Roman empire as well.

This is particularly evident in the case of a rather obscure Roman festival called the Brumalia, which started on November 24 and lasted for 24 days. We cannot be sure exactly when it began to be celebrated, but one of our best accounts of it comes from the sixth century AD. A retired public official called John the Lydian explained that it had its origins in earlier pagan rites from this time of year, including Saturnalia.

Some people celebrated Brumalia by sacrificing goats and pigs, while devotees of the god Dionysus inflated goat skins and then jumped on them. We also believe that each day of the festival was assigned a different letter of the Greek alphabet, starting with alpha (α) on November 24 and finishing with omega (ω) on December 17.

A person would wait until the day that corresponded to the first letter of their own name and then throw a party. This meant that those with a wide circle of friends – and, in particular, friends with a wide variety of names – might potentially get to go to 24 consecutive celebrations.

We also have other evidence for the popularity of the Brumalia during the sixth century. A speech by the orator Choricius of Gaza praises the festivities laid on by the emperor Justinian (527–565), remarking that the emperor and his wife, Theodora, celebrated the Brumalia on adjacent days, since the letter iota (ι) – for Justinian – directly follows theta (θ) – for Theodora – in the Greek alphabet. Surviving accounts from the cellars of a large estate in Egypt also detail the wine distributions to officials and servants for the Brumalia of the master, Apion, which fell on the first day of the festival.

Yet, the origins of the Brumalia are far from clear. It seems to have been related to the earlier Roman Bruma festival, which took place on a single day in November and looked ahead to the winter solstice (or bruma in Latin) a month later, but little is known about this.

It is only really from the sixth century onwards that it appears in surviving sources, even though by then most Romans were Christians and had been ruled by Christian emperors for more than two centuries. John the Lydian also states that the “name day” aspect of the celebrations was a recent innovation at this time. As far as we can tell, therefore, this was not merely a remnant from a distant pagan past, but had actually developed and grown at precisely the same time as emperors, including Justinian, were endeavouring to clamp down on perceived “paganism” in their empire.

The historian Roberta Mazza, in one of the most comprehensive modern discussions of the festival, has argued that the Brumalia was simply too popular to get rid of entirely, but that Justinian sought to strip it of “pagan” elements. She says that in doing so, the emperor “reshaped and reinvented the meanings and purposes of the feast” and made it “both acceptable from a religious point of view and useful for constructing a common cultural identity throughout the different provinces of the empire”.

The true meaning of Brumalia

We know that the Brumalia continued to be celebrated at the imperial court in Constantinople until at least the tenth century, but it was certainly not without its opponents. John the Lydian reports that the church was opposed to the Brumalia, and similar statements of disapproval and attempts to ban it were also made by church councils in 692 and 743. For some Christians, it remained just too pagan for comfort. Controversy also surrounded other celebrations in late antiquity, including the wearing of masks at New Year, the Roman Lupercalia (with its naked runners), and the processions and dancing involved in the “Bean Festival” at Calama in North Africa.

How then should we view the Brumalia? Was it still essentially “pagan”, or had it become safely Christianised or secularised? I think that any attempt to neatly categorise these festivals, let alone their participants, is destined to fail. For some people, the religious elements will have loomed larger, while for others they will have been almost entirely irrelevant, as also happens with Christmas today.

The Brumalia could be celebrated in a variety of ways and have a multitude of meanings to different people throughout the empire, even if all of them saw themselves as Christians. Rather than arguing that Justinian or others who enjoyed the Brumalia were “less Christian” than its opponents, we might instead treat it as a vivid illustration of the fluidity and malleability of notions of culture and identity.

We cannot ever discover the true meaning of Brumalia, but we can be sure that it brought people together to commemorate being halfway out of the dark.

Social Media, Outreach, and Your Thesis

Ever wondered about the benefits of social media and public outreach for your thesis? Matt Knight presents some of his experiences and why he thinks everyone should be trying it.

It’s been hectic few weeks in which I have inadvertently immersed myself in the world of public engagement, outreach, social media, and everything in between. Two years ago I would have had no idea what I was doing – for the most part I still don’t! But I thought I’d try and tie some of my incessant thoughts together about why I’ve bothered trying to engage with the complexities of social media and general public outreach and its overall benefit to me and my thesis.

To give you some background, I’ve been using social media (Twitter and Facebook mainly) and blogging about my research since I started my PhD two years ago. It started as a way to help my mum understand what I do (a problem I think most us have encountered!), while also giving me an avenue for processing some of my thoughts in an informal environment, without the fear of academic persecution that comes with a conference. I coupled this with helping out on the odd public engagement gig.

It’s safe to say this has steamrolled somewhat, as four weeks ago I found myself sat in a conference workshop dedicated entirely to Social Media and its benefits for research, and two weeks ago I was one of four on a communications and networking panel for Exeter’s Doctoral College to offer information and advice on communicating their research. This has been intermitted with a presentation of my semi-scientific archaeological research to artists, as well as educating a class of 10/11 year olds, alongside teaching undergrads. To top it all off, last weekend, I inadvertently became the social media secretary of a national archaeological group.

presenting to primary school kids

– A picture of me nervously stood in front a class of 10 year olds!

As you read this, please be aware, I don’t consider myself an expert in this field whatsoever. I have 300+ followers on Twitter, 230ish on Facebook, 40ish followers on my blog and minimal training in public engagement – these are not impressive facts and figures. Much of what I’ve done is self-taught and there are much better qualified people who could be writing a post such as this. And yet, I want to make clear that the opportunities, experiences, and engagements I’ve had are beyond anything I could have hoped for.

alifeinfragments facebook page

– A screenshot of the Facebook page I established to promote my research

A lot of this stems from the belief that there is no point doing what I do – what many of you reading this also do – if no one knows or cares about it. From the beginning of undertaking my PhD, I knew I wanted to make my research relevant. For an archaeologist, or indeed, any arts and humanities student, this can be difficult. Every day can be a battle with the ultimate question plaguing many of us:

What’s the point?

Social media and general outreach events are a great way to get to grips with this and have certainly kept me sane on more than one occasion. Last year I participated in the University’s Community Day, in which members of the public were able to attend and see the ongoing research at what is such an inherent part of their city. That day was one of the most exhausting and exhilarating days of my PhD thus far.

Archaeology Community Day

– Myself and a fellow PhD researcher setting up for Exeter’s Community Day 2015

But then, 6 non-stop hours of presenting your research to nearly 2000 people will do that to you.

It will also help you gain perspective on the value of what you do. Children are particularly unforgiving – if they don’t think something is interesting or matters, they will let you know. The key I’ve found is to work out one tiny bit of your research that people can relate to or find interesting and hammer that home.

This rings true of outreach and engagement events, whether that’s to academics outside of your specialist field, or a room full of restless 10 year olds.

Where I’ve had my most success by far though has been online. My minimal online numbers inevitably stem from my niche field (i.e. Bronze Age metalwork), and yet it’s attracted the right people online. Through Twitter and Facebook I am in regular contact with some of the leading experts in my field, without the formality of “clunky” emails. They retweet and share pictures of what I’m doing. They ask me questions. They share ideas with me.

I’ve recently found out that my blog has become a source of reference for several upcoming publications. This is huge in a competitive academic world where getting yourself known matters.

alifeinfragments blog page

– A screenshot of my blog site where I summarise lots of my ongoing research

Beyond this, you’d be amazed what members of the public might contribute to your thesis. So many of my ideas have come from discussions with people who have general archaeological interests, wanting to know more, and asking questions that have simply never crossed my mind.

I’m not going to lie – maintaining this sort of approach is time-consuming and exposing. It’s something that needs to be managed, and needs careful consideration. You need to be prepared that it opens you up to criticism from a wide audience and can add another nag to the back of your already stressed mind. But I know without a doubt my PhD experience, and indeed my research, would be weaker without it.

This blog post has inevitably been largely anecdotal, and by no means explores all of the possibilities open to you. But hopefully it might encourage a couple of you to think about the benefits of engaging with outreach events (there are hundred on offer through the university), as well as turning social media from a form of procrastination into a productive avenue.


Matt Knight is a PhD researcher in Archaeology studying Bronze Age metalwork. He frequently posts about his research and can be followed on Twitter @mgknight24.


 

Coat Tales

In 1853, the blacksmith Joshua Payge of Buckland Brewer, Devon, married Ann Cole. He arrived for his wedding in his best waistcoat, a garment made from Manchester cotton velvet – swirls of blue patterning over a deep red ground.  From its style and manufacture we are able to date the waistcoat back to the 1830s, and might deduce from this fact that it had been handed down to Joshua by his father.  The enamel buttons down the front are a later, joyful addition: tiny flowers of red, white and blue enamel.  From such customization, from the stains and the stitching we are able to turn the waistcoat from an item of clothing to a record that provides us with clues as to what it means to be human.

Coat Tales: The Stories Clothes Tell was a collaborative workshop designed to explore objects such as this and to consider the kinds of stories they tell. It was run by Shelley Tobin, assistant curator of Dress and Textiles at RAMM, Dr Tricia Zakreski, lecturer in Victorian Studies, Heather Hind, postgraduate student in Exeter’s English department, and me, Jane Feaver, lecturer in Creative Writing.  We share a fascination for objects – whether from a historical-practical, a literary-aesthetic, or a fictional-creative point of view – and wanted to investigate the synergies and ramifications in bringing those three enthusiasms together.

Between us we had identified three items from the museum holdings, which we’d selected for their resonance in terms of key moments in a life: Payne’s wedding waistcoat, an eighteenth-century pair of baby’s linen mittens worn by the donor’s “dear father” on his christening day, and a Victorian mourning necklace woven from the hair of the donor’s mother, and worn with a cross as testament to her memory.IMG_0044

– Dr Tricia Zakreski examining objects

Our event was split into three parts. The first part was led by Shelley, who gave the workshop participants a practical, fashion-curator’s view of the objects in hand, which we were able to see and experience at close quarters.  What questions do we ask of an object? How is it constructed? What does this tell us about the date it was made, the sort of person who would have worn it, the way the item was worn? What stories do particular stains or other features of wearing tell? Armed with pencils and notebooks participants were encouraged to take down their observations, which included drawing particular details of the item – stitching, pattern, texture…

The next part of our workshop aimed to give body and life to these objects – all of which, at over 150 years old, might have appeared a little arcane.  We wanted to show how they moved and operated ordinarily in the world.  Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Egerton, Emily Bronte and Wilkie Collins supplied wonderful examples for us: We found a blacksmith in Joe Gargery, dressed to the nines on his wedding day to Biddy; a maid’s revelation to her pregnant mistress of the baby clothes she treasures in a red-painted deal box; a letter from Wilkie Collins’ Hide and Seek, which details the making of a hair bracelet. How does our understanding of the objects change? How does our impression of the text alter, having embraced the physical presence of similar objects?

The last part of the workshop involved us thinking about any of the three objects as cues to writing our own stories.  Using the letter in Hide and Seek as a model, participants were asked to write a letter to an intimate friend describing their chosen object, and thinking about what function the object played in the scene they are about to relate, and what emotion drove the relating… In ten minutes, there was not a sound in the room but the industrious beavering of pencil leads.  Everyone managed a story – some, pages of story! – and as we read around the room, each story exposed some moment in a human life suffuse with the emotion that arises from close attention to detail at such life-changing moments – birth, marriage, death; how the memory of one moment often lies buried in another.

The workshop was an experiment.  The participants, we were clear from the start, were our lab rats.  They didn’t appear to mind.  Someone said out loud how helpful it had been to have this three-pronged approach: that by the time it came to writing for themselves, how much easier it made the task.  Each of us during the course of that afternoon, I think, learned something more about what it means to be human: why we value and invest in certain things, how we use particular objects to embody our memories and our stories, and, conversely, how we can get objects not personally connected to us to offer up their novel stories to us.


Dr Jane Feaver is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter.


 

Medieval women can teach us how to smash gender rules and the glass ceiling

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. The post is written by Laura Kalas Williams, Postdoctoral researcher in medieval literature and medicine and Associate Tutor at the University of Exeter.

On the night of the US election, Manhattan’s magisterial, glass-encased Javits Centre stood with its ceiling intact and its guest-of-honour in defeated absence. Hillary Clinton – who has frequently spoken of “the highest, hardest glass ceiling” she was attempting to shatter – wanted to bring in a new era with symbolic aplomb. As supporters despaired in that same glass palace, it was clear that the symbolism of her defeat was no less forceful.

People wept, hopes were dashed, and more questions were raised about just what it will take for the most powerful leader on the planet to one day be a woman. Hillary Clinton’s staggering experience and achievements as a civil rights lawyer, first lady, senator and secretary of state were not enough.

The double-standards of gender “rules” in society have been disconcertingly evident of late. The Clinton campaign said FBI director James Comey’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private server revealed “jaw-dropping” double standards. Trump, however, lauded him as having “guts”. When no recriminating email evidence was found, Trump ran roughshod over the judicial process, claiming: “Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it. The FBI knows it, the people know it.” Chants of “lock her up” resonated through the crowd at a rally.

Mob-like cries for a woman to be incarcerated without evidence or trial? That’s medieval.

The heart of a king

Since time immemorial, women have manipulated gender constructs in order to gain agency and a voice in the political milieu. During her speech to the troops at Tilbury, anticipating the invasion of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I famously claimed:

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.


Elizabeth I, The Ditchley Portrait, c. 1592, National Portrait Gallery. Elizabeth stands upon England, and the top of the world itself. Her power and domination are symbolised by the celestial sphere hanging from her left ear. The copious pearls represent her virginity and thus maleness. Wikimedia Commons

Four hundred years later, Margaret Thatcher seemed obliged to follow the same approach, employing a voice coach from the National Theatre to help her to lower her voice. And Clinton told a rally in Ohio: “Now what people are focused upon is choosing the next president and commander-in-chief.” Not a million miles away from the kingly-identifications of Elizabeth, the pseudo-male “Virgin Queen”.

This gender-play has ancient origins. In the late fourth century AD, St Jerome argued that chaste women become male. Likewise, the early Christian non-canonical Gospel of Thomasclaimed that Jesus would make Mary “male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males”.


15th century ‘Disease Woman’. Wellcome Collection, MS Wellcome Apocalypse 49, f.38r.

By the Middle Ages, this idea of female bodily inferiority became material as well as spiritual as medical texts on the topic proliferated. Women’s bodies were considered inferior and more prone to disease. Because of the interiority of female anatomy, male physicians had to rely on diagrams and texts to interpret them, often with a singular focus on the reproductive system. Since men mostly wrote the books, the lexical and pictorial construction of the female body has therefore been historically, and literally, “written” by male authors.

So women, who were socially constrained by their female bodies and living in a man’s world, had to enact radical ways to modify their gender and even their very physiology. To gain authority, women had to be chaste, and to behave like men by adopting “masculine” characteristics. Such modifications might appear to compromise feminist, or proto-feminist, ambitions, but they were in fact sophisticated strategies to undermine or subvert the status quo.

Gender-play


Illuminated image from Hildegard of Bingen’s (1098-1179) Scivias, depicting her enclosed in a nun’s cell, writing. Wikimedia Commons

Medieval women who desired a voice in religious circles (the Church was, of course, the unelected power of the day) shed their femininity by adapting their bodies, the way that they used them, and therefore the way in which they were “read” by others. Through protecting their virginity, fasting, mortifying their flesh, perhaps reading, writing, or becoming physically enclosed in a monastery or anchorhold, they reoriented the way in which they were identified.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) famously led an army to victory in the Hundred Years War dressed as a soldier, in a time when women were not supposed to fight.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), defying social codes of female beauty, shaved her hair in defiance of her parents’ wish to have her married. She later had a powerful mystical experience whereby she received the heart of Christ in place of her own; a visceral transformation which radically altered her body and identity.

And St Agatha (231-251), whose story was widely circulated in the Middle Ages, refused to give in to sexual pressure and was tortured, finally suffering the severing of her breasts. She has since been depicted as offering her breasts on a plate to Christ and the world. Agatha subverted her torturers’ aim, exploited her “de-feminised” self and instead offered her breasts as symbols of power and triumph.


Saint Agatha bearing her severed breasts on a platter, Piero della Francesca (c. 1460–70). Wikimedia Commons

Some scholars have even argued that monks and nuns were a considered a “third gender” in the Middle Ages: neither fully masculine nor feminine.

These flexible gender systems show how medieval people were perhaps more sophisticated in their conceptualisation of identity that we are today, when challenges to binary notions of gender are only now becoming widely discussed. Medieval codes of chastity might not be to most 21st-century tastes, but these powerful women-in-history took control of their own identification: found loopholes in the rules, found authority in their own self-fashioning.

The US presidential campaign has without doubt reinvigorated the politics of gender. Hillary Clinton has said: “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle”. It is easy to leap at such a comment, seeing Clinton as a media-sycophant, playing to the expectation that women are defined by their appearance. But in fact, like myriad women before her, Clinton was manipulating and exploiting the very rules that seek to define her.

Complete liberation this is not. Only when the long history of gender rules is challenged will powerful women no longer be compared to men. Like the response of Joan of Arc and her troops, it is surely now time for another call to arms: for the freedoms of tolerance, inclusion, equality and compassion. We must turn grief into optimism and words into action. To shatter not the dreams of girls around the world, but the glass ceilings that restrain them.

PhDing in a Foreign Land

Sam_Hayes_3colThinking of taking your PhD to somewhere else in the world? Sam Hayes shares his experiences organising and carrying out a research visit to Munich in the spring of 2015. Such a visit can feel quite daunting to arrange, but it’s well worth taking the plunge.

Just over a year ago I did what was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done: I got on a plane and set out to spend three months in another country to continue my PhD research and improve my foreign language skills. This was the longest I’ve ever spent abroad by myself, and I was shocked (and surprised) by how much I learned about myself while out there, and the personal challenges I faced. I thought that in this post I’d share some of those experiences to try and help any other research students out there looking to do some research abroad.

How to Get There

Possibly the most important thing on the list is to get where you want to go. This is a bit more complicated than just hopping on a plane; you’ll need to select a host institution, find a colleague to work with, and try to get any funding to cover your travel costs. This is actually a lot like choosing a PhD supervisor and institution, but with the added advantage that you’ll probably know more about your project at this stage (and you’re not burdened with your choice for the next three years).

I narrowed it down to two institutions, and decided on Munich in the end. This city has produced a bunch of Martial scholars who’ve heavily influenced the field, and the option to meet these people was too good to miss. The person I contacted at Munich also got back to me very quickly and although she couldn’t supervise me due to her being on sabbatical she put me in contact with a finishing PhD student of hers who was hugely helpful. The other institution… was less helpful, and the scholar I would have worked with was very busy. I went with my gut.

For funding I was lucky enough to have a fund specifically designed for AHRC students to travel with, but there are numerous institutions like the DAAD which regularly advertise this kind of travel scholarship. My advice would be to get everything sorted out a long time before you travel as deadlines can be quite tight (I didn’t apply to the DAAD in the end because of this). It might be worth considering waiting until the next funding round to get everything sorted in time. The Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität also helped source my accommodation for me (which was a godsend), but there are loads of good websites out there to help you out. Make sure to ask your local contact(s) for advice and support.

What to Do When You’re There (Academic)

The number 1 priority for me was to improve my reading and conversational German, but it’s also worth experiencing life and study in another country, as well as seeing what you can while you’re there.

I found improving my conversational German very difficult when I was in Munich because Germans tend to practice their (irritatingly good) English on you. If you discover that people find it easier to communicate with you in English I’d suggest finding a couple of people who are exceedingly patient to practice on (elderly landladies are perfect for this). I’d also recommend doing what I didn’t and joining an intensive language programme. They can be expensive, but the results speak volumes. The proudest moment of my stay was going grocery shopping for my landlady and managing the whole trip in German (frozen red cabbage was particularly hard!). After nearly a month and a half feeling like I couldn’t express myself it was moments like this that really boosted my confidence. My spoken German is still not perfect, but I’m so much faster than when I started, and my reading abilities have sky-rocketed. It’s worth being honest with the levels you can achieve while you’re there as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

You should also check out the institution while you’re there. Find out how their research culture works, how their undergraduates learn, and how they socialise. I found it a bit odd that there was a much sharper distinction between work time and free time (lots of very serious German faces 9-5, for instance), but the sense of community was stronger too. The more you can see and do the better. I also gave a research talk (in English) and got to meet several colleagues at this and other events (including those scholars I mentioned earlier). Make sure to make the most of the time you have, too – going over and chatting to some big-shot professor because you may never get another chance is a good idea, and you might well be the most interesting person in the room at this point too so knock yourself out. If all else fails you won’t be there long, anyway.

What to Do When You’re There (Non-Academic)

Don’t forget that this is still a trip. Travel! See the world! What’s the point of going hundreds of miles to simply sit in another dark room reading books and articles? The chances are you’ll have far too much spare time in a strange, new place anyway so you can always catch up on work in the quiet hours. The worst thing to do is just sit around feeling sorry for yourself – force yourself out of the front door and see the local sights, walk the block. See, feel, smell, hear, and taste the novelty. If you don’t when’s your next chance? What stories will you tell your envious friends at home when you get back?

I guarantee that travelling for part of your PhD can be one of the hardest parts of the doctorate, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding for me. I’ve met so many exciting new people, seen and experienced new things, and got to travel a bit more of Europe in the process. This is the most free you’ll ever be in your academic life, so go out there and, as a wise philosopher once put it, just do it.

Sam Hayes is a third year PhD student in Classics, specialising in Latin literature, at the University of Exeter. He hosts a blog (on which this piece originally appeared) at https://samhayesclassics.wordpress.com/ where he discusses aspects of his research and the overall PhD experience.

This blog has been reposted with permission of the author.

Researching Abroad

Researching abroad as part of PhD study is the topic covered in our latest episode of The Humanities PhD podcast. Listen below:

Being a Part of It: the Benefits of Being on a Committee

Do you like being part of your academic community? Do you feel that talking to people in your field is inspiring? Maybe you should be on a Committee…

Personally I find it really exciting when I get a chance to speak to people who really understand my subject. The best conversations are the ones where I get to talk about the specific issues at play in my wider field of performance and my narrower field of circus – the chance to talk about the specific issues at play is really exciting because of the connections it inspires and the feeling of being understood.

So, last year when the chance to join the Society for Theatre Research’s New Researcher’s Network  came up, it seemed a good opportunity. I had the chance to meet and work with like-minded people with the aim of trying to think about some of the ways we could make being a PGR or ECR in the field of performance easier.

For me it also represented something slightly different: an opportunity to bring my old professional life and my newer academic life into conversation. Previously I had been a marketer who ran events and managed communications, including social media. This set of skills was something that the NRN needed, so it felt like a good way to contribute something useful.

Since I joined the NRN I’ve worked with the other person responsible for social media and publicity to set up our own blog  focused on providing useful reflections on personal experiences of research eg the ‘I-wish-I’d-known-this-when-I-started’ or descriptions of moments that changed people’s perspectives on their research. I’ve also started to organise a symposium that has given me the chance to draw on personal connections for mutual benefit, eg publicising an archive I love and drawing on the expertise of some of my personal connections. There is also something interesting in observing how these types of organisation work.

I think this is probably the key to deciding if you want to be part of a committee like the NRN. You need to be prepared to give something as well as to work out what is in it for you. For me a lot of the experience I have had has been in a range of industries such as corporate events, civil engineering/construction services (sexy!) and the charity sector. Being a part of a field-specific committee has allowed me to use those skills and make them more relevant to the academic context I am now working in, whereas for you it might be gaining them for the first time. It has also widened my network to include some great people who I am now working with who I might not have met because are research doesn’t overlap – circus meets live-streaming/Shakespeare/early modern studies anyone?

You probably can identify something else hovering underneath all of this description. I think we have to be honest that part of what being on a committee involves is a wish to make your CV more desirable. Yes, that is definitely true, but you will only get the most out of it if you are also invested in giving something back. I’d definitely recommend doing it because you’ll meet some great people and have some inspiring conversations along the way.


Author’s Bio

Kate Holmes is based in the Drama department and is in the third year of a PhD on female aerial performers of the 1920s and early 1930s. For more information on Kate’s research please see her eprofile .

This Blog has been posted with the permission of the author.