Exploring Europe whilst studying in the UK

Enver Xin, an MA Translation student from China, gives a flavour of the trips across Europe that she took advantage of during her holiday time at the University of Exeter.

Last December, my friends and I went to France, Switzerland and Finland during the Christmas holiday. This was my first time travelling around Europe. I was so excited, and I wrote some travel journals during our journey to record my experiences and feelings. Now I want to share some of them with you!

Day 1

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The stunning sky when we arrived at Paris airport

We took a flight from Exeter airport directly to Paris airport. This was very convenient because we didn’t have to go to London and queue through Customs which sees thousands of people every day.

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Notre Dame de Paris at night

We took a tube from the airport but got lost in town. After turning left at a corner, there was Notre Dame de Paris, and the bells in the cathedral rang at that time. What a beautiful surprise!

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Duck Confit and French Snails

For dinner was the famous French cuisine, Duck confit. It is considered one of the finest French dishes. It is cooked in its own fat, and then the fat is removed, so the duck is healthy, served with crisps and some vegetables. As for the snails, in French cuisine, the snails are typically purged, killed, removed from their shells, and cooked (usually with garlic butter, chicken soup or wine), and then placed back into the shells with the butter and sauce for serving. They are high in protein and low in fat content, also very delicious.

Day 2

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The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile

We went to the Triumphal arch on day 2. The weather was so sunny that everything looked gorgeous. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower was constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair, it should have been torn down after the Fair, however, French people liked it so much that it remained and has now become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. We were lucky to have such pleasant weather that day, and the Eiffel Tower looks splendid, but the Tower was under maintenance, and we could not get to the top of it. What a pity! This is one of the reasons that I want to go back to Paris again.

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A bus tour around the city centre

Paris is a very large city, and we wanted to see as many famous buildings as possible, so we bought bus tour tickets and let it take us around the city centre. The bus also had an electronic explanation system, and everyone can select their own language and listen to the introduction of each of the sights. It was so great; however, it was very cold in winter.

Day 3

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The Front Gate of Château de Versailles

Versailles was the seat of political power in the Kingdom of France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved the royal court from Paris until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789. The front gate looked gorgeous with the gold shining in the sun.

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Scenery around Petit Trianon

We took a little train to travel around Versailles. We were not able to go into the main building of Versailles, so we went to the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. I love the scenery in Petit Trianon so much. It was at dusk, and everything looks gentle but mysterious. The Petit Trianon was for Queen Marie Antoinette’s personal use and enjoyment. There are many fields and they still have vegetables in them. As I walked through those little pathways, I started to understand why Marie Antoinette came to the Petit Trianon to escape the formality of court life.

Day 4

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Strasbourg Cathedral

On day 4, we went to Strasbourg to visit the Christmas market which was known as one of the most famous Christmas markets in the world. It was a foggy day, and the Strasbourg Cathedral looks very lofty.

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The Strasbourg Christmas Market

It was in Strasbourg in 1570 that the very first edition of the oldest Christmas market in Europe took place, then called the “Christkindelsmärik” (market of the Infant Jesus). This was my first time at a Christmas market, and everything seems to attract me. The hot white wine had orange pieces in and was so delicious. This was also my first time eating a crepe. I loved the taste.

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China Central Television during filming 

A funny thing was that we happened to meet a reporter from China Central Television. Suddenly we felt a feeling of being at home in that foreign country.

Day 5

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The mark of the Arctic Circle

Finland was our last stop. We entered the Arctic Circle to visit Santa Claus and to see the aurora. The above picture is my foot on the border of Arctic Circle.

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Santa Claus Village

Santa Claus Village is an amusement park in Rovaniemi in the Lapland region of Finland. You can find everything about Christmas there. We spent an entire day there shopping and playing around.

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Santa Claus and His Reindeer

Everyone can take a picture with Santa and get the electronic version online afterwards. Santa was so nice, and he can even speak a little bit of Chinese! It was so sweet.

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The Husky Park

After taking a picture with Santa, we went to the Husky park. Those Huskies are very cute and lively. I’m a little bit terrified of big dogs, but these ones were luckily very obedient. Some of them had very beautiful fur, like in the pictures below.

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Gorgeous and Elegant Huskies

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Husky Ride

If you go to Rovaniemi in winter, you should try either the Husky ride or the Reindeer ride. These two are the must-do things in the Santa Claus Village. It was my first-time riding in a husky sledge, and it was so exciting and thrilling. I hope I can go back there in the future and take the husky ride again.

Day 6

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The air view of London at night


We planned to see aurora at night on day 5. However, there was a snow storm, and we didn’t get to see it. We only stayed in Rovaniemi for 1 night, so sadly I didn’t have another chance to find the Aurora. This was my greatest regret of the journey. But I saw many things that I never had the chance to see before, and this was the first time I travelled around Europe, so this trip was already a success. The air view of London on my return flight was too beautiful to express in words. From this picture, you may find some famous spots of London, such as The Big Ben, The London Eye and so on. I hope I can travel on more trips abroad again in the near future.

My Christmas Trip to Europe

Ting-Shan Lin, a current MA Translation student from Taiwan, talks about her experience travelling across Europe over the Christmas holiday.

This was my very first backpacking experience to Europe in my life, needless to say how excited I was, especially as the trip was during the Christmas holiday. We went to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich. Every place has its own beauty and attractive part, but there was one thing you could never miss during this season– the Christmas market. Basically we came across at least one Christmas market every day in each different city, even without planning.

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Gendarmenmarkt, a German Christmas Market

Germany has the oldest Christmas market tradition in the world, so I was really excited about every visit and enjoying the Christmas vibes there. Of course, we didn’t miss the hot mulled wine, which was really comforting and warming especially after a long walk in such cold weather. But what made me crazy about the Christmas market was the various mugs that we could keep if we really fancied the design. It was quite an adventure for mug hunting. Every time we wandered around a Christmas market, I couldn’t help but check the mug that they served their wine in.

Enjoying a tipple at Gendarmenmarkt

Enjoying a tipple at Gendarmenmarkt

This was the very first mug I got in a Christmas market, called ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ in German, which is really famous for its white roof stalls. Actually, it was the only one that we had to pay an entrance fee (¢1) for, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere there. There was a stage area where crowds gathered for some performances and there was a big indoor market selling a variety of goods from Christmas cards to decorating ornaments.

My favourite Christmas market mug

My favourite Christmas market mug

This shoe-shaped yellow mug is my favourite collection from Vienna’s Christmas market. I still remembered that morning we saw so many people walking around holding it when we were admiring the grand buildings around Hofburg. We started to check every stall for the mug and forgot why we were there initially. Luckily we found it at last, and yes, I tried a different drink which was lovely and the whipped cream not only made it taste better, but also made the mug look even cuter.

Places we visited

Germany:

Berlin – a collision of modern and history

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Reichstag Building, Berlin

Berlin is an interesting city in my opinion. At the first glance, the city has an array of grand modern buildings, and streets are tidy and organised. A special building that we visited during our stay was the Reichstag building. It’s designed as a green building utilising renewable energy technology due to a fire incident in 1933. We booked a free tour, including a brief introduction about the building and an audio-guided tour to the top of the arch. I was amazed by the audio guide because when we started to walk into the circular pathway leading to the top of the arch, the audio guide just spoke automatically and introduced what we could see at the spot we were. We didn’t have to bother working out which button to press or which channel to choose. During this tour, I not only enjoyed the scenery but also learned more about the city.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

Compared to the tidiness of the western part of Berlin, the east had a totally different atmosphere and a street scene with countless graffiti. Walking along the ruins of the Berlin Wall, it gave me an illusion of travelling back in time, as if the West and the East were still controlled by two different parties. Some of the graffiti along the wall depicted the historical incident, others may convey the atmosphere of uncertainty during the split period. It’s a great place for tourists who want to have a taste of history and a different vibe away from modern Berlin.

After a four-day stay in Berlin, I found it’s a city combining modern elements, but still preserving its historical characteristic of the Second World War. I love the advanced part of the city as well as the slightly messy side.

Munich

It was really close to Christmas when we travelled back to Munich, Germany. Actually, we planned to go to a world famous Christmas market in Nuremberg during our stay in Munich. However, we forgot to book train tickets and the last minute deal was literally robbery! Moreover, we were all exhausted at this point- the twelfth day of our journey- so we decided to go easy with the last four days.

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New Town Hall, Marienplatz, Munich

We visited our last Christmas Market in front of the old city hall on the 24th December. I found the day of Christmas Eve was quite similar to Chinese New Year’s Eve. Most of the stores were closed by around three in the afternoon to prepare for the night with family. Instead of a Christmas feast in a restaurant, we had a Chinese style dinner to celebrate the night for reunion. We bought some ingredients from a Chinese market for hot pot, which is a tradition in my family for Chinese New Year’s Eve, to celebrate this special Christmas Eve in Munich. After so much gourmet food in local restaurants, this was a special meal to me during the trip. I think I’ll always remember this special Christmas Eve, sharing hot pot with friends in a foreign city.

Our Christmas Eve meal preparation

Our Christmas Eve meal preparation

After the comforting meal, we joined a Mass in a local church, which was recommended by a lovely receptionist at our hotel. I am not religious but I was quite interested in the ritual held in church on Christmas Eve. When we arrived in the church, the event had already started. I was a bit surprised by the number of people participating and the chorus, with the Organ accompaniment, echoing around the grand church was astonishing. It was a peaceful moment and I even closed my eyes and started to remember my year of 2016. It was a time for appreciation and reflection.

Christmas Eve Mass

Christmas Eve Mass

Czech Republic:

Prague

Out of all the cities I visited during this trip, Prague is my favourite one, although we didn’t have a good impression at first. The time we arrived at Prague was quite late at night. The first problem we encountered was that we didn’t have the proper currency we needed and secondly I was totally unfamiliar with the language they use (I learned German for two terms during undergraduate studies: although I am only at basic level, I can read and listen to some key words). It was quite a messy night, especially when we arrived at our hotel around 10 pm. It seemed like a private accommodation and we couldn’t find how to get in there. After confirming the address with a coffee shop nearby and getting inside the building, we also found the e-mail the house owner sent us, which included the room number and password of our room. Actually, it was our mistake for not paying attention to the detail of the check-in time. It was a novel experience that we didn’t even have to check in to get into a room. Although it seemed quite scary from the appearance of the building (built during the middle ages with some superstitious stories), it was a cosy apartment with a lovely attic. Much to our surprise, it turned out to be our favourite accommodation and we really felt at home there.

Prague

Prague

Compared to other cities, Prague has a lower commodity price and cheaper fees for transportation. It was a great tourist spot to explore on foot. We visited the area of Prague castle and Charles bridge, which was really magnificent. But the most memorable spot during my stay in Prague was the viewing platform at the top of the Astronomical Clock, which was breathtaking. I still remember it was a beautiful day with brilliant weather, but it was also quite windy and the air was still chilly. Although it was freezing and I could hardly feel my fingers, I still had the temptation to take pictures. It was a totally different angle but a marvellous spot to see the beautiful city underneath, which was like a vivid showcase of various building models with orange roofs shining under the sun.

The colourful roofs of Prague

The colourful roofs of Prague

Austria:

Salzburg – King’s Lake

If the tour to other cities was an exploration of grand architectures, the trip to Salzburg was an adventure of the magnificent natural environment. We went to King’s Lake (Königssee), which is near the border of Austria but located in Germany. As the bus travelled through the mountainous area, a change of scenery caught our attention. Not only the site of the remote mountain’s tip covered in snow, but also the trees and extensive fields along the road. Since we come from a tropical area, it was not every day scenery for us. Needless to say, it was far colder than the places we’ve been for this trip so far. The white snow was shining under the sun, bright and spotless.

Driving through Salzburg

Driving through Salzburg

After a long ride, we finally got to our destination- King’s lake. It was quite misty. Although we couldn’t see anything during our cruise around the lake due to the fog, the view was still spectacular. It was windless and the lake seemed so calm and sparkly. The tour guide also played his trumpet in the middle of the lake to show us the clear echo through the mountains. In the end, he joked that he also had to pay for his cousin who played the melody back in the mountain. It was an enjoyable cruise and I gave a double tip.

King's Lake, Salzburg

King’s Lake, Salzburg

Wandering around Salzburg

It was the 12th day of my trip to Europe. It was also the last day in Salzburg. After nearly two week’s trip with friends, I decided to leave a day for myself. Actually, I had no plan at all, but I was so excited that I could explore the city on my own. Walking along the street from my hotel to the city centre, trees were covered in snow and shining under the sun. It was a bright day but the air was still freezing.

Without a map, I just roamed around the streets. Then, a market popped up after I turned into a busy street. I was surprised and excited because I love exploring local markets wherever I go. There were many stalls and food trucks with a variety of food and daily commodities. I was like a child who went into a candy shop where everything was so novel and attractive. I can’t help roaming around and trying to find out what they were selling. I tasted some food samples like cheeses and sausages. It was like an adventure, even though it might be just daily life for the local people. After 30 mins wandering, I stopped by a food truck which was selling fried chicken. When I was ordering, the salesman asked where I came from. I said Taiwan, and to my surprise, he replied ‘oh, Formosa.’ It was really delightful to find out people from a foreign country know my hometown. The conversation was short, but it really made my day. As I stood around a table and had my meal like the other locals, it gave me the illusion that I was a part of them. It was one of my most memorable mornings of the whole trip.

Presenting my ‘Judas Superstar’ paper at the South West PG Theology and Religion conference

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Stephanie Roberts, a current MA Theology and Religion student, talks about her experience of attending and presenting a paper at a recent PG conference, hosted by the University of Exeter’.

On Saturday 6 May, the 22nd Joint Postgraduate Conference on Theology and Religion was held at Exeter for the first time. With a total of 30 research papers presented, the day proved to be a fascinating exploration of the current research undertaken by MA and PhD students in the South West.

The presentations were split in to themes covering all things from ‘Belief and Practice in Antiquity’ to ‘Philosophy, Ethics and Revelation’. This is just some indication of the great diversity of papers explored during the day. The eclectic nature of this conference inspired a feeling of open-mindedness amongst the guests and speakers. This relaxed atmosphere, and the words of encouragement from my fellow postgraduate students, somewhat eased my nerves of presenting a paper for the first time later in the day.

For my part, I was curious to learn more about the areas of theology that some speakers had chosen to dedicate three years of their lives to, and yet had never crossed my path of study. I found throughout education that many students (including myself at times!) have a ‘but will this be in the exam?’ approach to learning, unwilling to clutter their minds with information that will not increase their final percentage. It was refreshing to be involved in a day where the audience were enthusiastic to widen their view of theology and engage in these new areas of study that are, no doubt, often outside their own chosen sub-discipline.

Following the coffee break, it was time for me to give my first presentation at an academic conference, with a paper entitled ‘Judas Superstar? A reflection on the relationship between Jesus and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar’. Despite my apprehension as a fresh-faced MA student addressing an audience who, generally, had much more experience of academic conferences, I was relieved that the questions were less intimidating than I had feared!

As far as academic papers go, I have found this one particularly enjoyable to present as the inclusion of movie clips and rock-ballads naturally accompany my analysis and the sight of audience heads bobbing along to Judas’ solos made me feel more at ease throughout the presentation. It seems the perfect way to have introduced myself to this academic rite of passage.

One paper I found particularly thought- provoking was by Amna Nazir, a PhD student of Law and Theology with cross-institutional supervision from Birmingham City University and the University of Birmingham. She demonstrated the necessity of interdisciplinary study in her paper, ‘The Death Penalty in Islam: A Religious Necessity?’. Having never studied Islam, this is a topic I knew very little about but I was intrigued by the provocative title.

Nazir explored the death penalty in Sharia law and international law and argued that, until there is absolute justice in the courts and governments of these countries, the death penalty cannot be right. Nazir explained that court cases’ reports are often restricted and so it is impossible to know whether countries have properly adhered to both Sharia and international laws. Furthermore, the great variance of its practice across Islamic countries is indicative of the fact there is a lack of consensus even within the faith about when the death penalty is to be evoked.

I found the paper incredibly interesting to listen to and the discussion that followed was just as rich. It became clear that there are a small number of Muslim voices supporting this view and, where westerners attempt to enforce their views against it, their criticism is merely met with disdain or suspicion by Islamic countries. Ultimately, if the application of the death penalty in Islam is to change in any way, the impetus must come from within the religion.

It was exciting for me to be involved with such a packed day of research papers and, in my view, the conference aptly demonstrated the active interest present in the theology’s many manifestations. The post-graduate community highlighted their willingness to engage in interdisciplinary study and to recognise the impact religious studies can have in a modern context.

Arguing about Empire: the Dreyfus Affair and the Fashoda Crisis, 1898

This article was originally posted on Not Even Past, the public history website of The University of Texas at Austin. Reproduced with kind permission.

We are very happy to announce a new online collaboration with our colleagues in the Department of History at the University of Exeter in the UK. Not Even Past and Exeter’s Imperial & Global Forum, edited by Marc Palen (UT PhD 2011) will be cross-posting articles, sharing podcasts, and sponsoring discussions of historical publications and events.

We are launching our joint initiative this month with a blog based on a new book by two Exeter historians, Arguing About Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France.

By Martin Thomas and Richard Toye 

“At the present moment it is impossible to open a newspaper without finding an account of war, disturbance, the fear of war, diplomatic changes achieved or in prospect, in every quarter of the world,” noted an advertisement in The Times on May 20, 1898. “Under these circumstances it is absolutely essential for anyone who desires to follow the course of events to possess a thoroughly good atlas.” One of the selling points of the atlas in question – that published by The Times itself – was that it would allow its owner to follow “most minute details of the campaign on the Atbara, Fashoda, Uganda, the Italian-Abyssinian conflict &c.” The name Atbara would already have been quite familiar to readers, as the British had recently had a battle triumph there as part of the ongoing reconquest of the Sudan.

Fashoda, underlined in red, lay on the eastern margins of the Sudanese province of Bahr el-Ghazal. As this 1897 map indicates, the French Foreign Ministry, too, needed help in identifying Marchand’s location. (Source: MAE, 123CPCOM15: Commandant Marchand, 1895-98.)

Fashoda, much further up the Nile, remained, for the time, more obscure. Newspaper readers might have been dimly aware that an expedition led by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Marchand was attempting to reach the place via the Congo, but his fate remained a mystery. Within a few months, however, Captain Marchand and his successful effort to establish himself at Fashoda would be the hottest political topic, the subject of multitudes of speeches and articles on both sides of the English Channel as the British and French Empires collided, or at least scraped each other’s hulls. It never did come to “war,” but there was certainly sufficient “disturbance, fear of war and diplomatic changes achieved or in prospect” to justify a Times reader purchasing an atlas, perhaps even the half-morocco version, “very handsome, gilt edges,” that retailed at 26 shillings.

The clash at Fashoda was both a seminal moment in Anglo-French relations and a revealing one with respect to imperial language. In addition to rhetoric’s role in stoking up tensions, there are further angles to be considered. Falling at the height of the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish Army officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, endured a protracted retrial after being wrongly convicted of spying for Germany, British official readings of the Fashoda crisis were also conditioned by the growing conviction that the worst aspects of French political culture – an overweening state, an irresponsible military leadership, and an intrusive Catholic Church – were too apparent for comfort.

Viewed from the British perspective, dignity, above all, was at stake. The French were obsessed with the prospect of their own impending humiliation; whereas the British, from a position of strength, showed verbal concern for French amour propre, even while their own actions seemed guaranteed to dent it severely.

French Poodle to British Bulldog: “Well if I can’t have the bone I’ll be satisified if you’ll give me one of the scraps.” J. M. Staniforth, Evening Express (Wales).

What the rhetoricians of both countries had in common was their willingness to discuss the fate of the disputed area exclusively as a problem in their own relations, without the slightest reference to the possible wishes of the indigenous population. This is unsurprising, but there was more to the diplomatic grandstanding than appeared at first sight. It was the Dreyfus case that best illustrated how embittered French politics had become.

Dreyfus’s cause divided French society along several fault lines: institutional, ideological, religious, and juridical. By 1898 the issue was less about the officer’s innocence and more about the discredit (or humiliation) that would befall the Army and, to a lesser degree, the Catholic Church (notably imperialist institutions), were the original conspiracy against him revealed. So much so that the writer Emile Zola was twice convicted of libel over the course of the year after his fiery open letters in the new print voice of Radical-Socialism, L’Aurore in early 1898 compelled the Dreyfus case to be reopened,

Twelve months before Dreyfus was shipped back from Devil’s Island to be retried a safe distance from Paris at Rennes, Zola’s convictions confirmed that justice ran a poor second to elite self-interest.

High Command cover-ups, the ingrained anti-Semitism of the Catholic bishopric, and the grisly prison suicide on August 31 of Colonel Hubert Joseph Henry, the real traitor behind the original spying offense, brought French political culture to a new low. From the ashes would spring a new human rights lobby, the League of the Rights of Man (Ligue des droits de l’homme). Meanwhile, the Dreyfusard press, led since 1897 by the indomitable, if obsessive, L’Aurore, wrote feverishly of alleged coup plots to which Marchand, once he returned from Africa, might or might not be enlisted.

Charles Léandre, Caricature of Henri Brisson, Le Rire, November 5, 1898. Here caricatured as a Freemason.

At the start of November, Henri Brisson’s fledgling government finally decided to back down. A furious Marchand, who had arrived in Paris to report in person, was ordered to return and evacuate the mission. The right-wing press, fixated over the previous week on the likely composition of the new government and its consequent approach to the Dreyfus case, resumed its veneration of Marchand. La Croix went furthest, offering a pen portrait of Marchand’s entire family as an exemplar of nationalist rectitude. The inspiring, if sugary, narrative was, of course, a none-too-oblique way of criticizing the alleged patriotic deficiencies of the republican establishment and siding with the army as the institutional embodiment of an eternal (and by no means republican) France.

Something of a contrived crisis – or, at least, an avoidable one – Fashoda was also a Franco-British battle of words in which competing claims of imperial destiny, legal rights, ethical superiority, and gentility preserved in the face of provocation belied the local reality of yet more African territory seized by force. If the Sudanese were the forgotten victims in all this, the Fashoda crisis was patently unequal in Franco-British aspects as well.

“Come Professor. You’ve had a nice little scientific trip! I’ve smashed the dervishes — luckily for you — and now I recommend you to pack up your flags and go home!” John Tenniel, Punch, Oct. 8, 1898.

On the imperial periphery, Marchand’s Mission was outnumbered and over-extended next to Kitchener’s Anglo-Egyptian expeditionary force. In London a self-confident Conservative government was able to exploit the internal fissures within French coalition administrations wrestling with the unending scandal of the Dreyfus case. Hence the imperative need for Ministers to be seen to be standing up in Marchand’s defense. In terms of political rhetoric, then, the French side of the Fashoda crisis was conditioned by official efforts to narrow the country’s deep internal divisions in the same way that the Republic’s opponents in politics, in the press, and on the streets sought to widen them.

Martin Thomas and Richard Toye, Arguing about Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France

Originally posted 1 May 2017

A Cathedral field trip

This post originally appeared on Katherine McDonald’s personal blog. Katherine is a lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter.

One of my academic specialisms is the study of inscriptions, otherwise known as epigraphy. Most of the material I work with is epigraphic, and sometimes this is one of the biggest challenges in my work. Learning how to read inscriptions is a skill that you need to learn by trial-and-error and, ideally, by having someone with more experience than you show you the ropes. So how do you teach epigraphy to graduate students? With a field trip to Exeter Cathedral, of course.

There are a few practical skills associated with epigraphy, the most important of which is squeeze making. Squeezes are paper impressions of inscriptions, formed by hitting wet filter paper into an inscription with a specially made brush. Once the paper is dry, it holds the impression of the stone permanently. Squeezes can be rolled up and stored for centuries (for example, in Oxford) – and even posted to scholars on the other side of the world. They allow scholars anywhere in the world to study inscriptions which they could not see in person. And, strangely enough, the negative image they provide is often much easier to read than the original inscription, revealing details that were not visible to the naked eye. They can also be easily scanned and digitised.

With the help of cathedral staff, we chose an appropriate stone for making a squeeze. Here’s Dr Charlotte Tupman (Digital Humanities, University of Exeter) demonstrating to some of the group.

DSC08150Charlotte demonstrates the exact “thwack” noise the students should aim for with the squeeze brushDSC08164.JPG
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The reverse of one of our finished squeezes – you can see a huge amount of detail of the surface of the stone (and also a bit of dirt from the floor).

When I popped back the following morning, I found perfectly dried squeezes all ready to be taken up to the department. It was a really fun and practical (if slightly messy) session, and we ended up with a great squeeze of this slab. If you want to see squeezing in action, here is a page with two videos from a group of students in Athens showing how the process works.

It’s not always possible to make a squeeze, though. Some stone is too soft, or too damaged, to be hit with a squeeze brush without damaging it further. Many of the inscriptions from pre-Roman Italy, for example, are on tufa – a light, bubbly, porous stone which would be more or less impossible to squeeze. In these situations, knowing how to use light and photography can be really helpful. In Exeter Cathedral, some of the most damaged slabs would be too fragile to squeeze, so we experimented with reading them in different ways.

Students reading worn inscriptions using a torch

Using a torch can illuminate all sorts of details on difficult-to-read inscriptions. Many museums and churches are dimly lit, so any kind of light is helpful – but a steeply raking light, at a very sharp angle to the surface, is the most helpful. Here’s an example taken by one of the students last week.

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With just the natural light available, this inscription is partly readable, but not very clear. There are distinctly worn sections where the lettering is difficult to read. If we introduce a light at a steeply raked angle, we see something very different.

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With the light at this angle, the name “Katherine Berry” is suddenly revealed! You might be able to see the other lines more clearly as well – but of course the best thing is to take a number of photographs or readings with the light at different angles, to illuminate different letters on the stone.

What did we get out of this session? We weren’t dealing with Greek and Roman inscriptions this time, though the process and principles are much the same anyway. The students responded with lots of thoughts and questions, but there were two responses that really stood out for me:

(1) Keep in mind the language of the period

In the picture above, you might be able to make out that Katherine Berry “dyed” in 1687. To us, this seems like an “incorrect” spelling for the word died. But in 1687, English spelling wasn’t standardised in the way it is now, and this spelling was completely valid. So as readers we have to be sensitive to the practices of the time, otherwise our false expectations could affect our reading and lead us to assume, for example, that this couldn’t be a letter Y at all.

This is equally true of Greek and Latin inscriptions. The spellings – and even the shapes of the letters – are not what we are used to. The alphabet used in fifth-century Athens, for example, is not the same as the Ionic Greek alphabet that we use to read their texts – and this can make a big difference. Similarly, in the time of Augustus, as well as later and earlier, there are inscriptions with the spelling pleps as well as plebs – both are fine, and it’s our own later standards that make one look wrong. To read inscriptions accurately, we need to allow for spellings and letter-shapes to vary.

IGI(3)1.jpg
Squeeze of IG I(3) I, Late C6th-early C5th. Notice how the lambda and sigma of “Salamin” (the end of the second line) are a different shape to how we would print the Greek alphabet now.

VLUU L310 W / Samsung L310 W
The pleps spelling in action in a (probably) Augustan inscription. CIL 06 40310.

(2) Epigraphy is subjective

If you’ve only even looked at inscriptions as they are written in textbooks, or printed in an edition, they seem quite fixed and objective. But as soon as you start trying to read inscriptions which are worn, damaged or contain mistakes made by the original engraver, you realise how many judgement calls have to be made by the epigraphist. With experience and practice, you can get better at spotting traces of letters and making educated guesses, but sometimes they really are guesses. This is why, if you are interested in using inscriptions in your research, it is so important to see them in person (or as a squeeze) to decide whether you agree with past interpretations.

Many thanks to Exeter Cathedral and Charlotte Tupman for all their help with this session.

If this post has inspired you to take a closer look at inscriptions in buildings near you, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter. (But please don’t take squeezes without permission!)

 

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.