The Value of Humanities

There has been much discussion recently about value for money in higher education and, in particular, the value of Humanities degrees in the current economic climate. In a recent article entitled ‘Humanities as Vocation’ on the popular higher education blog WonkHE, Dr Jon Wilson, Vice-Dean Education in Arts and Humanities at KCL, noted the importance for Humanities degrees in making a clear connection to real-world employment:

As many humanities scholars are doing, we should also build our subjects’ practical connection with the real world into our teaching…..Those links are being made in different ways in universities now. They might involve creating communities of practice, where alumni in related fields discuss and help shape the curriculum and career choices of current students.[1]

This point strikes me as being ever-more important and working with alumni is an increasing focus for Humanities at Exeter. A quick look at the College’s Alumni Profiles gives an indication of the huge variety of different careers Humanities’ graduates hold and increasing numbers are willing to share the benefits of their experience with current students. Students can access valuable knowledge for a variety of different careers through engagement with willing alumni, who often give up their time to act both as advisors to current students and also to get more directly involved in the delivery of the curriculum.

One such example of a course that embeds learning into the curriculum is the Liberal Arts ‘Think Tank’ module. Think Tank asks students to work in small groups to tackle a key social, political, business or economic challenge. Challenges are posed by Humanities’ alumni who have gone on to work in variety of different careers. The skills that students develop through their degree – in-depth research, creative thinking, and professional presentation to name just a few – are utilised to come up with solutions that the students present back to their alumni mentor, lecturers, and peers at the end of the module. Students get the benefit of working directly with these industry experts throughout the project whilst simultaneously learning how former Exeter students have used their degrees in their future careers.

I graduated from the Exeter’s Classics and Ancient History Department in 2013 and volunteered to set a Think Tank challenge for the first time in 2017. Having worked in a number of different Higher Education roles, I’ve spent the past two years working in the Exeter’s own Global Partnerships Team as a Business Partner focused on Humanities and Social Sciences. Global Partnerships is responsible for Exeter’s engagement with other universities all over the world, forging new connections with international partners that will enhance our education and research. It’s a role I find fast-paced, challenging, and (usually) very rewarding.

I was eager to take part in Think Tank for a number of reasons, not least because I was intrigued to see what solutions the students might propose to some of the challenges the UK higher education sector is currently facing. I therefore asked the students to devise a strategy for how a UK university like Exeter should work on the international stage to meet the challenges facing the higher education sector over the next 10 years. They had to think about some of the big questions facing higher education at the moment – how do we prepare for the changes that Brexit will bring? What new opportunities for research funding are out there and how can we make the most of them? How can we continue to attract the best international students from around the world? Other alumni gave students the opportunity to work on challenges as diverse as responding to the divisions laid bare by the Grenfell Fire tragedy or devising new campaigns for the RNLI.

I was pleasantly surprised when eight students chose to work on the challenge I had set and when they presented their findings after eight weeks of work, I was struck by the depth of their research and the originality of aspects of their thinking. So impressed was I, that I pointed my students in the direction of a paid internship opportunity some of my colleagues were advertising to support the delivery of a major international conference. The experiences gleaned through ‘Think Tank’ helped one of the students get the job, despite a very competitive field.

Exeter can make a strong argument that Humanities degrees offer students great preparation for a wide variety of careers; in addition to glancing through our alumni profiles, recent information from the Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education (DHLE) survey and Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data suggests that Exeter’s Humanities’ graduates tend to perform well after they leave the College. My experiences have convinced me that alumni engagement has a key part to play in this picture; not only is it good for the students, but it’s great for alumni to be able to harness the enthusiasm and skills of the students they work with.

[1] https://wonkhe.com/blogs/humanities-as-vocation/

Written Dr James Smith, Assistant Head of Global Partnerships, University of Exeter, Streatham Campus

Why might someone want to work in heritage consultancy?

The University of Exeter is offering all new students enrolling on its MA International Heritage Management and Consultancy programme in September 2018 a £1,000 tuition fee discountRead more and apply now.

Heritage is a diverse field, and while we are all aware of the jobs available in heritage bodies such as Historic England, English Heritage, and the National Trust, there is a growing field of opportunity for heritage consultants. This ranges from individuals who act as consultants, providing bespoke pieces of research and work for clients who may include museums, heritage organisations, art galleries, and science centres, such as Emmie Kell Consulting; to companies of consultants who offer a body of expertise, such as Cotswold Archaeology who specialise in heritage and archaeology.

There are also permanent professional roles in non-heritage organisations that are also called ‘heritage consultants’. This may be a few individuals or a team of heritage consultants working in the private sector, a blue chip company, a think tank, NGO or charity. For example, Atkins is an international design, engineering and project management consultancy that has a dedicated heritage team that ‘assists business, industry, and government in meeting regulatory permitting and compliance requirements when a project impacts or has the potential to impact historically significant cultural resources’.

Heritage consultants get to work on a great diversity of projects making their daily working exciting, innovative and rewarding. It is a great way to gain a portfolio of experience and skills, working locally, nationally or internationally.

Written Dr Bryony Onciul, Director of the MA International Heritage Management and Consultancy and Senior Lecturer in Public History, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus

Three tips on building a career in international heritage management

The University of Exeter is offering all new students enrolling on its MA International Heritage Management and Consultancy programme in September 2018 a £1,000 tuition fee discount. Read more and apply now.

1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. What fields of heritage management are you interested in? Do you think you’d enjoy the practical, day-to-day elements of being a heritage consultant as well as the theoretical aspects of public history?

There is no set career path in heritage, which can be daunting for some, but liberating for others. I stumbled into heritage management because of my archaeological and anthropological work in southern Africa. My first degree was in history, and my MA was in Heritage and Museum Studies. Doing fieldwork and volunteering in countries outside of Europe not only gives you a taste of what it’s like to work with diverse groups – often with vastly different, and even sometimes irreconcilable worldviews – but it also helps you identify what you’re good at. This in turn will allow you to target specific companies and institutions within heritage sectors – both in the UK and abroad – when you are applying for jobs.

2. Network! I’d also thought I wasn’t cut out for networking. Surely all the big names in the heritage sector were fed up of overly-eager and recently-qualified graduates introducing themselves at events and sending emails asking about upcoming opportunities? It turns out, however, that most of the established experts who pull the strings (and often control the purse strings) are affable, approachable, and keen to meet new people – especially if they are passionate about their subject and heritage in general.

Word of mouth is a powerful tool. Heritage experts in the UK often know and collaborate with heritage experts overseas. If someone that is respected by colleagues endorses you, it’s likely that you’re more than half way to making it onto a future employer’s shortlist, whether in the UK or abroad.

3. Gain extra qualifications, and volunteer. In addition to courses like the University of Exeter’s new MA in International Heritage Management and Consultancy, volunteering is an excellent idea – especially because many of your competitors will likely have done the same. Volunteering – both in the UK and abroad – not only provides you with invaluable new experiences and a chance to identify your strengths and weaknesses, it also helps you expand your professional network. Most of all, working abroad is rewarding, and fun!

Written by Dr Jamie Hampson, Senior Lecturer in Heritage, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus

How to Become a Heritage Consultant

The University of Exeter is offering all new students enrolling on its MA International Heritage Management and Consultancy programme in September 2018 a £1,000 tuition fee discountRead more and apply now.

How to Become a Heritage Consultant

A Heritage Consultant brings expert advice and practice to museums, the built environment — including buildings, ruins and historic areas — and other heritage contexts and projects.

The work itself varies considerably depending on the project. It might involve developing tourism strategies, archive design, planning, project management, interpretation, access planning, visitor research, or assistance with funding applications.

Heritage consultants can work within an organisation (including NGOs) freelance or as an employee of a consultancy firm. Large consultancies may have a team of professionals with expertise in tourism, archaeology, museum, conservation, historic buildings or architecture.

As there is no set career pathway to follow for those wanting to become a Heritage Consultant, most of those currently working in the role will have followed a different path and will have different areas of focus or specialisms. This is part of what makes the field so interesting.

Studying Heritage Management

Heritage consultancy is a balance of disciplines, for example history, archaeology, and geography. For this reason many students study Heritage Consultancy as an MA after completing a degree in a related subject such as History, Politics, English, Geography, Archaeology, Art History or Architecture. An MA will offer theoretical and methodological training as well as hands-on experience working in a range of contexts.

During their studies many students will focus in on a particular area of Heritage Management or an overlapping field which interests them. This may set the tone for the type of organisation they wish to work for following graduation. Work placements allow students to gain an understanding of career paths which may interest them.

Finding a Role

The wide range of roles in the sector mean that there is no single approach when it comes to finding a Heritage Management job. Having the experience of a work placement (as part of an MA or separately) will show that you have a practical, as well as theoretical, understand of the field.

When applying for a role you’ll need to show a clear understanding of the theory of Heritage Management as well as an ability to undertake clear and methodical research. Demonstrating how Heritage can be a lens through which to consider current global challenges will show that you understand the wider context of the discipline.

Summary: How to Become a Heritage Consultant

  • There is no set career pathway.
  • Heritage consultancy is a balance between various disciplines, such as history, archaeology, and geography.
  • You need the tools to understand the history of a site, and a holistic understanding of its context today.
  • Expand your knowledge and experience in related disciplines to improve your ability as a practitioner, and make it easier to land a job as a Heritage Consultant.
  • You can develop expertise in heritage by studying a Master’s degree, such as the MA International Heritage Management and Consultancy at the University of Exeter.

What is Heritage Management?

The University of Exeter is offering all new students enrolling on its MA International Heritage Management and Consultancy programme in September 2018 a £1,000 tuition fee discountRead more and apply now.

What is Heritage Management?

“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The term ‘heritage’ has various interpretations, which ultimately depend on the background and interests of the stakeholder.

It can be tangible or intangible, movable or immovable, old or new, owned privately, communally, corporately, or not at all.

In the past, heritage ‘properties’ were often thought of as individual buildings or monuments, such as churches and temples. Today it is generally recognised that the whole environment (or site) of a heritage property is important and has been influenced by its interaction with humanity.

You may be familiar with World Heritage sites like the Angkor Temples, the Great Barrier Reef, Yellowstone National Park, Stonehenge, and the Galapagos Islands.

Whilst physical structures generally come to mind when considering heritage, intangible forms are equally important in many cultures. Intangible heritage represents the living culture of communities, it’s components of its intrinsic identity, and its uniqueness and distinctiveness in comparison with all other human groups.

Why Manage Heritage?

The broadening of properties under the heritage ‘umbrella’ has dramatically increased the number of places and landscapes that require preservation, stewardship, and promotion.

There has also been an increase in complexities and threats to heritage properties in recent times, such as tourism, climate change, human conflict, and resource constraints.

The practice of heritage management might involve strategic and financial planning, disaster preparation, and people, project and site management.

It might also include fundraising, arts sponsorship, external funding, and the marketing of heritage sites.

Ultimately, heritage management is the practice of preserving, protecting and promoting heritage in its various forms.

The Past, Present, and Future

Heritage shapes people’s lives, feelings, emotions, hopes, and memories. It can teach us about cultures and peoples of the past… how they lived, the challenges they faced, and how they overcame them.

Heritage is also, therefore, a powerful lens through which to extract lessons from the past. Importantly, those lessons can be applied to understand and tackle present and future world challenges, such as climate change, migration, conflict, and decolonisation.

Sources and Further Reading

MA International Heritage Management and Consultancy at the University of Exeter

UNESCO website: http://whc.unesco.org/

UNESCO Guide — Managing Cultural World Heritage: http://whc.unesco.org/en/managing-cultural-world-heritage/

Lenzerini F. Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Living Culture of Peoples. European Journal of International Law, Volume 22, Issue 1, 1 February 2011, Pages 101–120.

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
The filter paper is dampened with de-ionised water.IMG_20170320_124758828.jpg
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!)