Return to the Manor

From Monday 3 August some staff and research students will be returning to our city centre campus at King’s Manor.

This is especially welcome for those who cannot efficiently or easily work from home, as it allows them a peaceful work-space – probably a lot more peaceful than usual, given the restrictions on numbers permitted in the buildings.

The Headmaster’s House in simpler times.

Hand sanitiser stations and allocated entrances/exits are just a few of the new features of what is known as the “Headmaster’s House”, in which the Centre for Medieval Studies resides.

The new “kitchen” in the PhD workroom. Desks have been reallocated to accommodate the social-distancing requirements.

It is hoped that these highly-regulated returns will pave the way for increasing use of the campus in the lead up to the beginning of term; although it is likely that strong social-distancing measures, including face-coverings and reduced capacity will continue throughout the autumn.

Nonetheless, it is excellent to see some life returning to the buildings, and we look forward to seeing our colleagues again, albeit from an appropriate distance! We miss you all.

The Centre is nothing without the people who work within these walls.

This blog is the first in a series of notes and observations that we will be posting as researchers return to King’s Manor.

Monarchy, State and Political Culture in Late Medieval England: Essays in Honour of W. Mark Ormrod

On Thursday 16 July, Dr Craig Taylor (History) hosted a launch for Monarchy, State and Political Culture in Late Medieval England: Essays in Honour of W. Mark Ormrod (Eds. Gwilym Dodd and Craig Taylor, York Medieval Press, 2020). This Festschrift has been produced by Mark Ormrod’s former students and Research Assistants, and honours his long and illustrious career in the political, social, and cultural history of medieval England.

The cover of Monarchy, State and Political Culture in Late Medieval England.

Mark Ormrod, a Professor Emeritus at the University of York, is among the leading historians of the Later Middle Ages in the British Isles. Having joined the University of York in 1990, Mark was promoted to Professor five years later, and subsequently held the positions both of Head of Department in History (in 2001, and 2003-7), and Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies (1998-2001 and 2002-3). When the newly-created Faculty of Arts and Humanities at York needed a Dean in 2009, Prof. Mark Ormrod was the man for the job, holding the position until his retirement in 2017. Needless to say, Medieval History and Medieval Studies at York has been shaped by Mark’s influence through his teaching, supervising, and leadership.

A special consideration in Mark’s work has always been to set up projects with funded opportunities for doctoral and postdoctoral researchers – and it is these researchers and colleagues who have come together in this volume to celebrate the legacy of this remarkable historian and man. Thank you, Mark, for your contributions to Medieval Studies, to York, and to the CMS.

You can find out more details about the book on the Boydell & Brewer website.

Graduate Conference 2020

On 23-24 June, the CMS (virtually) hosted its annual Postgraduate Conference. We asked the organisers, Katie Vernon (CMS), Jordan Cook (HoA), Isobel Staton (History), Yuki Sugiyama (English), and Karli Grazman (CMS), to write about the conference, and their experience of organising a virtual event.

As a team of five, we organised the CMS graduate conference for June 2020. Originally intended as an in-person conference, the world had other plans! Despite having to adapt quickly to move the event online due to Covid-19, the conference was a great success and a lot of fun to see come together on both days.

We were faced with significant challenges upon transitioning to an online platform. For example, we had originally applied and received funding to cover travel grants and catering for an in-person conference. Part of this funding came with the stipulation that we would provide training workshops relevant for early career researchers and those in the postgraduate community. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to use those grants but we were still very keen to provide the workshops. These became one workshop on writing proposals for conferences, and another on “impact” in academia. 

In order to maintain the networking aspect of an in-person conference, we were keen to ensure that the online version had space for socialising at the end of each day. This wasn’t quite the same as physically attending a conference, but it did bring about some good surprises! For example, the Q&A sessions were very lively with lots of questions and conversations between both delegates and presenters. One indicator of successful panel organisation is a group of papers that inform each other and presenters who are engaged with each other’s work and this was definitely the case for each Q&A session. 

We made the decision early on to have pre-recorded papers, rather than relying on unsteady internet connections, or assuming everyone’s schedules would be able to avoid disruption. We had all speakers send in their PowerPoint with correct timings, a video of them presenting, and a transcript. We embedded the video of speakers into a movie file of the PowerPoint and uploaded them to YouTube as unlisted videos. Using speakers’ transcripts we were able to then provide each video with accurate closed captions.  Having the papers pre-recorded and captioned made it a lot easier to follow along and listen at a slower pace if needed. Being able to caption these presentations helped to make the sessions more accessible and also meant that people from all over the world could listen in – we had people from as far away as the US! We had presenters from a wide range of different countries, and this illustrated our theme of “relationships” because it provided another way of thinking about how we can build and maintain networks with other medievalists. Considering the benefits of using online platforms for conferences include increased accessibility, as well as reducing our impact on the environment and enabling flexible working or improved work-life balance, it’ll be important to take forward some of the elements of digital working with future conferences.

During the two days of the conference, we were really happy to see papers from not only the four disciplines of Literature, History, History of Art, and Archaeology, but also to see many of the papers engaged with their materials in a truly interdisciplinary way. We had a wide range of panels from sessions on people and animals, or people and environments, to relationships with the divine, and even relationships within new methodologies for research. This huge range provided an excellent opportunity for delegates to learn about new research areas and communicate with members of the academic community they might not normally see. The importance of communication between different disciplines and research areas was discussed in our wonderful keynote talk by Dr Hollie Morgan, who presented on life after PhD and her experience doing postdoctoral work in an area which differed from her PhD research. As early career researchers it was incredibly helpful to hear about the experiences of someone who can give relevant and timely advice to everyone thinking about how they will approach their future careers. 

All in all, it was a great opportunity to organise the conference, especially at such an uncertain time, and it was amazing to be able to see it all come together successfully on both days. We hope that everyone who participated had a good time and was able to take something interesting or useful from it.

Katie, Jordan, Isobel, Yuki, Karli