Tag Archives: Clare College

Stock Take V: annual report

Let me stick with that collegiate theme for a moment, and also revisit the point last year when I counted up my outstanding papers and was duly horrified and made great resolves to change the situation. Indeed, I said:

I will revise, format and submit “Archbishop Ató”. I will do all the necessary reading for “Uncertain Origins” and make sure that it isn’t me who is holding up the Leeds volume. I will try and do both of these in the next three months, but I won’t promise the timing because of now being teaching and having other papers in final stages, book about to reach proofs and so on. However, I will do it at the earliest feasible point. Then I will revise and submit “Legends” and then I will concentrate on “Succession to the Fisc” until delivery time and then we’ll see what happens next.

And then of course I was unexpectedly given teaching and everything so pledged went out of the window. That was, er, seven months ago now, not the three I mentioned, and what’s been done? Well:

  • I did in fact submit “Archbishop Ató”; it was accepted, its final version should leave my mailer this weekend and hopefully it will be out in December. This is rather faster than I’m used to! I like it.
  • I did not do all the necessary reading for “Uncertain Origins”, partly because it was annoying me but mainly because no time. However, the volume is nowhere near emerging, through no fault of mine, so I don’t feel too bad about that; if it were ready, I would have badly misprioritised. (I do feel bad for the others who want to be in the volume, though; sorry.)
  • “Legends” needs me to read about four things and then it’s done, but I haven’t actually progressed it since I pledged.
  • And “Succession to the Fisc” now exists, isn’t total rubbish and will do for Kalamazoo, but isn’t anything like I hoped it would be at this stage. Ah well. This is what the summer’s for.

But, the college tie (as it were) is that every year Clare ask their College Research Associates to submit a report of their activity over the year. This is the sort of thing that usually causes deep angst about wasted time and scant hopes of career progress, but this year it’s not so bad. I wrote this for them:

I end this year of appointment as I began it, employed as a Research Assistant in the Department of Coins & Medals in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Here my task is primarily to document the collections and see them onto the Museum’s website, and in that sphere this year has seen 5,446 coins and medals added to the resources online, the great bulk of which have been the Museum’s holding of Chinese coins, as part of a project in which I was managing three other members of staff. During the reporting period I also designed and coded the online presentation of our exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Art in the Round, which can be seen here:
I was also lead author on a booklet entitled Coins in Collections: care and use (Cambridge 2009) which was distributed at the International Numismatic Congress and will soon be available through the Museum’s online shop, as part of the Museum’s participation in an EU project to reduce illegal online sales of ancient coins through image recognition technology.
During this academic year I have also been employed at Queen Mary University of London, where I delivered the lectures and some of the seminars on the course ‘Medieval Europe 751-1215: authority, religion and culture’, a total of 20 lectures and 40 seminars to a total course enrolment of 90-odd first-year undergraduates.
Outwith my employment, I have continued my research into the workings of power in the Early Middle Ages and Spain in particular, and have had papers published in the 2009 issue of The Numismatic Chronicle (London: Royal Numismatic Society) and the most recent issue of The Heroic Age (online). At the time of writing I have the monograph of my doctoral thesis and four other papers in process and all should be in print by the end of the calendar year. I have also been a regular attender at seminars in London and in Cambridge and I presented a paper at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, in July 2009 as part of a session that I organised. I have also continued to maintain my academic blog, which can be viewed at:
For Clare more specifically, where due to the above commitments I have not spent as much time as I would have liked this year, I presented at the Clare Research Symposium, which was a splendid opportunity to meet scholars of my generation in a variety of disciplines and make new friends in the College community. I have also repeated my class on Material Culture for Historians in the Museum for Clare first-year historians, and enjoyed dinner and lunch in College, including the Historians’ Dinner which was an excellent occasion, where time has permitted, though I regret to say I still have to use my full entitlement in any given term. Subject to the Committee’s approval, I hope to make a more determined attempt at this next year!

That’s, that’s not so bad actually. And I could add that I’ve had two interviews after years of none, and that also bodes well for the future. I might win this game yet. Of course I did this at the cost of seeing people or going out to an almost total extent, and have gone procrastination-OCD enough about housework that it’s annoying my housemates, but I’m thinking of it as the final push that leads to somewhere where my time isn’t split between three jobs…

Trying to cure cancer while some bloke goes on about Arabs

There are many things about the Cambridge college system that may not look terribly good in the twenty-first century, but there are also things that do. In particular, a college of, say, about seven hundred people, of whom maybe three hundred are engaged in research, is a good size of community for researchers across many different fields to interact, learn from each other and so forth without one necessarily being forced to deal with people whom one would rather avoid. It’s a good group to make friends in, and there’s a handy expert in most fields to go and ask about something with whom you have an immediate connection to draw on.

The bridge over the River Cam in Clare College, Cambridge

The bridge over the River Cam in Clare College, Cambridge

That said, these interactions can benefit from helping along, and not everywhere tries to foster them. One of the things I’ve so far enjoyed most about being a College Research Associate at Clare in Cambridge is that the college does try and make these things happen, and consequently feels like a genuine scholarly community. And it escapes the old-fashioned image of the Oxbridge college to an extent simply by the subjects those scholars are studying. The reason for this post is the Clare Research Symposium, whose third instalment took place on March 11 this year and which I was at, and the program from it demonstrates my point, have a look at this:

Session 1

  • Eamon Murphy, “Shakespearean Tragedy and the Literature of Roguery”
  • Karina Jakubowicz, “Concepts of Landscape in the Writing of Hilda Doolittle”
  • April Ledbetter, “Make Your Own Myth: identity in Harry Potter costume play”
  • Mark Schenk, “Folded Textural Sheets—from Origami to Concrete Formwork”
  • Simon Byrne, “Graphical Methods”
  • Alison McDougall-Weir, “‘What Do Scientists Do All Day?’: Architectural Intent and User Experience in the Architecture of Science”

Session 2

  • Peter Riley, “Walt Whitman and Real Estate”
  • Robin McCaig, “Debunkin’ Dönitz: what the Nuremburg Trial really said about submarine warfare”
  • James Blackstone, “‘Reds under Beds’ Revisited: the McCarthyite Right and US Foreign Policy, 1950-1954”
  • Rebecca Voorhees, “Crystallographic Study of the Ribosome: quality control in protein synthesis”
  • Jutta Wellmann, “Can Mechanical Forces Regulate Cell Adhesion?”
  • Matt Cliffe, “How to INVERT Data and Structure: structure determionation of disordered materials from diffraction detail”

Keynote Speech

Session 3

  • Rebecca Bradshaw, “The Creation and Evolution of Royal Iconography as seen in the Bett al-Wali Temple, Egypt”
  • Jared James Eddy, “The Roman Disease Pthisis and Modern Pulmonary Tuberculosis”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “What’s in an Ethnonym? Arabic-named Christians on the Frontier of Tenth-Century Spain”
  • Gary McDowell, “Frogs, Mice, Zombies? Making Proteins Stable in the Quest for Brains”
  • Madzia Kowalski, “A Glimpse into Translational Ovarian Cancer Research: is AMD3100 a potential therapy?”
  • Scott Newman, “Evolving Genomes in Breast Cancer”

Session 4

  • M. Tamaruya, “Sue You in America or in England?”
  • Teale Phelps Bondaroff, “Prime-Time Campaigning: the media capture strategy of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
  • Peter Dixon, “Barriers to Cooperation in Civil War Interventions, or, Why Can’t They Get On?”
  • Susanne Schweizer, “Gaining Control: from cognitive to affective control”
  • Sinead English, “Measuring Growth Rates in Wild Meerkats”
  • Merlin Sheldrake, “Horticulture-Vultures”

Now, one can immediately tell from this that Clare’s investment in the natural sciences and medicine is pretty high, but they had made a valiant effort to balance arts and sciences, or at least humanities and sciences, and also to make everyone talk to the others. So each of these papers except for the keynote was a ten-minute presentation with as few difficult words in as possible, and as a result I think everyone learnt a lot about others’ fields. This is good. The keynote, also, I think, did a very good job of introducing the non-historians in the audience, of whom there were many, to some of the basic problems of agency that we face in thinking about the past: does society shape individuals or vice versa and, in this particular case, how individual and undetermined is genius? I think the scientists would rather have seen experiments devised to test this than an account of the past couple of centuries’ thinking about it, since as we have said here before there are no authorities any more, but it was still a sweeping address that reached people at several levels.

The Riley Auditorium in the Gillespie Centre, Clare College, Cambridge

The Riley Auditorium in the Gillespie Centre, where the Symposium was held

Particular note should also go to: April Ledbetter’s paper, which was one of the braver pieces of academic presentation I’ve seen; to Simon Byrne’s albeit mainly because if I’d seen his paper before I’d written this post the post would have been far far more useful; Peter Riley for sheer passion; Jared James Eddy for having correctly gauged the audience and pitched a historical paper with a heavy bio-medical angle to it; me, I think, for managing to keep to a ten-minute slot when presenting material about which I have before gone on for an hour; and Scott Newman for the line, “Now, you may be thinking that’s an unusually good-looking genome, and you’d be right because it’s mine.” Also, his paper was the one that I was most struck by, because firstly he had some very clear graphs of the messed-up spliced and interspliced genome of a breast cancer cell, which brought home to me what I had not before realised, that in many terms cancer is actually a different organism from its host, and secondly because he seemed excitingly close to having pinned down at least one cause of breast cancer. But it was all interesting and it was great to take part on at least notionally equal terms. Now some of these people are saving lives and some of them are trying to end wars or build laboratories for the ages, and even among the humanities some are trying to change the way we read books and poems enjoyed by millions, so I’ve no illusion about the actual importance of a project I don’t have the backing to do against all this, but all the same, it makes one feel like a scholar to stand up and join in the discourse like this.

Horses for courses

(I promise that this is the last entry for a while I will begin with a non-medieval piece of token coinage. This one is relevant, but possibly only to one reader. Back to the real deal shortly, after I have met some deadlines…)

Reverse of a copper halfpenny token issued by an uncertain party between 1787 and 1805 depicting Pandora's Breeches afire with a serpent beneath, Fitzwilliam museum CM.BI.1925-R

Reverse of a copper halfpenny token issued by an uncertain party between 1787 and 1805 depicting Pandora's Breeches afire with a serpent beneath

… on the other hand, one persistent advantage of the attachment to Clare is the conversation. One Monday not long ago, after finding a fellow Thomas Spence enthusiast (see above), I got talking to my more immediate colleague Dr Tatsuya Mitsuda, who has now landed a job in Japan and so will not be my colleague for much longer. This means that he is wrapping up his current field of research, which has been on the ownership of and fascination with the horse in modern culture. Among the interesting things he said is that it takes till horse-racing becomes a popular sport for horses to become so personalised as to get names, as before that the focus is on the rider and also very upper-class; affection for horses, he suggested, was mainly a middle-class thing.

A stone carving of Odin on Sleipnir

A stone carving of Odin on Sleipnir

This, it seemed to me, was likely to be vulnerable to attack from the Middle Ages, which is a concern fresh in my mind as you know, but the only named medieval horse I could immediately think of was Sleipnir, who is something of a special case. Now, having been directed by the Unlocked Wordhoard, who were also good enough to link to me, to an almost-irrelevant post at In the Medieval Middle that referred to a relevant one, I have the full answer and a characteric recommendation to read more Jeffrey Cohen, which indeed perhaps I should do some day, though I may wait for his Leeds keynote before I judge the urgency of this given my to-read pile. Anyway, the answer is that, as I suspected, chivalric literature has quite a few named horses in it and Karl Steel also had some more twisty examples that you can follow up there if such things interest you. All the same, I think Tats has some safe ground to retreat to from this onslaught of the medievalists in terms of popular, that is widespread, ownership of horses and the identification of the horse as celebrity is still interesting. Just, perhaps, not as new as all that.

Is this success?

It’s not very significant; there’s no salary involved, only a fairly straight swap of dining rights and access to facilities, plus an affiliation if I need one, in exchange for readiness to teach a few supervisions, but all the same Clare College in Cambridge have agreed to make me a College Research Associate. This is mainly good news for the teaching, though it may have its social benefits too and Clare is a very lovely college. But also, I think it may be the only job I’ve ever got purely through written application with no degree of who-you-know operating at all. My only contacts at Clare are either very busy being an MP or tragically dead.1 So, if I can, by my CV alone, convince people to take me on because of my research and expertise when there’s only a bit of money and a few students involved, it’s only a matter of scaling up from here…

1. Yup, that still hurts. Be peaceful, Chris, if you can.