Friday, 11 April 2014

Medieval Storytelling: Engaging the Next Generation

I have just returned home to Aberystwyth University from a very enjoyable and informative workshop organised by Oxford University.

The workshop was entitled 'Medieval Storytelling: Engaging the Next Generation' and is the first step in what will hopefully develop into a long-running programme of events both for myself and for Oxford and its future collaborators.

It was an AHRC-funded skills development programme aiming to train research postgraduates in the art of storytelling. We were divided into two groups. One group was led by professional storyteller Daniel Morden while the second group was led by Jenny Moon, a storyteller and proponent of the effectiveness of storytelling in Higher Education.

Packed into two days were workshops on performance and adaptation skills with a view to performing medieval stories to schoolchildren as a way of enhancing and supporting the teaching and learning processes within schools and to foster an interest in medieval narratives from an early age.
These two days of workshops are not the end of the project and now each participant must to go back to their home universities and  make contact with primary schools and/or more publicly accessible venues within their locality in order to perform the stories that they will adapt using the skills learnt at Oxford.

The organising of our own events for schools or the wider public will raise their own difficulties and in overcoming these I hope that by the end of the project I will have developed my general communication and organisational skills to a high level so that I can share my their research wider a wider audience outside of the academic community.

So while the workshops at Oxford were both informative and entertaining it is now that the hard work begins and I should announce that I am now available as a storyteller for schools and events.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Photography - crow

It has been a while since I last shared a post and a picture. 

I am still busy working making sense of the research I have completed so far for the research monitoring process of my first year of PhD work. At the moment I am having difficulty in articulating just how fundamental I consider the process of translation and interpretation to be to my work and to my approach to research.  I expect in part this is because it is a theory I am still in the process of developing and will not reach an easily expressible form until later in the PhD.
So as can be expected at this stage it is a work in progress.

So for now here is a photograph I took earlier in the year of crow on some castle walls.  I do think these birds are fascinating.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Llamas, vikings, news

I do enjoying living in Wales surrounded by countryside.  The lambs are beginning to fill the fields around the town and snowdrops are blossoming in the front garden, and with the sun shining over the fields even the llamas seem to be enjoying themselves.

The initial stages of my PhD research seem to be going reasonably well.  I have located all my sources and I'm in the process of transcribing and translating them ready for further analysis. I have managed to restrain myself from going to overboard at this stage and I have limited myself to works written in Anglo-Norman and Middle English.

The only times I really miss London is when it comes to buses - we nearly lost our bus route just before Christmas - and when something wonderful happens at one of the London museums.  Which takes me to the breakfast news this morning and to the segment on the Viking exhibition at the British Museum.  It looks like it's going to be a wonderful exhibit.

As with just about every medieval history undergraduate I too had a great time researching the Vikings, reading the sagas and having heated discussions over the mix of creativity and violence so it's good to see the Vikings being portrayed 'in the round' so to speak and it's an exhibition I hope to get time to see in the flesh if only for the jewellery and the ship. 

If any of you do get to see it before me then let me know what you think of it.

To go with the exhibition the BM is also showing two films at selected cinemas across the UK - one general and one aimed at children.  So at the very least I will get tickets for that.

For more info on the Vikings in the BM click here.

And here is a llama photo to finish with.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Photography - colour or black and white 2

This is another photograph taken at the Botanic Gardens in Carmarthenshire.  The first image is colour while the second has been converted to black and white.

My preference is for the black and white image but what do you think?

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Photography in colour and black and white

For Christmas I received a new Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX Micro 85mm f/3.5G ED VR lens and of course I just had to rush out and give it a quick test down at the Botanic Gardens of Wales in Carmarthenshire.

Below is one of the pictures that I took on my morning out.  This picture was taken in the glasshouse, hand-held with f6.3, 1/40 and at ISO 200.  The first image is in colour while the second is the same image with a black and white filter added in Photoshop.

I prefer the black and white image to the colour.  The addition of the black and white filter allows the pattern formed by the white petals of the flower to dominate the shot while the image as a whole blurs nicely towards the back of the frame. 

I intend to post more pictures taken with this lens as I experiment with it as both a macro and a portrait lens.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Thinking about my research

As part of my first year as a PhD research student at Aberystwyth University I have to undertake a series of general research training modules.  Last week's provided an introduction to critical thinking. It  was an interesting session, but having returned to the academic world after a significant gap it did leave me wondering about my own way of thinking.  Just how do I think about my research?

This question makes a nice change to my worrying about what I do not remember from my undergraduate studies.  A worry I really out to let go of given Aristotle's view that memory decays as we get older.   Personally I'm putting my lack of recall down to lack of practise.  I haven't had to recall specific historical events, views or arguments for quite some time and getting those brain cells to behave themselves is not an easy task.

My view on this being due to a lack of practise seems to be backed up by so far by my current experiences of learning Welsh simply because the more Welsh I do the more Latin, French and German I can recall.  Interestingly when I recall my Latin I actually see an image in my mind of the tables and lists I wrote out as an undergraduate.  Much in the way Aristotle suggests we store memories.

Anyway back to my thinking process.

Dealing with medieval history I follow the following general steps:

  • Through reading/chatting/watching TV programs an idea will appeal to me and raise questions that I want to answer.
  • I will then read around the topic to assess if I have something new to say.
  • When dealing with the past I try to be as impartial as I can and assess the work of others within their the context of their own times and belief system.
In short I will have an idea, test it, assess the results and adjust as necessary.

However the putting of myself in another's shoes is vitally important.   It does not mean that I agree with everything I read or learn but it does mean that I can at some level understand their point of view.  This is essential in researching the medieval period.  You have to try to place yourself within the medieval world-view, let go of your preconceptions in order to evaluate the evidence.
It is impossible to take yourself completely out of the equation because even in being 'impartial' your own life experiences and beliefs which still shape how you deal with the evidence and the arguments surrounding it, but you have to try. It will be evident in your writing to what extent you have succeeded.

I have had comments expressing the belief that what I want to do is impossible because the medieval world is so different to our own.  But to be honest I feel that argument could, to a certain extent, be applied to any time, any country and any individual.  The hardest thing we can do is to really empathise and see point of view different to our own.

So I will continue to read, analyse and apply what I learn.  I hope that I will be proved right but I am equally willing to accept that I may be proved wrong.