Quadrivium IX

Quadrivium: as its new website has it, an ‘annual training event for postgraduates and early career researchers of medieval and early modern textual studies’. There’s no conference fee and—get this!—there are even small but very helpful grants towards the cost of accommodation and travel. So of course I go. This year I attended the ninth Quadrivium symposium, hosted by the University of Kent.

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The symposium ran from Thursday afternoon to about noon on Saturday. Thursday involved a tour of the cathedral (superb), a session on DocExplore (which I had to miss to deal with my hotel), a drama workshop (which I avoided out of cowardice) and an enjoyable wine reception.

Friday kicked off with sessions on CVs and interview skills; monographs and journal articles; and postdoctoral schemes. All very useful stuff, and one of the things I really value Quadrivium for: I feel that my supervisor is a good source of career advice, but I’m aware that supervisors vary, and without accessible training at events such as this one some of this information might never be disseminated.

Erik Kwakkel, or perhaps I should say @erik_kwakkel, delivered an entertaining keynote on the use of social media to communicate research. He offered us a behind-the-scenes view of his presences on several online platforms. Although he helpfully flagged up some disadvantages and pitfalls—nuance does not fit easily into 140 characters—he ended by encouraging us to convey our enthusiasm for what we do. Several of the questions revolved around access and suitability issues: most online environments emphasise images, but some libraries are happier for images to appear on the web than others, and not all research comes with ready-made visual appeal.

Saturday morning began with a museum visit, followed by a thought-provoking session with Catherine Richardson, tackling ways of thinking about seemingly mute material objects. I’m sure all Quadrivium IX attendees now know their pipkins from their porringers. I found the session stimulating although I don’t know if I’ll be turning to material objects which aren’t codices very often myself.

Then we visited the cathedral’s archive and library. Here Erik Kwakkel treated three topics: the value of manuscript fragments in early printed books’ bindings, his take on the murky period between (‘between’?) Caroline and gothic script, and an argument for the role of thought and choice in even seemingly very mundane manuscript features, such as size and proportion. (He also mentioned a measurement that I hadn’t encountered before: dividing the height of the area ruled for writing by the number of lines.)

David Grummit and Cressida Williams led a session on Canterbury’s archives and on archives in general. It was good to hear more detail about the kind of material to be found there and how it might be used; I will be more aware of archives in future. I was also rather taken with the binding of the large book of civic records we examined. It was certainly medieval, might well be original, and is now the largest medieval binding I’ve personally handled.

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So there was a lot of good stuff at Quadrivium IX. As with last year’s symposium, though, the real highlight for me was meeting and chatting to lots of other PhD students. I think that’s pretty important, and on the evidence of the two I’ve attended it’s something the Quadrivium symposia do better than most normal conferences.

Many thanks are due to the team of postgraduates and staff at Kent who put everything together. I’d never been to Canterbury before. I rather liked it and would love in particular to spend more time exploring the cathedral. There’s a copy of The Prick of Conscience in the cathedral library, so I perhaps I’ll get to do that sooner rather than later.

Quadrivium X will be in Birmingham. I hope I’ll be able to make it!

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