Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Final Year Begins

With the new term upon us already, the countdown begins: just one year until submission.

Writing for King's Arts and Humanities life blog over my first two years at KCL really helped me to keep track of progress. Now that I need it more than ever, the blog is no more, so I've determined to keep up the blogging here instead.

So what's going on?

Migrating Texts
Three workshops about subtitling, translation and adaptation at the Institute of Modern Languages Research. The three of us organising have been working on this for over a year now and not a week has gone by without some emails, meetings or phonecalls related to it. It's amazing how a two-day event can take so much organising! We now have a website (migratingtexts.wordpress.com), social media presence (@MigratingTexts), and most of our speakers booked (I do a happy dance in my bedroom upon confirmation). Still to do: finalising some funding, registration, hoping enough people will come to cover costs!

Sticking with the IMLR, arranging the 7 sessions for next year's graduate forum was spectacularly easy by contrast. I sent an email to various mailing lists asking for participants, got lots of interesting proposals, matched people with dates. As my favourite meerkat would say, simples. Find us on Facebook: IMLR Graduate Forum

Then there's what I should actually be working on...my PhD. I now have a word document for every section of my dissertation, alrhough the conclusion at this point mainly reads:
(thanks to the @ThesisWhisperer)
I still haven't finished writing the section I had planned to have drafted by the beginning of June, but mainly because I keep finding new things to read (i belatedly discovered the Senate House treasure trove). I'm now flitting between rewriting/adding to my first section and drafting the second.

I'm also on a reading binge, working my way through my Sudaquia collection. I need to build up my Venezuelan literature website! As teaching begins next week, I'm alternating Venezuelan novels with Spanish travel writing, enjoying working on the peninsula again for the first time in years.

Most importantly, I've decorated my desk for inspiration. Hopefully my next blog will show that it has worked!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Posthumous Publication and Translation of José Saramgo's Skylight

The story behind José Saramago's Skylight (Claraboia) could grace the pages of one of his novels: a Nobel Prize winning author is reunited with a manuscript written in 1952 which had lain dormant in a publisher's draw after 36 years. As Saramago's wife Pilar del Rio explains in a touching prologue to this new English translation (released by Harvill Secker on 3 July 2014), the Portuguese Nobel Laureate was somewhat weary of this "lost novel" at the time, and refused for it to published until after his death. Although Saramago went on to have a glittering literary career in later life, hearing nothing back from the publisher about Claraboia deeply wounded his pride and it would take nearly two decades before he dared to write another novel. As a result, it was only following Saramago's death in June 2010 that Claraboia was published, and in that way became, as Pilar affirms, a gift from beyond the grave.

In her introduction, Pilar delights that so many germs of Saramago's later writing are already present in Skylight. As this is the first time I've read anything by him, I can't comment, but on the strength of this utterly absorbing character study, I certainly want to read a lot more.  Skylight is a portrait of the six families who occupy an apartment block in Lisbon, their loves, loneliness, fierce domestic battles and everyday struggles, all overheard and gossiped about by the neighbours. 

While the novel's setting is identifiably the 1950s, and the shadow of Salazar looms large, this ensemble cast are strikingly modern. Saramago does not shy away from the thoroughly taboo topics of his day, from lesbian love to domestic abuse. Given the glorification of the family as the cornerstone of the nation under Salazar, Saramago's unsentimental portrayal of many unhappy marriages (and one beautifully happy one) is particularly brave. His refusal to pander to the morals of his day is striking. Lucía may be a kept woman, but Saramago portrays her with great respect, as her behaviour puts that of those who call her a whore to shame. The bullying brute Caetano is put in his place by his long-suffering wife. It is this type of thinking, totally at odds with the conservative dictatorship of the time, which Pilar assumes intimidated the publishers at the time of submission and doomed this brilliant novel to the draw.

The autodidact Saramago's prose is a joy to read. He effortlessly peppers the day to day speech of the working class with erudite references to Beethoven, Shakespeare and Diderot, with a glimmer of pride at the knowledge of these great figures he acquired for himself. As many readers have already noted since the Portuguese version was published in 2011, this novel feels as alive and fresh as those he published just before his death. Thankfully, Harvill Secker have done justice to the original by entrusting the translation to the multi-award winning Margaret Jull Costa who always demonstrates that remarkable skill of making readers forget that they are reading a translation.

Readers familiar with Saramago's work will no doubt enjoy playing detective, hunting through Skylight for hints of later works. For those, like me, with no previous experience of this fantastic author, as both his first and last novel, Skylight seems the perfect initiation. 

Click here to buy the eBook from Amazon, or here for the hard copy.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Celebrating interdisciplinarity, collaboration and the digital

(Originally posted 1 June 2014)
In the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a range of events at King’s and beyond which have filled me with enthusiasm both for my own research and for the future of academia. These events have shown me the possibilities for collaborative research across disciplines, for making the most of the digital and for sharing learning beyond the classroom.
First up, on Friday 16 May, was Research with Reach, a full-day event organised by Ella Parry-Davies and Penny Newell from the Department English, which brought together postgraduate researchers from across the Arts and Humanities and a fascinating range of speakers from within and outside academia. The day was born from Ella and Penny’s desire to learn more about how to share knowledge beyond the academy while hopefully supplementing our incomes in the process! We gained useful insights into journalism, running public workshops, speaking at festivals like Hay, and making the most of blogging and social media. It was a particular pleasure to meet Prof Alan Read, the driving force behind the Inigo Rooms and the Anatomy Theatre, as I really admire how those spaces have been created to bring art and performance into the university and allow innovative ways of exhibiting research.
Then on Tuesday 20 May, the Union conference, run by my fellow Arts and Humanities Life blogger Naomi Lloyd-Jones and a very dedicated team of postgraduate researchers from across the departments. The aim of the conference was to explore and celebrate interdisciplinarity by giving new researchers – including many MA students who had never presented a conference paper before – the chance to share their research beyond the restrictive boundaries of academic departments and find connections. I really loved noting how research in philosophy, for example, linked with my research on nationalist cultural politics, while the very novel ‘paper as performance’ which ended the day not only impressed me but left me with concrete ideas for improving my own teaching practice. Explaining my thesis to non-experts proved to me that I really know my research and don’t have to hide behind long words, and the final lively workshop and debate session only reinforced my enthusiasm for sharing my research with wider audiences.
While the participants of Union enjoyed a tasty conference dinner, I headed off to Birkbeck Arts Week to celebrate the second birthday of Alluvium Journal, an open access, post-publication peer review journal of twenty-first century literary criticism. Having followed Alluvium and many of its editors/writers on Twitter for some time, I was very excited to meet them in person and to hear more about their pioneering developments in the production and dissemination of knowledge about literature. One particularly interesting case was Zara Dinnen’s use of Google docs to write papers collaboratively with friends and colleagues in other countries.
Overall, it was incredibly refreshing and inspiring – amidst all the doom and gloom that surrounds academia in the age of funding cuts and mounting bureaucracy – to meet like-minded people who are passionate about creating exciting new research and sharing it both beyond departmental borders and with the wider public.

K-Link Widening Participation Scheme

(Originally posted on 24 April 2014)
As a firm believer in the importance of widening access to Higher Education, I was very happy to be asked to take part in K-Link recently. K-Link is King’s widening participation programme, which gives children from less privileged schools throughout London a taste of university education. Through the programme, I had two – very different – opportunities to teach secondary school children.
Firstly, GCSE students from the three schools that the SPLAS department is partnered with came in to King’s for a full day: a Q&A with current students, a translation workshop, tour, and finally a taster seminar. One of the school groups – 16 boys and girls, plus two teachers – had an introduction from me to studying culture as part of a language degree. I began by explaining what a seminar is – ask lots of questions, try out new ideas, do lots of practical exercises. We then broke up into small groups and brainstormed definitions of culture, before looking at some Frida Kahlo paintings and an extract from a short story by the late great Gabriel García Márquez.
The students were clearly tired after such a demanding day, and many of the boys were too cool to show enthusiasm, so it was challenging to get them to participate, but I succeeded in the end (I’m very grateful for much needed help from their teachers in this). After the session, one teacher told me that although they were reluctant to speak, he could tell that they had gained a lot from it. He said he was really happy for the children to have had the chance to experience cultural studies when the demands of GCSEs allow no time for anything like this, which made all the effort worth it.
The following week I went into another of our partner schools. This time I was extremely lucky to be teaching four of the most gifted, enthusiastic girls I could hope for. We covered similar material but the small group size and eagerness of the pupils meant we could go much more in-depth. I was hugely impressed, as they were more engaged than some of my final year students! I felt privileged to teach them and really pleased to learn that they all plan to continue to language study at university.


(Originally posted on 10 April 2014)
As I mentioned in my last post, it seems like for as long as I’ve been at King’s, I’ve been “preparing for my upgrade”. Now, after 18 months, I have survived the process and am finally a fully-fledged PhD candidate.
I really had no idea what to expect from the upgrade meeting. I had spent the day before rereading the 20,000 word chapter that I had handed in for examination back in February, assuming that I would be quizzed on it. As it turned out, I wasn’t expected to say much at all in the meeting. Instead, it was a chance for the examiners, especially my secondary supervisor who had not previously commented on my work, to share their comments, queries and advice. While my two supervisors work on literary/cultural studies like myself, my third examiner was from political science, so she brought an interesting alternative viewpoint to the discussion.
My supervisor insisted that it went really well and that all three examiners had been impressed with my chapter, but I must admit that at the time I was just completely overwhelmed by the amount that I still have to think about. The wealth of further reading recommended by the examiners, and their suggestions on how to expand or refine sections of the chapter will surely prove invaluable in the long-run, helping me to make my thesis better. However, at the time I just wanted to run away and hide from it all. Only now, two weeks later, having finally completed the paperwork, that it has finally sunk in that I’ve passed. Now I can relax for the next 18 months (well, except for researching and writing and teaching and conferencing!) until submission, which I’m sure will come around all too quickly.

Putting It Together

(Originally posted on 23 February 2014)
Art isn’t easy
Every minor detail is a major decision.
Having just the vision’s no solution,
Everything depends on execution.
The art of making art is putting it together.
Writing a PhD might not seem like ‘making art’, but while I grapple with the sprawling mass of knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last 18 months, Sondheim’s words are stuck in my head.
It seems that almost since I started my PhD I’ve been preparing for my upgrade. It was going to be after 9 months, then 12, then 18. It really is happening now, as soon as we can find a time when all three of my examiners are free (which is proving remarkably difficult). As part of the process, I had to write ‘a substantial piece of work’, which usually translates to about 10,000 words. I set myself the challenge over the Christmas holidays to turn the knowledge I’d amassed so far into a coherent contextualising chapter. It took many hours of puzzling over spider diagrams and discussing with my supervisor before the lightbulb moment when I suddenly realised how it all fits together. It turned out I had far more to say than I thought and the chapter ended up at 20,000.
With that done, all I had left to prepare was an outline of my thesis. It was only one page yet I almost found it harder than the 60 I’d written over the holidays. I had been planning to write a chapter about each novel in my corpus but it soon became apparent that this wouldn’t work, or maybe it would, but a thematic approach would make a far better thesis. Having worked out a plan with the main themes arising from the novels, I took it to my supervisor who promptly suggested that I lose the whole first section  and concentrate entirely on the second.  While I know that she is right, it will make a much tighter, more coherent thesis, and I’m excited to be working on this one theme (metafiction and intertextuality in contemporary Venezuelan novels), I can’t deny that I felt a brief mourning period for the topics that I first came in to the PhD with (reactions to nationalism and socialism in fiction). I know I’m not alone – another girl in my department scrapped half of the material that she had planned to include in her thesis at the halfway point too. Part of the PhD process seems to be accepting limitations and evaluating how to do the best research in the time-frame allowed. I keep reminding myself too that the work I’ve done so far isn’t lost or worthless by any means. Hopefully once I finally get this upgrade out of the way, I can turn that earlier work into an article to publish. In the meantime, it feels great to finally have an outline of my thesis on paper and start to envision the finished product in the not-so-distant future.

Being a Graduate Teaching Assistant

(Originally posted 14 February 2014)
Last night I was one of the speakers at a training session for potential Arts and Humanities Graduate Teaching Assistants, which has prompted me to finally write the blog about teaching I’ve been promising for a while now.
I began teaching – leading seminars for a final year module about the Latin American ‘New Historical Novel’ – five weeks ago now and I absolutely love it! Since October I’ve been taking a teacher training course run by King’s Learning Institute called Enhancing Academic Practice, so it’s great to put all of my theoretical learning into practice and this experience has confirmed to me that university teaching really is my dream career. I get such a buzz from sharing my passion for literature with the class and getting them to really engage with it.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much freedom I have been given to design the class around the set source material. I can come up with my own activities and choose  my favourite extracts for the class to analyse. I’ve also been given a lot of scope to bring my own expertise to the module, and was even asked to lead the lecture last week based on my research. The trust my lecturer has placed in me and my students’ appreciation of the knowledge I bring to class has been an invaluable boost, and I’ve also learned or revised a huge amount that will directly help my thesis too.
One of the main concerns potential GTAs expressed last night was about how time consuming it is, particularly with the ever-increasing pressure to finish your PhD within three years. However, all of the speakers – myself from SPLAS, and others from history, classics, English and Film – said that we spend no more than one day a week preparing and all agreed that this was a valuable use of our time. We would all certainly recommend taking the opportunity if it is available in your discipline.

Making connections: Latin American literature in China

(Originally posted 4 February 2014)
This academic year I have been co-organising our departmental seminars (www.splas-seminars.com) with a fellow Tianai seminar 1PhD candidate. These seminars give current students a chance to try out their research in an informal setting, usually before a big scary conference, and get constructive feedback. Other weeks we get a external speakers in to share their expertise. I love the opportunity these seminars afford to learn about other aspects of my field that I never usually encounter, but this week’s was a particular joy.
Last Wednesday we welcomed Tianai Wang to the department to talk about the influence of Spanish language literature in translation in her native China. Tianai has recently graduated from the MA in Comparative Literature here at KCL so her presentation was also a homecoming, as staff were certainly very happy to see her back.
Tianai seminar 2
What I most enjoyed was the opportunity to learn about a culture that I know shamefully little about and the surprise of how much Latin American literature (my own speciality) has influenced contemporary Chinese writers. Mo Yan, for example, was praised for his ‘hallucinatory realism’ when awarded his Noble Prize in 2012 in much the same way that Gabriel Garcia Márquez was for his ‘magical realism’ upon winning the prize in 1982. Tianai’s presentation therefore gave me a new way of thinking about literature that I am very familiar with, as well as an entrance to a whole new literary world.

Tomorrow’s seminar is Dr Juliet Perkin’s talking about translating the 15th century chronicles of Fernao Lopes, worlds away from contemporary Chinese literature, but another topic that I look forward to learning more about.

University of London Foundation Day

(Originally posted 1 December 2013)
As a Senior Member in one of the University of London’s intercollegiate halls, I had the pleasure of being invited to celebrate the 177th anniversary of the University’s foundation at Senate House.
As Chancellor of the University of London, Princess Anne began the proceedings with a speech about the achievements of the University over the year, with a particular focus on the success of international programmes. As someone with a great interest in the future of academia, I get weirdly excited about news that the School of Advanced Studies has secured extra funding or that our MOOCs are a great success.
In the main event, honorary degrees were conferred upon four exceptional individuals: Camila Batmanghelidjh (the founder of Kids Company, whose work gives children in street gangs a chance to make something of their lives), Frank Gardener (BBC Security Correspondent who bravely continues to report after losing the use of his legs from being shot six times by terrorists), Hilary Mantel (the first double Booker Prize winning author) and Professor Sir John Savill (Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council). Though very different, each of their life stories were truly inspiring. In between the speeches, we all greatly enjoyed a musical interlude from extremely talented Goldsmith’s students.
The ceremony was followed by a lavish buffet, including sorbets made using liquid nitrogen, and a chance to meet the Princess. Overall, it was a wonderful evening, which left everyone feeling very proud to be part of such a venerated institution.

A Room of One's Own

(Originally posted 19 September 2013)
When I first started at King’s a year ago, my enquiries about a postgraduate office/workspace were met with blank stares and mumbles of ‘try the British Library’. I was disappointed as I’ve always had an aversion to working in libraries, especially the silent kind, and I’d been hoping that a workroom would be a space where catching up with colleagues would brighten the otherwise lonely business of doctoral research.
Now with our shiny new Virginia Woolf building on Kingsway, I’ve got all I wanted and more. Not only bright, open-plan research space, but a kitchen and comfy sofas too. The best part is that SPLAS now shares this area with the German department. I’ve often said that one of my favourite aspects of the PhD is getting to know other researchers and learning from them. The daily contact with German PGRs and staff opens a whole knew world of research specialisms to fascinate me, from contemporary Austrian theatre to the reception of Hollywood rom-coms in Europe. Then when the study-guilt kicks in and we leave the sofas, knowing there are other people at the neighbouring desks powering through that journal article or rewriting their next chapter is a great motivator to keep on working. We’ve only been moved in for a week, but I already feel like the new building will make this a very productive and enjoyable year!

Back to reality...

(Originally posted 12 September 2013)
Every summer, I leave normal life behind for a few months and enter a parallel universe, or at least that’s how it feels working in the Social Programme Office at the English Language Centre at the University of Bath. Having always taken every opportunity to meet people from other countries and learn about their cultures, when a job first came up at the SPO, just as I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Bath, I jumped at the chance to spend all day every day looking after a large and diverse group of international students. I loved it so much that I kept going back every year, and this summer I wasn’t going to let a little thing like my PhD get in the way!
Life in the SPO is exciting, although sometimes exhausting, because it’s constantly changing. One day you’re making information packs for 250 new arrivals or dragging their suitcases through the rain to their new dorms, the next you’re leading a giant crowd around Stonehenge. As well as a different social activity every day and a coach trip every Saturday, we were the people for students to turn to when they were worried, lonely, homesick, confused by English customs, or just anxious to practice their English. All of this means we really get to know so many wonderful people from all across the world and learn a lot about how what we take for granted varies so greatly from other people’s experiences.
Leaving Bath at the end of the summer always makes me sad, because I miss all these new friends and the constant challenges that the work throws up, but I’m excited to be back in London now entering the second year of my PhD. Although I managed to grab a few hours in the library here and there over the summer to keep my PhD ticking over, I’m really looking forward to intense studying again and making headway with my first few chapters. There’s also a lot to keep me occupied over the next few months, including the upcoming Arts and Humanities Festival and running our departmental seminars. I also found out this morning that I’ll be teaching in Spring semester, which has been my dream for years now. I can’t wait to get on with it all, and of course blog about it all here!

The Latin American Studies Association Conference or ‘How I met everyone I cite in my thesis’

(Originally posted 18 June 2013)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a confessed conference junkie, but all of the conferences I’ve been to so far this year added together still don’t come near to the enormous scale of LASA. As the international conference for anyone working on any aspect of Latin American Studies – from politics and economics, to culture, geography and even medicine – LASA attracts several thousand attendees. The swarm of Latin Americanists in the lobby when I first arrived at the hotel in Washington DC where this year’s conference was overwhelming, but I quickly realised that, beyond the lobby, panels at LASA were much the same as at any other conference, thankfully.

With Profesor Gisela Kozak Rovero and one of her former students
The amazing thing about LASA is how it attracts the leading scholars in my field, who I would never otherwise get a chance to meet. I got all fangirly in the presence of such academic stars: ”Professor X, I’m a huge fan of yours, I’ve read all your books, squee!” Most of this happened in my panel, embarassingly. When I was selected for LASA back in January, I had barely begun my PhD and had little idea of who the other four presenters in my panel were. Now I cite three of them in my thesis. In the audience were another three of my sources. Talking about a Venezuelan novel to a roomful of leading literature professors from Venezuela was intimidating, to say the least, but they were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and gave me invaluable feedback for my thesis.

With writer Dayana Fraile in the enormous Venezuelan literature section of the University of Pittsburgh library
Taking advantage of being on that side of the world (and the insanely cheap Megabus), after the conference I headed to Pittsburgh, for a – sadly far too brief - visit to some Venezuelan writers who I also cite, and in the case of Israel Centeno, have a whole chapter dedicated to. Once again, it was an incredible experience to meet people whose work I so enjoy and admire, and I learned so much for my thesis. Now I just have to write it all up!Share on twitterShare on emailShare on pinterest_shareMore Sharing Servi

King’s Cultural Institute: Academia, Art and Engagement

(Originally posted 10 May 2013)
The last few weeks have been very busy but very exciting for me. In between writing 11,000 words for my upgrade, I’ve been lucky enough to have been working part time for King’s Cultural Institute. As a passionate believer in the need to bring together academia and the cultural sectors to reach wider audiences, I am really inspired by the work of KCI and their innovation in public engagement.
By first involvement with KCI was as a gallery assistant at the Integrating Knowledge exhibition at Inigo Rooms  The project paired King’s academics and PhD students with MA Communication Design students from Central St Martin’s to create art installations and videos that share academic research in a way that entices the public. Working at the gallery was an amazing opportunity to meet the artists and learn about their work, as well as seeing first hand how visitors appreciated both the artistic and the educational qualities of the works. (See my full blog about the event here).
Then, as of last Friday, I am working on the Arts and the Digital Creative Lab project, taking notes and writing reports. The project is a collaboration between KCI and digital creative agency Caper, which brings together about 50 participants, including academics from across the nine schools and representatives of the cultural sector, from museum curators to theatre company directors.  The first session on 3 May gave participants the chance to discuss their work, find shared challenges and consider opportunities for collaboration. In the next stage, on 23 May, the participants will try to find ways to solve the problems they identified, in the form of collaborative projects, which they can then bid for £2500 of funding for. The winning projects will then be presented on 3 July. I can’t wait to see where all the ideas identified last week lead!

Contested Spaces: Social Media, Big Data and Politics

(Originally posted 23 April 2013)
Being an unfunded full-time PhD student means having to find ways to earn money without long time-commitments. Luckily, King’s offers many temping opportunities that are far more interesting than the usual data entry or envelope stuffing. Last week, I got to be an event assistant at the Contested Spaces conference organised by King’s Policy Institute and eBay. From greeting VIPs in the morning to being a roving microphone, I basically got paid to meet and learn from some of the leading experts in politics and digital media.
The conference, focusing on social media, ‘big data’ and politics, had two sides/ Firstly, how politicians can use social media and big data to improve campaigns – for connecting with voters, spreading messages, organising networks of volunteers and tailoring their campaigns to the specific needs of voters identified through the data about ourselves we scatter across the internet. Secondly, what social media can (and can’t) tell us about politics, such as the public reaction to the Arab Spring which has been so widely connected with Twitter in the press.
The event brought together speakers from all over the world, from professors to some serious VIPs in the digital world, including Tod Cohen. Vice-President of eBay, and Jen O’Malley-Dillon, Deputy Campaign Manager for Obama’s re-election. If you’d like to learn more about the link between digital media and politics, videos of all of the panels are available to watch hereYou can also listen to Ms O’Malley-Dillon, together with Ian Spencer and Bret Jacobson from Red Edge, discuss What can UK politics learn from the success of ‘Obama 2012’? here.
As you would expect from a conference on digital and social media, the event created quite a buzz on Twitter, as people tweeted their thoughts and questions to the speakers. You can catch up on the conversation from the conference at #ContestedSpaces.

The Hispanists National Conference 2013

(Originally posted 1 April 2013)
This time last week I was eating pheasant in a dining hall that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Harry Potter – that’s what you get when Oxford University play host to the AHGBI conference!
The AHGBI (Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland) annual conference brings together those working on any Spanish or Portuguese speaking country from all levels, with graduate students right up to top professors. It’s therefore the best chance both to learn about new developments in the field and to do some serious networking.
This was my first AHGBI conference and I’m glad to say I made the most of it, spending 37 hours over two and a half days attending presentations, making mountains of notes, asking questions, meeting new people, catching up with friends from previous conferences, and eating lots of very posh food. The great thing about the conference is how it brings together scholars from so many different aspects of our very large field: I attended papers on everything from dubbing in Spanish films to feminist translation practices. While I obviously love the topic of my own research, a PhD can feel very limited at times, so it’s great to connect to so many other fascinating topics. I also enjoyed the many unexpected topics that popped up in presentations, from Edward the sparkly vampire in Twilight to time travel, Broadway musicals to Fifty Shades of Grey!
On the final day of the conference, it was time for my own panel on ‘Canonicity and Marginalised Literature in Latin America’ (looking at literature from countries often ignored by academia), which had been almost a year in the making. Although one of the participants didn’t turn up, and it was too early for a particularly numerous audience, the panel went really well. My fellow presenters gave us all lots of food for thought and there was a very lively discussion after. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this area of research will go next.

Looking for a PhD topic? Try the British Library

(Originally posted 21 March 2013)
This week in our SPLAS seminar, we were lucky enough to be joined by Dr Geoff West and Dr Elizabeth Cooper, subject curators for Spanish and Latin American Studies respectively at the British Library. They explained the many facets of curating: acquisition, maintaining the collection, organising material for exhibitions and other public engagement exercises, and one thing not many people are aware of: supervising PhD students. 
As one of the two biggest libraries in the world (the other being the Library of Congress in Washington DC), the British Library has over 150 million resources to explore; not just printed books and manuscripts, but sound recordings, microfilm, even a lock of Simón Bolivar’s hair! With so many treasures lurking unexplored in the archives, there is plenty of material on offer for an exciting PhD based on first hand analysis and investigation of these invaluable literary and historical documents.
Beyond allowing access to its resources, the BL supports doctoral research by offering joint supervision with universities including King’s. One notable example of this partnership is Tom Overton, whose joint PhD between the BL & King’s on John Berger lead to the recent Art and Property Now exhibition at the Inigo Rooms. Tom told us how he was the first person in decades to look at Berger’s private documents, which offered him a unique glimpse into this key figure in British art history.
So if you’re on the hunt for a PhD topic and you would enjoy exploring original documents, why not investigate the BL. You can find out more about PhDs jointly supervised by the British Library here.

Library Love

(Originally posted 19 March 2013)
Don’t worry, I haven’t succumbed to one of those ‘Spotted in the Library’ Facebook groups to declare my lust for ‘Hottie in the blue t-shirt reading Sartre’, it’s just that after six months at King’s I’m finally starting to make the most of the library.
The Venezuelan shelf in the stacks
My project is about a collection of novels, which aren’t in the library, or indeed any library, expect maybe one in Pennsylvannia or Texas. As a result, I spent most of the first few months reading the books that had been smuggled to me by Venezuelans on holiday in London or emailed to me by the authors themselves. Now, however, I’ve been using the library to the full and finally feel like a real PhD student.
I was far too excited about my first ever Inter-Library Loan. I could have bought the book in question for £40 and waited several weeks for it to arrive from Venezuela, but thanks to the library, I got it in a matter of days for free :D
After lots of getting lost in the labyrinth of stacks, I also finally found the Venezuelan shelf. It’s a real treasure trove of classic texts, which I am now slowly working my way through. I was so geekily happy at my discovery, I thought I had to share it with you!

A Typical Friday?

(Originally posted 8 March 2013)
Life as a PhD student can be unpredictable. Of course there’s a certain amount of reading and note-taking that forms the basis of daily life, but not having to go to class and a distinct lack of deadlines (except for that big one looming in the distance) means that I can structure my research time around whatever events I want to attend.
Last Friday is a great example of just how diverse a day in the life of a PhD student can be. It began with my first trip into LSE for their ‘Branching Out’ Literature Festival and a talk by leading historian Professor David Abulafia based on his book The Great Sea: A human history of the Mediterranean. Professor Abulafia presented a history of the Mediterranean from 22000BC to 2010 that focuses on the sea itself: naval conflicts, trade, and migration. “I like people getting on ships” he joked. I particularly appreciated Professor Abulafia’s dedication to bringing history to a popular audience:
“Historians should try to reach a wider audience.There is too much pressure from the REF (the dreaded measure of research output) to publish monographs for half a dozen people”.
After a free lunch from the Hari Krishnas outside LSE (top tip for students on a budget), I headed to Chancery Lane to spend several hours power-reading (like power-walking) in the Maughan Library café – I find it easier to concentrate there than in the main body of the library where everyone is stressing. Just when I was craving chocolate but determined not to move until I finished my book, a very kind gentlemen who works in the café gave me a free Kit Kat on his way out to “reward me for studying so hard”. Made my day!
Book finished, it was back to LSE for The Art of Parodies, where biographer, critic and novelist D.J. Taylor, political cartoonist Martin Rowson and author Ewan Morrison had a passionate debate about what parodies are, whether they matter, and how we should judge them. I particularly enjoyed Ewan’s presentation about how parody has become obsolete in a “world of domestic parodists”, featuring some terrible YouTube clips. You can read all about it on my personal blog.
Amused and enlightened, I ran back to King’s Student Union for the Brazilian Dance Carnival Marathon where members and friends of King’s Brazilian and Portuguese Society danced for 8 hours through the night to raise money for the ABC Trust.
Picture from the Brazilian and Portuguese Society.
From learning about the Mediterranean to dancing the Macarena – just a normal day in PhD life!