(Tuesdays, 5:30pm): London Society for Medieval Studies Seminar

Tuesdays, 17:30, via Zoom

– 11/05: Reyhan Durmaz (University of Pennsylvania), “Family, Fame, and Faith: The Making of Christian Communities in Medieval Northern Mesopotamia”.

– 18/05: Richard G. Newhauser (Arizona State University), “Sensology and Enargeia”.

– 08/06: Philip Booth (Manchester Metropolitan University), “An Almost Incredible Multitude: Mass Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the 11th Century”.

– 29/06: Alberto Luongo (Università per Stranieri di Siena), “The legend of Saint Francis and the wolf of Gubbio: new perspectives from a forthcoming book”.

Zoom links: https://www.history.ac.uk/seminars/london-society-medieval-studies?fbclid=IwAR2uZYdTvj9WucrjFbc_Wbg8Ep4-smtIcHH632iMqzgh5jriZmcSveu0a8Q.

About the seminar: Founded in 1970/1, the London Society for Medieval Studies seeks to foster knowledge of, and dialogue about, the Middle Ages (c.500–c.1500 CE) among both scholars and the wider public in London. Organised by postgraduates and early career academics, our fortnightly seminars showcase the latest advances in all areas of medieval studies, including history, art, politics, economics, literature and archaeology. All are welcome.

Pre-Modern Conversations: Introducing our WIP Group

The Evangelist St. Matthew writing, with his symbol the angel.
‘The Evangelist St. Matthew writing, with his symbol the angel’, Book of Hours from the southern Low Countries (f. 18r; detail). Early sixteenth century. Now in Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum, The Hague, RMWW MS 10 E 3. Image: Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum & Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag. Source: manuscripts.kb.nl; https://manuscripts.kb.nl/show/manuscript/10+E+3; CC0 1.0)

On a chilly Autumn day, two postdoctoral fellows (Lena Vosding and Godelinde Gertrude Perk) were conversing in their shared office. They were very fond of their group of fellow supervisees, its camaraderie, and the support it provided. Nevertheless, the two early-career researchers still struggled on occasion to improve the argument of the articles they were working on and wanted additional peer feedback and an additional space for sharing ideas. “How about we start a WIP (work in progress) group ourselves?” A pen was seized from a nearby desk, and, after a little brainstorming and scribbling on a scrap of paper, the first outline for Pre-Modern Conversations emerged. Joined shortly thereafter by Lewis Webb from Classics, the duumvirate of convenors became a triumvirate, who quickly submitted a description to the OMS booklet.

What is Pre-Modern Conversations?
Pre-Modern Conversations is an interdisciplinary group of early-career pre-modernists, offering an informal, supportive environment for helping each other revise, refine, and complete a work in progress. In the past, we’ve found that whether one works on medieval religion or Republican Rome, one tends to encounter similar theoretical and methodological questions. What is more, the challenges one encounters when writing or revising tend to be similar across fields. We, therefore, defined “pre-modern” very broadly and included any period up to 1800. Since the convenors’ research shared a focus on pre-modern gender, we were particularly interested in hearing from other scholars with a similar or adjacent focus. We had initially decided that the format for the one-hour session would alternate between a presentation to the entire group (for conference contributions) and a discussion of a pre-circulated written text. For Hilary Term, however, the WIPs submitted were mostly written texts, which we discussed in detail, focusing mostly on content and argument.

Tondo of woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called “Sappho”).
Tondo of woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called “Sappho”), VI.Ins.Occ., Pompeii. First century CE. Now in National Archaeological Museum of Naples (inv. no. 9084). (Image: Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 2.0)

Experiences so far
To our delight, the four available slots filled up very quickly. Both medievalists and Classicists joined the group, which led to lively interdisciplinary synergy. Topics varied widely, from Roman law and urban space in Asia Minor in the late Antique period through medieval recluses to early-modern refugees and twentieth-century poets, yet similar themes emerged. We also decided to spend the last twenty minutes discussing more general concerns, for instance writing grant applications, and sharing our experiences as ECRs. The phase following one’s DPhil or PhD can potentially feel stressful, precarious, and directionless, and many ECRs feel lost at sea, a problem our friends in the ECR Network of Medieval and Modern Languages also seek to alleviate. A forum for sharing ideas, knowledge, experiences and alternative perspectives can help ECRs find their bearings and navigate this uncertain stage of their career.

Plans for next term
We’re thrilled to continue in Trinity Term! We will again convene in weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8 on TEAMS. The programme looks very promising already, but there are still slots left. Interested in joining? Send an abstract (up to 300 words) of your WIP, accompanied by a short biography to lena.vosdingATmod-langs.ox.ac.uk by Friday 30 April. You are also very welcome to participate without contributing a paper.

Study of a woman's right hand (said to be that of Artemesia Gentileschi) holding a brush’.
‘Study of a woman’s right hand (said to be that of Artemesia Gentileschi) holding a brush’, by Pierre Dumonstier II. 1625. Now in London, British Museum (Museum no. NN,7.51.3). (Image: British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum; CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

Museum in the Middle: medieval things in a (still) medieval university

OMS Trinity Term Lecture by Jim Harris (Ashmolean Museum)

Tuesday, 27 April 2021, 5-6pm BST, live streamed from the Ashmolean

The medieval collections of the Ashmolean Museum are rich in diversity and dazzling in quality, and using them in the service of the university curriculum has made it possible to explore the wide range of what we consider ‘medieval’ actually is.In this lecture, Teaching Curator Dr Jim Harris will discuss teaching with the Ashmolean’s medieval collections, asking questions not only about the objects themselves but about the extent to which they reveal the Museum itself to be as much a medieval construct as it is a so-called ‘product of the Enlightenment’.

Everybody welcome to join on youtube!
Image:  Travelling Games Board, Venice, 15th century; WA1964.14; Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

22nd / 23rd April: The Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference *Memory*

The Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference is taking place on Thursday and Friday this week!

To register; https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/memory-17th-oxford-medieval-graduate-conference-tickets-149951710603
To register; email: oxgradconf@gmail.com

OMGC Twitter Handle @OxMedGradConf #OMGC21

‘Digital Editions Live’ – Workshop 25 June 2021, 3-5pm (tbc)

Methodology Workshop in cooperation with OCTET and Dark Archives

  • Insights from the Series of ‘Digital Editions Live’ launches  
  • Developing a framework for digital editing and exploring manuscripts online   
  • Reflections on preparing digital editions in times of lockdown  
  • Development of new digital methods for teaching History of the Book 
  • Further Perspectives in conjunction with the Oxford Centre for Textual Editing and Theory and initiatives at Trinity College Dublin 

In line with the previous Dark Archives conferences, the presentations (in this case: the digital edition launch events) will be accessible via http://darkarchiv.es. They will be linked in to the Taylor Editions https://editions.mml.ox.ac.uk/ and archived via OCTET https://octet.web.ox.ac.uk/

At four thematic panels, the graduate students will discuss with international guests and Oxford-based editors from OCTET and Digital Humanities methodological issues arising from the digital launches and the digital public engagement they undertook for their projects.  

3:00pm – Expanding Unicode: Challenges of non-standardised features (A) 

3:30pm – Expanding Taylor Editions: Making advanced use of the platform’s functionalities (B) 

4:00pm – Expanding Versions: Challenges of linking up with existing editions and translations (C) 

4:30pm – Expanding Access: Challenges of Digital Public Engagement (D) 

6pm – Open Air Drinks for Oxford participants in St Edmund Hall  

Panelists for A (abbreviations / unicode / encoding damage): 

  • Katie Bastiman and Holly Abrahamson: Dante Ante-Purgatorio (MS. Canon.Ital. 108) 
  • Josephine Bewerunge, Molly Ford, Sam Heywood, Caroline Lehnert, Molly Lewis, Marlene Schilling: A collective edition of a German devotional miscellany (MS. Germ. e. 5) [or split the group across different panels] 

Panelists for B (Taylor editions): 

  • Eva Neufeind and Agnes Hilger: Arnold von Harff (MS. Bodley 972)  
  • Alexandra Hertlein & Dennis Pulina: Jacob Locher Panegyricus (Inc. e. G7.1497.2./Douce 73) 
  • Edmund Wareham and Alyssa Steiner: Reformation Pamphlets 
  • Sam Griffiths and Christian Tofte: Marginalia in Plutarch’s Vidas Paralelas (1491)  

Panelists for C (other editions): 

  • Sebastian Dows-Miller: Re-awakening Merton’s Beasts (Merton College, MS. 249)  
  • Gabriel O’Regan: Le Roman de Renart (Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 360) 
  • Javaria Abbasi: Pedro de Medina’s Libro de cosmographia (1538), (MS. Canon. Ital. 243) 
  • Giuseppe Nanfitò: Boccaccio, Filocolo (MS. Canon. Ital. 85) 

Panelists for D (digital engagement): 

  • Mary Newman: The oldest Tupi manuscript (MS. Bodley 617) 
  • Lois Williams: Cân o Senn iw Hên Feistr TOBACCO (1718), NLW. North PRINT W.s. 156 
  • Danielle Apodaca: Le Roman de Flamenca DH project across editions and translations 
  • Carrie Heusinkveld: Reconsidering the Metamorphoses by Clément Marot (MS. Douce 117) 

Digital Editions Live: Launching the Oxford History of the Book Projects 2021

Taylor Editions and the Centre for the Study of the Book present: Digital Editions Live – Launching the Oxford History of the Book Projects 2021  

The series presents projects which have been developed by Master students in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages as part of their ‘Method Option’ Palaeography, History of the Book, Digital Humanities, https://historyofthebook.mml.ox.ac.uk/.  

Launches will feature new digital editions on https://editions.mml.ox.ac.uk/, the Taylor Editions website, and a live showing of manuscripts and books. The sessions take place every Wednesday during the Oxford Trinity Term, 28 April to 16 June 2021. Everybody is welcome to attend the sessions which will be held via Teams and recorded. Join the meeting here
After term, there will be a workshop in conjunction with Dark Archives to reflect on the methodology of editing, presenting – and teaching History of the Book on 25 June.  
For further information, contact Henrike Lähnemann <henrike.laehnemann@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk> 

1) 28 April 2021 Introduction and Animals in French Manuscripts 

  • Henrike Lähnemann, Emma Huber, Andrew Dunning: Introduction to Digital Editions Live 
  • Sebastian Dows-Miller: Re-awakening Merton’s Beasts (Merton College, MS. 249)  

2) 5 May 2021 Travelling Manuscript 

  • Eva Neufeind, Agnes Hilger, Mary Boyle, and Aysha Strachan: Arnold von Harff (MS. Bodley 972)  

3) 12 May 2021 Early Printed Holdings in Taylorian and Bodleian 

  • Agnes Hilger and Alyssa Steiner: Pfaffennarr (Taylor ARCH.8o.G.1521(27) & Tr.Luth. 16 (78)) 
  • Alexandra Hertlein & Dennis Pulina: Jacob Locher Panegyricus (Inc. e. G7.1497.2./Douce 73) 
  • Sam Griffiths and Christian Tofte: Marginalia in Plutarch’s Vidas Paralelas (1491) 

4) 19 May 2021 Indigenous Languages: Tupi and Welsh 

  • Mary Newman: The oldest Tupi manuscript (MS. Bodley 617) 
  • Lois Williams: Cân o Senn iw Hên Feistr TOBACCO (1718), NLW. North PRINT W.s. 156 

5) 26 May 2021 Illustrated Italian Manuscripts  

  • Katie Bastiman and Holly Abrahamson: Dante Ante-Purgatorio (MS. Canon.Ital. 108) 
  • Giuseppe Nanfitò: Boccaccio, Filocolo (MS. Canon. Ital. 85) 

6) 2 June 2021 Collective Editing and Linked Data 

  • Josephine Bewerunge, Molly Ford, Sam Heywood, Caroline Lehnert, Molly Lewis, Marlene Schilling: A collective edition of a German devotional miscellany (MS. Germ. e. 5)  
  • Danielle Apodaca: Le Roman de Flamenca DH project across editions and translations 

7) 9 June 2021 Illuminated French Manuscript 

  • Carrie Heusinkveld: Reconsidering the Metamorphoses by Clément Marot (MS. Douce 117) 
  • Javaria Abbasi: Pedro de Medina’s Libro de cosmographia (1538), (MS. Canon. Ital. 243) 

8) 16 June 2021 Special Book Launch: 500 Years Passional Christi und Antichristi  

  • Edmund Wareham presents the newest book in the Reformation Pamphlet series 

Teaching the Codex II

14 March 2018

Saturday 6th May 2017, Merton College, Oxford

Organisers: Dr Mary Boyle  and Dr Tristan Franklinos

Committee: Jessica Rahardjo  and Alexander Peplow

Following the success of the first Teaching the Codex colloquium in February 2016, which was attended by over one hundred international graduates and scholars, it became clear that there were a number of areas of palaeography and codicology which we had not been able to explore owing to the constraints of time. The intention of Teaching the Codex II was to continue the conversations started at the first colloquium, and to extend them into areas which will complement and supplement earlier discussions.

In order to facilitate more focused engagement, we structured the day a little differently from Teaching the Codex I, which involved panellists addressing all the delegates on their pedagogical approaches to palaeography and codicology, followed by some general discussion. Instead, morning and afternoon sessions each consisted of two panels running concurrently on particular topics (1.5 hrs) followed by a plenary session (1 hr) in which the members of the two panels were asked to report and comment on the panel session to all of the delegates, and facilitate further discussion.

The four panels were the result of suggestions from various colleagues who attended the first colloquium, and of consultation of our followers on Twitter. Each panel had four members of whom one was the panel chair. Each panel member offered a ten-fifteen minute presentation on the topic in question before the discussion was opened up to the delegates who had chosen to attend a particular panel. Dr Teresa Webber (Cambridge) offered closing remarks. The panels were as follows:

I: Continental and Anglophone approaches to teaching palaeography and codicology

  1. Dr Irene Ceccherini (Oxford) (Chair)
  2. Dr Marigold Norbye (UCL)
  3. Dr Daniel Sawyer (Oxford)
  4. Dr Raphaële Mouren (Warburg Institute)

II: Pedagogical approaches to musical manuscripts

  1. Dr Henry Hope (Bern) (Chair)
  2. Dr Margaret Bent (Oxford)
  3. Dr Eleanor Giraud (Limerick)
  4. Dr Christian Leitmeir (Oxford)

III: Approaches to teaching art history and manuscript studies

  1. Dr Emily Guerry (Kent) (Chair)
  2. Dr Spike Bucklow (Cambridge)
  3. Dr Kathryn Rudy (St Andrews)
  4. Emily Savage (St Andrews)

IV: Taking palaeography further: schools, outreach, and the general public

  1. Dr Pauline Souleau (Oxford) (Chair)
  2. Anna Boeles Rowland (Oxford)
  3. Sarah Laseke (Leiden)
  4. Sian Witherden (Oxford)

As with the first Teaching the Codex event, this event was made possible by the generous support of Dr Julia Walworth, Fellow Librarian at Merton College. The colloquium was attended by around seventy participants, and each panel was well-attended, and triggered substantial and wide-ranging discussion. Much of the day was live-tweeted, and one of our attendees, Dr Colleen Curran produced a Storify  [https://storify.com/cmcurran21/teaching-the-codex-ii] from our official hashtag, #teachingcodex


Teaching the Codex has various continuing strands:

  1. Our blog [http://www.teachingthecodex.com/] is testament to the continued interest in the questions surrounding pedagogy in palaeographical and codicological studies, and to the wider impact and outreach that can be achieved across various disciplines in the humanities through the use of manuscripts and incunabula. Monthly blog-posts are offered by graduates and academics on their experiences of Teaching the Codex to various audiences, and on the potential impact of palaeography, codicology, and the history of the book, on specialist and non-specialist alike. We also have periodical ‘Teachable Features’ which draw attention to (aspects of) particular manuscripts which may be of pedagogical use in illustrating particular features of palaeography and codicology to students.
  2. We have been asked by various participants to consider organising a further Teaching the Codex colloquium, and we are in the process of considering fruitful ways in which we might broaden our remit. One possibility is to expand our focus beyond western palaeography, and Jessica Rahardjo has offered to take a lead in this area.
  3. The Manuscripts Outreach Network has been founded as a sister organisation by a group of primarily Oxford-based early-career scholars. Those currently involved are Dr Pauline Souleau, Anna Boeles Rowland, Sian Witherden, Naomi Gardom, and Henry Tann, Mary Boyle, Tristan Franklinos, and Alexander Peplow. This initiative would not be possible without the support of Dr Julia Walworth.

We are very grateful for the support we have been given by Oxford Medieval Studies, sponsored by the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) for our colloquia in both 2016 and 2017, as well as the support we have received from the Merton College History of the Book Group (2016, 2017); the Lancelyn Green Foundation Fund (2016, 2017); the Craven Committee (2016); and the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature (2017).

How Black is Middle Dutch Moorish black?

by Sophie Jordan

Moriaen is black, and so is his suit of armour. Like the Green Knight in the English tradition or Ither in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, Moriaen’s most noticeable trait is the colour of his equipment, which matches his body. The Christian son of an Arthurian knight and a Moorish princess, Moriaen comes to Arthur’s court and surprises its members by demonstrating that he has all the qualities of an Arthurian knight, despite his unusual appearance.

But is this black knight necessarily Black? Should we understand the fearful reactions and the rejection he initially experiences as racist?

In the 13th century Middle Dutch text, Walewein, the Dutch equivalent of Gawain, encounters the eponymous hero Moriaen in full armour. Walewein’s first thought is that the fierce foreigner must be the Devil:medieval manuscript image of a black knight with Latin next to it, decorative green foliage border

Figure 1 Historiated Initial representing the black knight Walewein by Astrid Anquetin, especially commissioned for this blog post – not to be reused without permission

‘Nochtan waende Walewein bet / Dat ware die duvel dan een man / Daer si waren comen an, / Maer dat hine horde nomen Gode / Men had hem niet mogen ontstriden ode / Hine ware die duvel oft sijn geselle / Ende ware comen uter hellen, / Omdat sijn ors was so groet, / Ende hi was merre dan Lanceloet, / Ende daertoe sward, alsict seide.’ (l.480-489)

‘Nevertheless [Walewein] deemed that this was a devil rather than a man whom they had come upon! Had they not heard him call upon God no man had dared face him, deeming that he was the devil or one of his fellows out of hell, for that his steed was so great, and he was taller even than Sir Lancelot, and black withal, as I said afore.’ (translation J. Weston)

Because of the focus on Moriaen’s looks in this and other descriptions, it is hard to tell whether his black skin is perceived as one part of his identity or whether it is racialised. Walewein’s association of a physical trait with a moral judgement seems to fit the common definition of race, and being so negatively charged, his reaction might be interpreted as racist – meaning that the racial type of the large black Moor is classified and compared to others. Of course, by using the image of the Devil, black could not be ranked lower, both symbolically and morally.

Yet Moriaen, regardless of the wordplay which links him to his country, does not represent the people of Moriane overall. On the contrary, both his story of disinheritance and isolation, and the absence of other black characters in the plot single him out as a lone wolf. While his skin colour certainly stands out in Arthur’s country, it doesn’t identify him as a representative of Moorish high society. Since the inhabitants and customs of Moriane are barely sketched, there is no opportunity for a collective stereotype to form on the basis of the black knight’s portrayal, either among the white characters or the tale’s readers.

Figure 2: St Maurice as black knight, Statuette commissioned by the Abbess of Medingen in 1506 to celebrate the convent’s patron saint

On the other hand, Moriaen’s skills and his great physical strength, suggested by his tall figure in the above quotation, help him gain the other knights’ respect and the king’s praise. These chivalric qualities, inherited from his father, are more than enough to convince Walewein of Moriaen’s worth and to balance out the initial doubt provoked by the hero’s blackness. On several occasions, Moriaen is even favourably compared to Lanceloet, who is traditionally Arthur’s best knight.

Although dark skin is interpreted as hellish, the narrator insists on dissociating appearance and internal being: Moriaen’s skin colour and his more personal traits are dealt with separately, making him a supposedly ugly but no less powerful hero. Blackness is not essentialised, nor is it therefore racialised.

Where at first there seems to be a wide gap between ideal knighthood, as outlined in Arthurian romance, and Moriaen’s dark appearance, the narrator’s focus on action and courtly values fully restores the Black Knight’s potential to be accepted in Camelot. This is the tale of a knight who ultimately succeeds in his quest and receives great honour, just like any other.


Sophie Jordan completed the Master of Studies in German this summer, and she is now studying the anthropological aspects of the question of skin colour as difference at the University of Manchester.

Recommended reading:

Claassens, Geert H. M., and David F. Johnson. King Arthur in the Medieval Low Countries. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2000. Google Books, https://books.google.be/books?id=tWslRJGdTOgC&lpg=PP1&dq=King%20Arthur%20in%20the%20Medieval%20Low%20Countries&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Devisse, Jean, trans. William Granger Ryan. ‘Christians and Black.’ The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume II, Part 1, ed. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr.. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. pp.31-72. A&AePortal, https://ezproxy-prd.bodleian.ox.ac.uk:3362/?id=-17117

Heng, Geraldine. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. New York; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Cambridge core, https://ezproxy-prd.bodleian.ox.ac.uk:2095/10.1017/9781108381710

Applying for Your Medieval PhD: A How-To Guide

By Caroline Batten Mary Boyle and Alexandra Vukovich

Looking to apply for a PhD in a medieval research area? We’ve got your back! This month, OMS held a workshop for students on Oxford’s MSt programme in Medieval Studies, and now we’re making those insights available more widely. We’ll give you our three top tips first, and then answer some Frequently Asked Questions underneath.

The advice below is specifically for applying to PhDs in the UK. You’ll find that American and European PhD programs are often very different from UK ones. Whereas in the UK your degree is research only, in American PhD programs you spend two years doing coursework before you begin your dissertation, and the whole process takes longer (5-7 years, as opposed to 3-4 years in the UK). Different countries in Europe offer different PhD structures: some are research-only, some are project-specific, others involve significant coursework and training. Be sure to research the different PhD programs available to you in different places, to help you decide what kind of program might be best for you.

  1. Be bold!

With your research proposal, you’re selling both yourself and your project, so you want both to be as eye-catching as possible. You need to tell your readers why your project is exciting; what gap in the discipline it’s filling; and why you’re the right person to do it. But being bold is also about approaching the people you think can help you – ask as many people as possible to read over and comment on your application, because that will make it much stronger. This point also stands for approaching potential supervisors.

  1.  Be definite!

One straightforward way to sell yourself and your project is to make it clear that you know what you’re doing – even if you don’t actually feel like you do. So make sure that you’re telling your reader exactly what you’re planning to study (define your corpus); how you’re going to structure your project; and what you’re hoping to find out, even including some potential conclusions.

  1.  Develop the topic in dialogue!

At an early stage, approach people whose research you find interesting and talk about your topic with them. Your choice of supervisor is probably the most important decision that you’re making at this point. Your supervisor, or supervisors, don’t necessarily need to work on exactly what you’re working on, but they do need to be a person or people with whom you can imagine having a long-term working relationship. They need to be someone with whom you can have an honest conversation, and from whom you can accept constructive criticism.

 If only early career offices looked like this. London, British Library, Add MS 11850.


  • Should I do a PhD/DPhil?

A doctorate is a hugely rewarding experience, giving you the time to fully devote yourself to research and learn how to be a scholar. It is, of course, a necessity for a career in academia, but can also prepare you for work in museums, libraries, archives, the rare books trade, publishing, a variety of cultural institutions, the foreign service, translation and interpreting, (and the list goes on!) as the skills you will gain are important for all kinds of work. But the unvarnished truth is that PhDs are intensive and demanding. You must be, or become, comfortable working independently, planning your own time and meeting the deadlines you set. You must spend many hours a week working on one singular project, requiring intense focus and commitment. For some people this sounds like heaven; for others it would make them miserable. You should do a PhD if you’re certain that you want to spend the next several years working very hard on one research project.

  • What if I’m sure I want to do a doctorate, but I don’t have a project?

A doctorate is 3+ years of intensive work, so you need to be sure you’re working on something you find compelling. If nothing has suggested itself to you yet, you could brainstorm about topics you’ve studied so far, and see if anything suggests itself. Ask yourself if any of your secondary reading has left you with unanswered questions. But it might also be that you need to finish your Master’s before the idea will suggest itself, and taking time out of academia might actually help focus your creativity.

Equally, you are not bound to your project once you begin, and you can make changes. If you feel you definitely want to do a doctorate and want to get started, talk with people who know your work, and they may be able to help you to work up a project. For some people, it is better to wait and apply when you are sure. For others, it is better to get the application in, and make your final decision later.

  • How do I identify the right institution?

The right institution for you will have several key features:

  • The institution will offer specific resources, support, and mentoring to its postgraduate students. Your chosen department will also have resources particular to its needs and yours (seminars, specific research clusters or groups, access to manuscripts, digital resources, strong libraries, etc).
  • The institution will have a strong and supportive community (large or small!) in your chosen field, so that you have colleagues with whom to collaborate, commiserate, and share ideas.
  • Most importantly, the right institution for you is the institution at which your chosen supervisor works. As noted above, your supervisor will make a huge contribution to your PhD experience. Any institution can be the right institution if you’re working with a person or people who offer you support, aid, encouragement, and thoughtful, critical feedback.
  • Which department/faculty should I approach?

This may be a question you are asking yourself if you’re doing an interdisciplinary Master’s. Ask yourself where you feel more at home: where does your methodology or topic fit best? Look at statistics for places and funding. Most importantly, talk to people who know your work, and especially your potential supervisor. Finally, remember that many institutions will allow you to have two supervisors in different disciplines. Being in one department/faculty doesn’t bind you to that department/faculty in the long-term and your research may well lead you to a different field later.

  • Do I need to approach supervisors before sending in an application?

Ideally, yes! It is not required for a PhD application that you have a supervisor in mind, and many applications are successful without a future supervisor listed. But your proposal will be stronger with feedback from a potential supervisor, and their support within the institution will be useful. It is always a good idea to talk to potential supervisors, to exchange ideas about your project and to learn about the different forms of support that their department/faculty might be able to offer. Another good reason to approach supervisors before applying is that, based on your proposal, they may be able to direct it to targeted funding (e.g., part of an ongoing project or a large grant) for your doctoral studies.

  • How do I approach potential supervisors?

Shoot them an email! It can feel hard at the moment to get in touch with someone you don’t know well, as you don’t just bump into people at seminars. But academics understand that you have to look around for potential supervisors at a variety of institutions, and they welcome enquiries from talented young researchers with interesting projects. They’ll be excited to hear from you! They may even be able to direct you to relevant projects with funded doctoral places attached. You may want to talk to your current course convenor and/or your tutors who may be able to guide you about whom to contact based on your interests.

  • When should I start work on my application?

Now! Get your initial thoughts down on paper, and you can start editing and discussing from there. An application is very much a work in progress, so jot down your ideas, along with any source material and bibliography that looks promising. It will be easier to put together a project once you have all of the component parts in place.

  • How long should my first draft be?

Aim for a few hundred words shorter than the word limit at this stage, to leave plenty of room for revisions.

  • How many drafts should I do?

As many as you need, but be realistic about when it’s time to stop! Remember: this is only a proposal and no one expects you to have all the answers. Your research questions and how you plan to explore them (source material, approaches, auxiliary tools) are much more important than speculative conclusions, at such an early stage.

  • Where can I find out about funding?

You should join subject-specific mailing lists (such as those you’ll find on Jiscmail or H-Net). There is also a PhD-specific section on jobs.ac.uk. Have a chat with your potential supervisor or with current doctoral students, who might be able to tell you about lesser-known scholarships or funded places on existing projects, like this project, which funded fifteen doctoral places over three years (all students have now started). Use this tool to find funding opportunities at Oxford specifically.

An Excerpt from Anne Louise Avery’s Reynard the Fox

Looking for an exciting new retelling of the stories of the dashing and anarchic medieval folk hero Reynard the Fox? Look no further. OMS is honored to share with you the opening chapters of Anne Louise Avery’s new rendition of Caxton’s 1481 English translation of these Middle Dutch tales, now available from The Bodleian Library press.

Click here to download the pdf