We are delighted to announce the recipients of the Oxford DNB/OCLW research bursaries for 2017/2018. This time, OUP has awarded two bursaries in association with the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing: they go to Dr Katherine Collins, an academic and creative writer working across the disciplines of sociology and life writing, for her project on British expatriate communities in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries; and Alice Little, DPhil candidate in Music at the University of Oxford, who will study the unacknowledged musicians contributing to J.B. Malchair’s music collection in the 18th century.
Katherine and Alice will use the Oxford DNB as the focus of their research and will work closely with academic staff at the Oxford DNB and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing. Find out more about their projects below:
Dr Katherine Collins (Wolfson College, University of Oxford)
Brexpats: British Expatriate Communities in Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries
Katherine will undertake a prosopographical survey of the ODNB to identify individuals that belonged to a British expat community in the 19th or 20th centuries, to draw connections between those individuals temporally and spatially, and to place them in an historical and social context. She will focus particularly on how living abroad may have influenced their work and its subsequent reception in Britain.
The project seeks to contribute new data to the ODNB by consulting primary sources in The Expatriate Archive Centre in The Hague, which carries a collection of life writings, photos, letters, digital material and secondary sources from the late 19th century to the present day, created from donations by expatriates and their families. It will provide a deep historical and cultural context to this highly topical and important work, enriching our understanding of the lives of expatriated Britons in Europe at various times in the British past, in various locations and political climates.
Alice Little (Music Faculty, University of Oxford)
Unsung Musicians of Eighteenth-Century Oxford
Alice’s research focuses on the collecting practices of the band leader and artist John B. Malchair, who collected ‘national music’ in Oxford from ca. 1770 until his death in 1812. In her project, she plans to uncover the network of previously unacknowledged – or ‘unsung’ – musicians who contributed to his collection. Using the ODNB to research these figures will make it possible to identify for the first time a group of people involved in musical networks in Oxford in the 18th century who did not necessarily have any connection to the Oxford Music Room or the University’s School of Music.
Alice’s research responds to the need to reassess our understanding of music collecting, how music was shared, and its social and cultural function in 18th-century society. She will use digital technology to visualise her findings, showing Malchair’s network of contacts and their chronological and geographical coincidence in Oxford and at the Oxford Music Room, which she plans to make available as an online resource. Ultimately, her project will make an essential contribution towards a biography of Malchair, which Alice is in the process of writing.
Alice Little is studying for her doctorate at the University of Oxford’s Music Faculty. She writes her thesis on eighteenth-century collecting practices, focusing on the music collection of J.B. Malchair. Her research interests include 18th- and 19th-century traditional music; folk music; the history of collecting; and musical instruments.
Dr Kate Kennedy, our Weinrebe Fellow in Life-Writing, has won an Early Career Researcher award in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards, which celebrate public engagement work across the University. The announcement was made at an awards ceremony at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on 28 June hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson.
Dr Kennedy won her award for her public engagement work relating to a triple biography of poet Rupert Brooke, and composers F.S. Kelly and W.D. Browne she is writing. The three men were close friends who sailed to Gallipoli together and were all killed in the First World War.
Studying archives, letters and diaries, and animating the stories she has uncovered has enabled Dr Kennedy to work with young people and adults, musicians and theatre professionals through drama, music, the media and public events, including:
10 performances across the UK of her dramatized recital The Fateful Voyage across the UK with internationally acclaimed soloists and actors.
Directing and presenting BBC Radio 3’s commemorations of the First World War, with The Fateful Voyage broadcast from the City of London Festival as a centrepiece.
Creating the Gallipoli Music Memorial Trust to offer workshops, performances and teaching resources to schools; the content now forms part of the history curriculum.
Involving over 750 school children in creating their own creative pieces and performances for public audiences.
Premiering, choreographing and editing the work of the composers including previously unpublished songs, piano works and a fully staged ballet.
Obtaining Arts Council funding to develop The Fateful Voyage into a fully-staged play at the National Theatre.
The biography of Brooke, Kelly and Browne is due to be published in 2018.
The project has transformed Dr Kennedy’s research, developing her understanding of the stories and how they can be communicated effectively. In turn the neglected work of the composers has now been shared with many thousands.
The Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards recognise and reward those at the University who undertake high-quality engagement activities and have contributed to building capacity in this area. Dr Kennedy was one of five Early Career Researcher winners at the awards.
Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor says: “I have been deeply impressed by the quality of the public engagement with research projects submitted for this year’s awards. The breadth and diversity of the activities taking place show how seriously the University takes its commitment to public engagement.”
Professor Alison Woollard, the University’s Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research says: “Public engagement enriches both research and society and the University is committed to enabling our researchers to inspire, consult and collaborate with the public. I’m delighted that we are able to recognise and highlight the fantastic work our researchers are doing and hope these awards encourage more colleagues across the University to carry out their own public engagement with research.”
About the awards
The Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards recognise and reward those at the University who undertake high-quality engagement activities and have contributed to building capacity in this area. The awards are awarded in three categories: Early Career Researcher, Building Capacity and Projects. Entrants can be at any level in their career and activities of any scale are welcome. Winning entries received recognition for their achievements at the Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards Ceremony that took place on 28 June 2017.
The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing invites applications for the Tony Gray Visiting Scholarship, tenable for one year.
Closing date: 28 July 2017
Start date: 9 October 2017 (or as soon as possible thereafter)
The scholarship awards £500 expenses to the recipient, and a further £500 towards the organisation of an event. We are interested in applications from anyone who has recently completed their PhD, up to experienced senior researchers.
The scholarship comes with the expectation that the recipient will organise an event related to their field, with our financial and administrative support. This could range from a seminar, invited guest speaker, to a day colloquium or full conference.
The researcher will play an active role in the community of academics at OCLW, and take part in the weekly seminar meetings. The elected scholar will obtain membership of Wolfson Common Room (entitling them to a University Card and use of the Bodleian Library; use of the dining hall for meals; use of the college library and sports facilities; room hire and eligibility of most College committees). The researcher will benefit from the intellectual community of the College and University: they may join College clubs and societies (a charge may apply for some clubs), use all the College facilities, attend Guest Night dinners and bring guests to dine in Hall for lunch and dinner. They may also apply to the Accommodation Office for housing during their stay, although there is a great demand, and it may not be possible to meet their needs.
Please submit the application form, accompanied by a current CV, to email@example.com [marked ‘OCLW Tony Gray Visiting Scholarship application’] or by post to: Dr Kate Kennedy, OCLW, Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford, OX2 6UD.
There’s been so much interest in OCLW and DANSOX’s event Dancing Lives, and here is another brilliant event about dance, happening in Sadler’s Wells just a week before ours:
Join the Society for Dance Research in a discussion on Alain Platel / les ballets C de la B’s nicht schlafen on Monday 3rd July with invited speakers Katalin Trencsényi and Dr Kélina Gotman, two days after the performances at Sadler’s Wells on 30th June and 1st July.
Dramaturg Katalin Trencsényi will present her research on Alain Platel’s collaborative dramaturgy and the development of nicht schlafen over the past year, while Dr Kélina Gotman will discuss the consequences of nation/post-nation or transnationalism, and how we might read cohabitation onstage. Both speakers will then propose some questions to open up the discussion.
Katalin Trencsényi is a London-based dramaturg, researcher and associate lecturer at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). As a freelance dramaturg, Katalin has worked with the National Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, Deafinitely Theatre, Corali Dance Company, and Company of Angels, among others. Katalin is co-founder of the Dramaturgs’ Network (d’n), worked on its various committees, and from 2010 to 2012 served as its President. Katalin is the author of Dramaturgy in the Making. A User’s Guide for Theatre Practitioners (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2015), co-editor of New Dramaturgy: International Perspectives on Theory and Practice (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2014), and editor of Bandoneon: Working with Pina Bausch. (Oberon Books, 2016). For her research on dance dramaturgy, Katalin was recepient of the the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas’ Bly Creative Fellowship Grant. Katalin has a PhD from the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.
Kélina Gotman teaches Theatre and Performance Studies at King’s College London. She writes regularly on the history and philosophy of theatre and dance, cultural history, writing, translation, and the history and theory of disciplines and institutions. She has contributed among others to Performance Research, About Performance (on the work of Alain Platel), Choreographic Practices, Textual Practice, SubStance, and various edited collections. She is author of Choreomania: Dance and Disorder (forthcoming, Oxford University Press, Studies in Dance Theory) and Essays on Theatre and Change: Towards a Poetics Of (forthcoming, Routledge). She has collaborated on over two dozen dance, theatre, and experimental opera productions in Europe and North America, as a translator, dramaturg, performer, director, writer, designer, movement director and curator. She is currently preparing among others an edited volume on performance, translation and everyday multilingualism, and a chapter on choreic gesture in Platel and the ballets C de la B’s Out of Context: For Pina for an edited volume on Platel’s work.
SDR’s Choreographic Forum is open to students, researchers, artists, and practitioners.
Attendance is free for Society for Dance Research (SDR) members / £6 full price / £3 concessions (students) + booking fees. Tickets available here.
Marie Taglioni’s overwhelming success in ballets such as La Sylphide triggered a cult of the ballerina which was to last for many decades, and which swept away the image of the acclaimed male dancers of the past. This paper for Dancing Lives accompanies Marie Taglioni on her way to celebrity from Stockholm over Vienna and Stuttgart to the Paris Opera, where she created some of her most memorable roles, and from there to other major ballet cities.
It explores questions such as: which changes in the world of ballet paved the way for Marie Taglioni’s triumph, and how did she acquire her reputation? How did Taglioni describe her own life in her memoirs, and what did others write about her? Furthermore, it reveals how Taglioni’s glory was documented and diffused through artistic representations of her.
Iris Julia Bührle is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow (English) and a Junior Research Fellow atNewCollege,Oxford. She studied comparative literature, history of art and international relations inStuttgart, Paris (Sorbonne-Nouvelle/ Sciences Po) andOxford, and she has worked for UNESCO, the Bavarian State Ballet and the Paris Opera. Her doctoral thesis (Paris/Stuttgart) entitledDance and Literature: the choreographic adaptation of works of literature inGermanyandFrancefrom the 18thcentury to the present daywas published in German in 2014. She also authored a bilingual (English/ German) biography of the British dancer Robert Tewsley. Her current project is on Shakespeare and dance.
The Dear Diaryexhibition is now open, until 7th July! Promotion got underway well before opening, with various radio features including Radio 2’s Jonathan Ross Show on 4th May, and BBC London, Monocle Radio, Radio Oxford and other outlets; on 3rd June, I take Dear Diary to Radio 4’s Saturday Live show (listen from 9:00 BST).
One publicity commission was for the Sunday Times series ‘6 of the Best’. I thought long and hard and put together a list only to discover that ‘Best’ is determined by what the picture editor thinks can be illustrated best. Several suggestions hit the cutting room floor. One was British artist Ian Breakwell’s visual diary – an idea I owe to Lucy Bayley, a PhD student at the ICA (thank you, Lucy). You can see a selection of Breakwell’s work at the Tate, including The Walking Man Diary (1975-1978).
A diary’s lure of intimacy…
Breakwell has made various experiments with the diary form. One of the most compelling is the photographic diary he made of an unknown man who regularly walked past Breakwell’s flat in Smithfield in the City of London, where from his third floor window the artist was often looking out. The images all have the same vantage point and the same mysterious subject; the passing of time is captured through the diary unevenly, so that some photographs are taken seconds apart while others are separated by months. The resulting pattern of similarity and difference, heightened by collage, plays with a diary’s lure of intimacy: by denying us even incremental knowledge, Breakwell makes his diary intriguingly baffling.
Another suggestion was W.P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (1919). This diary has an extraordinary story. The author’s real name was Bruce Cummings; he made his pseudonym from Wilhelm, Nero and Pilate as examples of the most wretched people to have lived.
Writing a diary gave Cummings the opportunity to call on philosophy for help; as his illness progressed he prepares for death with gentle humour and a sense of beauty…
In 1915 Cummings was a naturalist who went for a medical prior to signing up for the First World War; the doctor sent him home with a letter. On the way back he read it, and discovered he had multiple sclerosis – and that his family already knew, and indeed had known for some time. Aged 26, he suddenly had a very short future. Multiple sclerosis comes in several forms, all cruel. Barbellion knew he would be facing loss of functions like mobility, but he mobilised all his mental and emotional resources. Writing a diary gave him the opportunity to call on philosophy for help; as his illness progressed he prepares for death with gentle humour and a sense of beauty. His celebration of existence is poignant: ‘To me the honour is sufficient of belonging to the universe — such a great universe, and so grand a scheme of things. Not even Death can rob me of that honour. For nothing can alter the fact that I have lived; I have been I, if for ever so short a time’.
The title of the work The Journal of a Disappointed Man, is slightly misleading: Barbellion is disappointed in the sense that life is being taken away from him, but he converts disappointment into the most profound celebration of life. Being a naturalist helps: the complexity, beauty and vivacity of other forms of life gives him much to celebrate, and reminds him – and us – that humans are organisms in a mutable universe. The MS Society recommends Barbellion’s Journalto people with multiple sclerosis. I recommend it to everybody. It is sobering, humbling, cheering, comforting and touchingly human.
William Wyndham’s diary provided me with a wonderful case study in balloon madness…
Just as the exhibition powered up, I was also running around giving talks related to my forthcoming book on eighteenth-century ballooning: Balloon Madness: Flights of Imagination in Britain, 1783-1786(Boydell & Brewer, autumn 2017). It was a hectic doubling, except my balloon book does have a whole chapter about a diary. It belonged to William Wyndham, who was an MP, mathematician, classicist and convivial dreamer, and it provided me with a wonderful case study in balloon madness. It also provided methodological challenges, because the diary’s entries about balloons are frustratingly laconic. Having just started his diary, Windham confided to it, like many eighteenth-century people, a sense he was not getting enough done. On 7th February 1784 he wrote ‘Did not rise till past nine; from that time till eleven, did little more than indulge in reveries about balloons.’ (You can read the whole text online, as The Diary of the Right Honourable William Windham, 1784-1810, ed. Cecilia Anne Baring, 1866).
What did that entry mean? What was going on in his head? I had to adapt critical tools from life writing to reconstruct Windham’s balloon reveries, though joyfully he did turn those reveries into action . On 5 May 1784, at the height of balloon madness, he made a successful ascent with the Oxford aeronaut James Sadler from grounds near Hampton Court, watched by a collection of Fellows from the Royal Society. His diary entry afterwards begins: ‘Went up in balloon. Much satisfied with myself; and, in consequence of that satisfaction, dissatisfied rather with my adventure…’ It seems to have cured his balloon madness; his reveries moved on to other things.
Air-minded people can be generous in sharing stories, and a later balloon episode also involving a diary came to me by way of a former student, Eric Larsson (thank you, Eric). It joins a literature of ice which also has dedicated admirers, and a fine critic in Frances Spufford , author of I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (Faber & Faber 2003). This story begins in 1930 on a Norwegian sloop in the Arctic, with geologists and seal hunters aboard. They discover the remains of an expedition, long presumed lost. On 11 July 1897, the Swedish engineer S.A. Andrée and two companions had ascended in a hydrogen balloon aiming to discover the North Pole. They had had to land on the ice and travel on foot in rigours which eventually defeated them. (Read more of their story in the New Yorker magazine).
Each of the three men had kept diaries and all were eventually published. One waterlogged notebook was recovered by a reporter, Knut Stubbendorf, who dried it in his cabin, and recounts the experience of turning the pages for the first time:
“I have seldom, if ever, experienced a more dramatic, a more touching succession of events, than when I began the preparation of the wet leaves, thin as silk, and watched how the writing or drawing, at first invisible, gradually became discernible as the material dried, giving me a whole, connected description written by the dead – a description which displayed unexpected and amazing details, and which allowed me to follow the journey of the balloon across the ice during the three short days from July 11 to 14, 1897.”
This thrilling moment in which invisible writing emerges to be readable, and the visible writing tells of what happened, has stayed with me: it could be a compelling metaphor for what all diaries are and what they do. They say what happened, and they make that a mystery to be revealed, a voice from the dead which can become alive again.
So please keep a diary – you never know if it may fall into a researcher’s hands! And please come and visit the Dear Diary exhibition! You can share your thoughts about diaries and your diary practice via the exhibition website.
Dear Diary: A Celebration of Diaries and their Digital Descendants Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, 26 May – 7 July 2017, Weds–Sun, 11:00-5:30.
You can also contribute to ongoing research in the Ego-Media group by going to their DiaryBox. The Ego-Media team (also members of the Centre for Life Writing) would like to know about the shape of your online day – or night! – so as to understand better how digital traces can be read as diaries, and what they can tell us about self-presentation online. Your contributions will be ‘leaves of silk’, with invisible ink drying into unexpected and amazing details… Share your stories today.
Global Lives and Local Perspectives was the second largest collaboration between two research clusters of Wolfson College: OCLW (Oxford Centre for Life Writing) and THSC (Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Centre). In 2012, Wolfson College hosted the conference Beyond Biographies: New Perspectives on Tibetan Life-Writing; convened by Professor Ulrike Roesler and held in collaboration with OCLW, the meeting had the merit of attracting attention to the rich tradition of biographical writing within the Tibetan literary corpus by placing Tibetan biographies and autobiographies within the broader context of life writing across the world. New avenues of interpretation and understanding were advanced at the time, and, by taking our cue from that, we proposed to slightly enlarge the focus of the analysis to embrace other forms of indigenous life writing, such as journals, memoirs, songs, oral testimonies, and personal narratives, as they are documented in Tibetan historical, poetic, legal and religious literature, as well as on social media.
In the course of Global Lives and Local Perspectives, new approaches to Tibetan life writing had been proposed by the speakers. Whereas it is undisputable that biographies and autobiographies are at the core of the Tibetan practice of recording memories and experiences of the self, it is also clear that such a label crosses over and includes diverse genres and forms, thus opening the field of investigation to different analytical means.
Biographical and autobiographical writing can be used, for example, as a source of information about social, cultural, and political history, as demonstrated by Dr Franz Xaver Erhard and Rachael Griffiths. Through the eyes of the authors, modes of identity construction come to the foreground, thus allowing for a better understanding of the different ways in which Tibetanness was, and still is, expressed. It has been reiterated throughout the workshop that the role on self-perception by the socio-cultural and historical milieu should not be underestimated; individuals are in fact urged to adhere to specific kinds of personhood, that is to say behavioural models considered to be socially acceptable. Dr Marta Sernesi, Miroslav Hrdina, and Sangseraima Ujeed presented contributions describing the edifying character of rnam thar, and the importance given to the observance of precise schemas in the portrayal of the life of an individual considered to be “exemplary”. Interestingly, it is the analysis of the themes and structures of these texts that makes it possible to gain a new perspective on rnam thar, the most popular form in which life writing was carried out in Tibet. Tibetan biographies also provide interesting information about the biographers themselves, so much so that sometimes the real value of these works lies not in the amount of details about the life of their characters, but rather on what the authors or the compilers reveal about their understanding of both their own identity and the socio-cultural environment they lived in, as shown by the presentations of Prof. Per Kværne and Dr Lewis Doney. Furthermore, the recording of life-stories of remarkable individuals was not a perfunctory implementation of a traditional practice; rather, Tibetan authors reflected on the issues of literary theory, developing indigenous explanations regarding the worth of their compositions as well as proposing new ways of narrating the self.
If the importance of biographies and autobiographies for social and cultural historians is clear, the perils of considering these works as mere deposits of dates and names should not be forgotten. Life writing, in all its forms and expressions, is a literary manifestation, and as such it deserves to be considered and discussed. The literary value of autobiographies, journals, and memoirs affects the surrounding society; the creation of a relationship between the work and its audience may lead to the negotiation of issues of exemplarity and legitimacy, as illustrated by the case-studies brought by Prof. Per K. Sørensen and Lucia Galli. Personal recollections may shed a new light on past events, improving our understanding of controversial historical periods, as the decades of the 1940s to the 1960s certainly were for the Tibetan communities along the Sino-Tibetan borders as well as for those living in the central provinces of the plateau, as showed by Prof. Heather Stoddard, Dr Lara Maconi, and Xénia de Heering.
What has been said so far applies not only to biographies and autobiographies compiled in pre-modern times, but also to new forms of individual expression, such as social media, blogs, and instant messaging apps. Creating the self in the moment is a feature that we ascribe to modernity. Technology provides us with the means to immediately share small personal stories, updating our identities constantly though multi-semiotic forms. But writing on the spot, recording the ebbs and flows of the mind, is indeed a rather ancient practice; diary, personal journals, travelogues are all instances of what can be defined as life writing of the moment, jotting down impressions as well as reflections on the self and the other. The contributions offered by Prof. Charles Rambles, Dr LamaJabb, and Dr Theresia Hofer broached the issue of “fragmentary” selves and how it is possible to reconstruct a personal identity by putting together snapshots of life as they appear in legal documents, poems, songs, or instant messages shared on social media platforms.
These are indeed exciting times for those working on Tibetan life writing. The field is ripe with possibilities. Not only the past may be looked at with different eyes, but also the present, and more importantly, the future, all reserve new and unexpected ways of studying and comprehending the ever-evolving Tibetan identity. We planned to collect and publish the contributions to this workshop, with a sincere hope that the study of Tibetan life writing may continue to thrive and develop.
We would like to express once again our gratitude towards those who have made this workshop such as successful event: Oxford Centre for Life Writing (OCLW), Ti se Foundation, Wolfson College Academic Committee, Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Centre (THSC), and the Linying Foundation.