Contributed by: Kyra Piperides, conference committee chair and Francesca Cioni, conference committee vice-chair
Thursday 19th October may have been a very wet, miserable day in the rest of York, but inside the National STEM Centre the atmosphere was bright and full of energy. 140 WRoCAH staff and students from Leeds, Sheffield and York filled the lecture theatre to hear a range of the ground-breaking arts and humanities research currently being undertaken by WRoCAH students.
As part of the programme of events that welcome the new cohort to WRoCAH every year, the conference is a particularly exciting event as it brings students of all cohorts together on one campus – this is brilliant for networking with others in the same discipline, but also a great opportunity to form original, interdisciplinary connections! The day was enriched by supervisor sessions, held during the conference for the first time, which allowed new and returning supervisors alike the valuable opportunity to discuss the supervision of a WRoCAH student and get all of their questions answered by WRoCAH manager Caryn Douglas.
After mingling and enjoying coffee and pastries in the foyer, we welcomed the delegates into the lecture theatre, with opening words by conference committee chair Kyra Piperides, and WRoCAH director Professor Julian Richards. Once everyone was feeling very welcome, Julian handed over to Megan Henvey, the chair for the first panel of the day. Named ‘Negotiating Definitions’, this first panel comprised entirely of students from the University of York: Harald Fredheim from the Department of Archaeology, Owen Burton of the Department of Music, and Phillip Roberts, who studies within the Department of English and Related Literature. This brilliantly interdisciplinary panel discussed their personal research journeys, with tantalising glimpses of their work. Harald started us off with a research-journey presentation, featuring his top tips for PhD research; Owen showed us something of the importance of the spiral form in music; and Phillip Roberts enchanted us with some beautiful magic lanterns.
The second panel of the morning, ‘Challenging and Adapting Methodologies’ was chaired by Adam Sammut. The panel was kicked off by the University of York’s Claire McGinn, from the Department of Music, followed by papers from the University of Sheffield’s Sally Eales and Angela Maccarinelli – based within the Department of English and the Department of Archaeology, respectively. As the three presenters discussed the need to review and revitalise, challenge and adapt, we got a fascinating insight into Estonian folk music, domestic service in the nineteenth century, and the economics of medieval freshwater fish. Claire discussed how the regilaul form had been put to various aesthetic and political uses in the twentieth century; Sally questioned how to find the absent testimony of the domestic servant; and Angela explored what different consumption rates of different types of fish in medieval England can tell us about its society’s structure.
Over a delicious lunch, attendees were able to survey the posters produced by incoming and current WRoCAH students alike, and were treated to a sample of the music of noted composer and 2017 cohort member Marc Yeats. Lunch was followed by the third panel: ‘Contradictions and Collaborations’. Chaired by the conference committee’s social media officer, Victoria Clarke, this panel was a lively start to the afternoon! Neil Luck, from York’s Department of Music discussed unusual and innovative collaborative working methods employed for the staging of operatic performances in public, city spaces. This was followed by ‘Contradiction Club’, performed by Matthew Cull and Stephen Bolton, both of whom study in the Department of Philosophy at Sheffield. Neil discussed his recent work on a ‘city opera’ for Aarhus European City of Culture 2017, featuring opera-singing wrestlers in a multi-storey car park, while the ‘Contradiction Club’ g
uided us through the confusing world of dialetheism. No post-lunch snooze in sight here!
The fourth and final panel of the day was aptly named ‘Sourcing Conclusions’. Chaired by Phillip Roberts, the panel consisted of three students from the University of Leeds: Sarah Little, from the School of Performance and Cultural Industries, Paul Coleman and Alice Murphy, who are both based in the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science. Sarah offered us some sage advice in her research-journey presentation, using the metaphor of PhD researcher as deep-sea trawler to contemplate how best to navigate the tricky waters of doctoral research. Paul too, while demonstrating the sorts of objects he works with at the Science and Media Museum in Bradford and exploring the potential challenges and rewards of working with material objects, gave some great advice: do not lick the object! Finally, Alice brought the panel to an excellent conclusion with her paper on the value of thought experiments in producing real results.
A day of fantastic research and insights into PhD study was drawn to a close by our keynote speaker, Dr James Underwood from the University of Huddersfield. As an early career researcher specialising in twentieth-century poetry, James’s creative keynote titled ‘“Single-handed and Untrained”: Lessons for the Early Career Researcher from Larkin’s Life’ brilliantly paralleled anecdotes and lessons from his own career with those from the life of the poet that his thesis researched. Recently awarded a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award for his project ‘Literature and the Reading Public’, James’s insight into public engagement within the humanities contained tips relevant to the new cohort, those well into the PhD journey, and students awaiting submission alike. With a short time for questions, fielded by committee vice-chair Francesca Cioni, James provided answers and advice for the delegates from the perspective of a successful ECR.
As WRoCAH’s Caryn Douglas took to the lectern to officially close the conference, we awarded prizes for paper presentations as well as the fabulous posters that had been exhibited in the foyer throughout the day. Phillip Roberts and Sally Eales were awarded prizes for their fascinating and original papers, whilst Silvia Soncin and Tom Lubek won the poster awards for their eye-catching and informative designs.
A fantastic day was rounded off by a prosecco reception with a selection of delicious nibbles providing a final opportunity to network on campus, before we bade farewell to the STEM Centre and caught the bus into the city centre for a delicious post-conference dinner at Pizza Express.
The WRoCAH Conference really was a fantastic day filled with high-quality papers and fascinating interdisciplinary discussion. On behalf of the rest of the committee (Joshua Ravenhill, Catherine Fahy, Victoria Clarke and Victoria Knowles) we would like to thank each of the presenters and panel chairs for their fantastic contributions, Marc Yeats for his wonderful music, Dr James Underwood for his refreshing and entertaining keynote, the WRoCAH team (Caryn, Clare and Julian) for their advice and assistance throughout the planning process, Amy from STEM for her support, and of course all of the delegates for their attendance and fantastic questions.