The focus of my studies at Oxford this summer is on the idea of “the margin” in medieval and middle English literature. While there is certainly significance in the idea of literal margins (often texts of this era are framed in elaborate illustrations - as shown above), I am primarily interested in the more abstract conception of the “margin” as it relates to the content of the text (characters that exist in the margins of society or who challenge cultural standards of the day), the structure of the text (the linguistic shifts at the margins of middle English as the printing press standardizes what was previously fragmented, provincial writing), and the reading of the text (the stance that modern readers take when examining medieval writing from a distance - or margin - of hundreds of years).
What is most enticing about this research is that it is, at its core, interdisciplinary - an idea that academia pays lip service to but rarely cultivates. Obviously, the primary texts that I will be studying are largely familiar works of medieval literature (Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer, Malory, York Mystery Plays, La Folie Tristan, etc.). But in addition, the research of marginal characters will demand study of historical, theological, and sociological developments of the era; the research of marginal structures will demand study of linguistic and etymological developments between middle and modern English; and the research of marginal readings will demand study of philosophy of language, hermeneutics, and mediated communication.
While the wealth of medieval resources at Oxford is unparalleled, the main reason I applied to study at Oxford for the summer is because the style of teaching is far more conducive to this sort of interdisciplinary research. I meet with my professor once or twice each week - sometimes in his office, sometimes in a common area, sometimes in a pub - and we discuss my reading, writing, and research. He guides me to supplemental resources, provides feedback on my ideas, puts me in touch with other students and scholars as needed, and the rest of the time, I am working to have substantive material to show him at our next meeting. I’m eager to see how my ideas change over the course of the next few weeks.
While it was difficult to leave all of my books alone in Pennsylvania for the summer, I suspect Oxford’s collection will suffice. Not only do I have access to the Lincoln College library (a gorgeous cathedral that has since been converted into an upper and lower-level reading room), but I also was officially sworn in to use the Bodleian Library. In order to use the library, you must be a university student or faculty member, and you must go through an induction process in which you read the following oath:
I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.
The library is home to nearly 10 million volumes - so many that they actually keep most of the books in a storage facility and transport requested books to and from the library daily. The library is also the home to one of the original copies of the Magna Carta, one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles, Shakespeare’s First Folio, and numerous Biblical codexes dating back to 500CE. Another fun fact: parts of the Bodleian were used as Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter films. I’ll be sure to look for the restricted section - just in case there are any extant Defense Against the Darks Arts books there.
Safely arrived in the UK. Took the train to Paddington Station (didn’t find any abandoned bears, but I’ll check back when I’m in London again), then rode to Leamington Spa for a weekend with family. We spent Saturday afternoon at the well-maintained ruins (oxymoron?) of Kenilworth Castle (pictured above).
The castle was first constructed on the 1120s and was expanded over the course of the subsequent two hundred years. It was also the site of the Siege of Kenilworth in 1266 and the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Kenilworth.