Dr Andy McInnes at the conference.  Photography by Josefin Bengtsson.

The Eighteenth Century in the Present Day: Undergraduate students present at International Conference and Arts Festival

Dr Andrew McInnes, English, took five students from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus to a conference and festival at the University of York.

Joan Passey, Lizzi Bowerman, CJ Russett, Estelle Hakner and Chloe Statham presented their independent research into the digital archive Eighteenth-Century Collections Online at an international interdisciplinary conference and arts festival at the University of York’s Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

The students attended panels and lectures over the duration of a weekend, as well as attending an evening arts festival which allowed them the opportunity to network with leading academics. Their panel was well attended by a third of the conference delegation, including one of the keynote speakers, Professor Donna Landry, who offered the students detailed individual feedback after the panel.

The undergraduate students presented in the panel titled ‘Echoes in the ECCO: Undergraduate Responses to Independent Research using Eighteenth-Century Collections Online’, chaired by Dr Andrew McInnes. Joan explored the connections between eighteenth-century masquerade culture and twenty-first century pop culture. Lizzi compared the blurring of genres in Robinson Crusoe with today’s information overload. CJ spoke about connecting Samuel Johnson’s writing on tax with today’s uproar about tax avoidance.  Estelle connected her analysis of oppression, liberation and anarchy in the eighteenth century to the violence which perverted the reformist goals of 2010’s student protests. Chloe connected Mary Wollstonecraft’s travelogue Letters from Sweden and Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, through their focus on the performative nature of personality.

Dr McInnes described the students as “outstanding, ambitious and innovative,” and commented, “I want to stress how fantastically well-prepared, hard-working and professional each of the students were about presenting at the conference. Their papers were well-researched, beautifully presented and confidently delivered, so much so that they got mistaken several times for postgraduate students. They have done brilliantly, and they very much showcased the teaching and research culture at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus.”

The conference concluded with a roundtable discussion which brought together the artistic and academic strands of the conference, whilst challenging the possibilities of creative and interpretative interpenetration in the period.

Extract from the students’ reports on the conference can be read below. For more information about studying English at the Penryn Campus, please view the English Department web pages. For more information about the conference at York University, please view the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, or the webpage.

Students' Reports

Chloe Statham

"When I began my talk, I found myself enjoying speaking to the audience and rediscovering the enjoyment I had when writing my presentation. We received a number of very pleasing comments, a favourite being that we were ‘terrifyingly professional.’ The informal aspect of the conference was one that I found almost as rewarding as the academic side, as I felt able to talk to academics on an equal and friendly level, which gives me hope that this is a field I could slot into as a personality as well as an academic…

I went to the conference with the view that it would either make or break my want to become an academic and pursue an MA and PhD, and I have never been so glad of an opportunity. Not only has the conference given me immediate help with dissertation research and MA programs, but it has also solidified in me a desire to become an academic. The conference, Andy, and the academics I have met, have inspired me more than I can express: I hope the quality of my dissertation and future academic endeavours will prove testament to this.”

Joan Passey

“Expecting a stifled, incredibly formal atmosphere reluctant to tolerate nervous undergraduates, we instead encountered a festival of artistic collaboration, and were welcomed with encouraging words and tremendous support by PhD students and prestigious senior critics alike. Whilst nerve-racking, the opportunity to present was sensational.

I left with an appreciation for where academic study has come from, and the direction it is moving to, as well as a handbag full of finger sandwiches, and a reading list longer than many of the papers presented! The experience was enriching and educational, with each paper pointing me in a new, fresh direction for further research. The academics were encouraging – even live tweeting our entire panel! – and willing to speak with us again about progressing our work and our careers. Many of them were eager to speak at Cornwall Campus, and if anything I hope we represented our course’s diversity of interests, strength of research, and emphasis on presentation and originality.  ”

Estelle Hakner

“As undergraduate students from the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus, the immense journey to York served as an appropriate metaphor for how far we had come, academically, to have this opportunity. Due to endless encouragement and round-the-clock support from our lecturer, Dr. Andrew McInnes, we can all agree that, by the time the trip arrived, we had confidence in the quality of our own (and each other’s) work. Nevertheless, the prospect of terrifying professors grilling our ideas and exposing our inexperience haunted us all in the back of the mind.

A key moment of the conference, for me, was the paper that started it off. Markman Ellis’ piece on the coffee-house was invigorating and intellectually fascinating; the reception of the coffee house since its first appearance in 1652 with its ‘heathenish liquor’ depicts the emergence of an entire coffee-house culture surrounding this bewildering new product from the Ottoman. Markman highlighted traces of cultural heritage in the modern ‘Starbucks era’ coffee-house, such as choice of art work, as well as depicting the evolution of coffee-house custom from sociability and equality to fragmentation and isolation. After a greatly interesting piece and some highly thought-provoking questions, nothing could have been more welcome than the vast amounts of coffee that was awaiting us in the refectory.

The weekend was an incredibly rewarding combination of intellectual feasting, brilliant entertainment, and fantastically welcoming company. It was great to have this experience as an undergraduate as it confirmed my ambition to continue along the academic career path, whilst observing the exceptional quality of work that is expected.”

CJ Russett

“Daren Hodson read possibly the most interesting paper of the weekend, positioning Pelleport’s Les Bohemiens as a satirical critique of philosophers and philosophy. He highlighted the tendency in the academy to focus on revolutionary French texts, rejecting texts that don’t add to that area of study. Daren demonstrated that such under-read and endangered texts are worthy of study; my copy is already in the post...

Myself and Andy then mingled with the other academics, and I soon found myself in an intriguing conversation with Donna Landry and Brycchan Carey. We discussed the major texts of the era and I soon had a long list of books to read over the summer. Donna once again gave feedback on my presentation and suggested some avenues through which I could further my study of the era.

The end of the conference marked the end of one of what I believe will a key formative moment in my academic life. The passion and friendliness demonstrated by the academics was inspiring, and I hope to be there if this conference does return as planned in 2015.”

Lizzi Bowerman

“Dr. McInnes introduced us in glowing terms, which I hope we lived up to as I felt our panel was a resounding success; indeed, we all struggled to hide our glee when Dr. James Smith called us “terrifyingly professional” during the questions at the end!

After the questions had finished we began chatting to our audience members and were thrilled when Professor Landry praised us all highly and offered individual feedback and further reading suggestions to each of us. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we left feeling really proud of ourselves and eager to do more research and writing - this was a fantastic opportunity for us and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

I would like to conclude my report with a ‘thank you’ to Dr. Andy McInnes, without whom, the trip would not have been possible; his organisation and encouragement made our panel the success it was.”

Date: 22 August 2013

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