I have had the pleasure of presenting at and attending a number of conferences, thanks to my generous scholarship from the Wolfson Foundation, who have funded my PhD since October 2018. I have been able to hear fascinating talks, meet new people in my field, and explore some stunning places of learning and culture. See below for summary reports of the talks I have given, and the conferences I have attended, including highlights of the talks that particularly resonated with my research.
WMAF 2020 was my first online conference experience, and oh, was it a positive one! Three days were filled with important discussions on the diverse topic of Words, Music & Marginalisation, hosted by the skilled Allie Reznik (Chatham University, USA) & Tom Smith (St Andrews University, UK). I presented a paper titled 'The Marginalised Operatic Voice in Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto', based off my on-going PhD research, and engaged in a lively panel discussion.
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The conference worked on a seminar format, which included pre-circulated papers for attendees to read before the panels, enabling the panels to spend more time on discussion and less time on presentations. While initially hesitant about the extra time commitment of reading papers, I have become fully converted to this process, as reading papers before the panel created productive & engaging discussion. It also leaded to my best panel experience yet!
Topics covered over the three days included marginalised music, musicians, musical instruments; the question of whether 'marginal' is a productive term/approach; the challenge to re-contextualise; the poetic rhetoric of rap; gossip in composer biographies; the musical genius 'un-gendered'. The conference also featured the (virtual) launch of the new Edinburgh Companion to Literature and Music , including a roundtable with some of the contributors. I left this conference feeling part of a wide community of Word and Music scholars, and with many notes about exciting follow-up research to do!
Just before Covid-19 put the majority of the world on lockdown, I attended my first USA conference. In a panel on 'Music in Literature', I presented a paper titled 'Defining the Contemporary Musico-Literary Novel in Times of Conflict'. I also attended a diverse range of conference sessions, providing food for thought on a range of topics, including digital humanities, the ethics of narrating genocide, publishing under pressure, and medical humanities. A few of my favourite sessions are highlighted below.
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Highlights from panel and roundtable sessions included the roundtable on 'Narrating Genocide' (Chair: Adam Schoene, Cornell University), which produced heavy but important discussions on pedagogical questions surrounding teaching genocidal narrative literature as well as topics that included: abjection, rethinking empathy, indirect witnesses, representation, gendering genocide, using literary & archive texts, and the struggle with the term 'ineffable'. The companion 'Music in Literature' panel included fascinating papers by RJ Bergmann (Princeton University) on German Art Song as 'dialectically structured' poetic analysis; Julia Titus (Yale University) on music in Tolstoy as a 'stenograph of feelings' and 'infectious'; Bryan Counter (SUNY University of Buffalo) on a musical approach to novel; and David Racker on catharsis as 'intellectual clarification' in the presentation of jazz in Sonny's Blues. My panel on 'Music in Literature' included an insightful paper by Matteo Giacchè (Università La Sapienza) on how the Beatles changed the way Japanese culture thought/wrote about music, as is demonstrated in Japanese manga, which incorporates rock music as personal fulfilment through various features.
I also attended three insightful workshops. The first was a workshop on 'Digital Textual Editing' run by Isabella Magni (Rutgers University-New Brunswick), which taught me new skills as well as providing a fascinating presentation on the history of digital humanities. The second was a workshop titled 'Pitch to Publication', which provided a Q&A session with academic publishers, and highlighted key things to bear in mind when aiming for publication, including: brevity and concision in proposals; demonstrate you have an audience; and when picking a publisher, do your research on their approach, subject focus, and ethos. The third workshop, led by Melanie Holm, was also on publishing, titled 'How to Publish Under Less Than Ideal Circumstances', and key tips included: diagnose your personal obstacles (external & internal); create a step by step plan; find inspiration in journals you want to publish in, at conferences, and networking; and remember why you want to publish in the first place.
I also took the opportunity to attend some sessions on topics that are not of direct relevance to my research area, but are areas of interest — a positive of the large conference format. The panel on 'Sharing Spaces in Children's and Young Adult Literature' (Chair: Dainy Bernstein, Graduate Center, CUNY) was enlightening, particularly Jillian Boger's (Unviersity of Rhode Island) paper on Wendy's domestic play in Peter Pan, revealing how girls' play is practise for motherhood, and Krisit Fleetwood's (Graduate Center, CUNY) paper discussing how 20th century women built their lives through scrapbooks, guaranteeing memory legacy beyond the body. The panel on Studio Ghibli films indulged my personal love for Japanese anime, and also combined it with an academic viewpoint, as the papers I particularly lvoed were: Angela Drummond-Matthews (Moutain View College) on the importance of Miyazaki's representation of the elderly as active, as the way that the young perceive the old is important in society, arguing that Sophie in Howl 'validates the self-hood of older women'; and Heidi Morein (Arcadia University) on the significance of freedom being given to children and the elderly in Ghibli films, but not to middle-aged adults.
Finally, I ended the conference by attending a seminar session on Medical Humanities which, among many other fascinating papers, included David Lara's (University of Connecticut) seminar paper on 'Music as Cure; Music as a Tool', which proposed using neuroscientific arguments for understanding the potential for using music in language instruction — a paper which provided inspiration for my own work, and reminded me of the unexpected value that conferences can have on one's own work and research.
LSL 2020 | Durham, UK
In September 2019 I gave a public-facing lecture on part of my PhD research, which has since been turned into a podcast that's available free online. The talk is titled 'Listening to Survive: Classical Music, Conflict, and Identity in the Contemporary Novel', and you can listen to the full podcast here.
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Titled 'Listening to Survive: Classical Music, Conflict, and Identity in the Contemporary Novel', this talk introduced the debate around the ‘meaning’ of music and how this is impacted by a (fictional) individual’s experience of the time and place of the conflict setting. I placed a selection of literary extracts describing the music-listening experience in dialogue with audio extracts of the pieces of music in question, demonstrating that while music itself may exist in sound, the human experience of music-listening cannot exist in a vacuum, as it is tied to a specific time and place for a specific individual.
This summer I stepped out of my literary comfort zone and headed to London for the Music Philosophy Study Group conference, as recommended by one of my supervisors, Prof. Martyn Evans. It proved to be a stimulating two days, providing food for thought not just on music philosophy matters, but also the growing world of interdisciplinary approaches.
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Highlights included Jenefer Robinson's (University of Cincinnati) opening keynote address '"Musical Emotions" as Aesthetic Emotions', concluding that aesthetic Emotions enable and enhance appreciation. Joel Krueger (University of Exeter) spoke on ‘Musical Materialities and Empathic World-Making’, arguing that music creates empathic spaces. Catherine M. Robb's (Tilburg University) 'Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology and the Musical Ideal: Perception, Meaning and the Chiasm' proved fascinating as she outlined her project for forming an ontology of music based on Merleau-Ponty’s writings. I was particularly interested in Andreas Dorschel's (University of Arts, Graz) area of research into biographism, as he argued in ‘Life’s Work: Wagner’s Tristan and the Critique of Biographism’ that life does not entirely preceded art, nor does it simply mimic, but instead, both life and art can be a reaction coming afterwards. Christian Grüny’s ‘Listen! An Old Idea in a New Guise’ raised important points of consideration surrounding our ideas about listening and the need to critically understand the theory behind listening practices.
After two days of intense philosophical and musical discussion, Julian Johnson’s keynote, 'Language, Sense, and the Muteness of Music', was a delight to end on. It was perfect in its delivery, entertaining and engaging. To begin a keynote with the statement that all keynotes should take advice from Heidegger, quoting “Speaking at length about something does not offer the slightest guarantee that thereby understanding is advanced”, signalled that this was a presentation to best all that had come before. The paper discussed the dialogue between music and language, searching for a way to listen to music in openness, and Johnson seemed to be answering what Grüny’s paper suggested we consider: once we begin to listen, where do we go next? To dialogue.
Overall, this conference was a thoughtful experience. I was deep among philosophers, trying to keep up with philosophical terms alongside musicological terms, all the while holding my own as a literary scholar with an interdisciplinary focus. At times I found myself considering the world of interdisciplinary studies, and I realised that among the many strengths of interdisciplinary research is the requirement to learn how to communicate beyond your chosen area of study. The academic buzzwords must be set aside, or thoroughly explained, before productive discussion can begin.
I had my first experience of attending the WMA biennial conference this summer, and it was a delight to meet a community of scholars all engaged in studying the intersection of words and music, in its various forms. Focussed around the theme of 'Make it Old: Retro Forms and Styles in Literature and Music', there was a wide selection of papers across the three days, as well as an opening concert on the night before the conference started, which seems a perfect way to begin the animated discussions around words and music.
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As always, Peter Dayan was engaging in his opening keynote address on 'Schwitter's Ursonata: Making New Aboriginal Poetry from an Old Musical Form'. Delia da Sousa Correa illustrated how musical allusions are integral to our experience of George Eliot's work in 'Old Music and Ancient Tragedy in George Eliot's Fiction', as we need to imagine a soundscape that's radically different to our own to understand the 19th century reception of the novel. Ivan Delazari's 'William H. Gass's Piano Re-vision of Casablanca: Experimental Narration as a Retro Form' gave me new texts to look up and read in his discussion of Gass's talking piano in the short story 'Don't Even Try, Sam' (2004), while Gerfried Ambrosch's paper 'Back in the days / When I'd wait to see the old bands play': Retro Styles and the Quest for Authenticity' was fascinating in its consideration of whether there is such a thing as an 'authentic' punk style, when the genre both relies on and rejects past forms. Thomas Gurke outlined interesting insights in his ongoing research into the recent experimental novel The Music by Matthew Herbert in 'Remix, Remediation & Retrofic(a)tion in Matthew Herbert's The Music (2018)'. Polly Paulusma gave an exciting overview into her PhD research on 'Invisible Music: Angela Carter and the Prosodic Influences of Folk Song', and similarly Karla Cook Cotteau introduced her research into 'A Musician Who Writes Novels: A Brief Look at Music in Selected Works by Anthony Burgess'. Finally, Michael Halliwell on 'An Old Song Re-sung': Contemporary Opera and Its Past' covered the topic of new operas, and meta-opera devices, as the future of opera remains a shifting process as it engages with, or leaves behind, its past traditions.
As my first experience, this WMA conference was a fantastic insight into the research area that I have newly entered. I made new academic connections, heard some thought-provoking papers, and discovered new directions to take my research. I am eagerly looking forward to attending the WMA 2021 conference in Leipzig, Germany, and the WMAF 2020 post-graduate conference in St Andrews, Scotland.
While my PhD research may have shifted focus to contemporary literature, I endeavour to keep up my interest in Old Norse studies. After organising Norse in the North in 2018, it was a pleasure to come and support the organisers of the 2019 event in what proved to be an excellent conference, maintaining a space of welcome, encouraging, and insightful discussion on a range of Old Norse topics.
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A one-day conference, there was a diverse selection of papers from current post-graduate researchers in Old Norse studies. The theme of the conference was 'Concerning Connections: Ties and Relationships in the Old Norse World', and Charlie Steer-Stephenson this fascinating discussion with a historical paper on collective memory and cross-cultural memory in 'Keeping the Past Alive?: The Preservation of Old Mythology in Anglo-Scandinavian and Old Norse-Icelandic Memory Cultures'. The theme produced a wide-range of papers, including Sharon Chase's 'Rivers of Blood: Reading Ymir in the Book of Urizen', which illustrated the Old Norse links in William Blake's illuminated poetry. Annika Christensen addressed a current, pressing issue in her paper 'Whiteness and Masculinity: The 'North' in Faroese Heavy Metal Music', while Will Raybould combined historical and literary approaches in 'Konungs Skuggsjá: A European Mirror for Princes?'.
NitN 2019 maintained the conference's reputation for an interesting collection of papers, making me excited for the future work of PG researchers. I look forward to attending future conferences, the next to be held in Leeds 2020.
At this international post-graduate conference, I had the pleasure of presenting a selection of my findings from my first published paper, comparing translations of Eddic Poems relating to Guðrún. It was stimulating to delve back into the Old Norse world, which has become a side area compared to my PhD research, but remains an area I am interested in.
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Researchers ranged from manuscript specialists to linguists to literary scholars, with a variety of papers. As a literary scholar myself, of particular interest were the papers by Paul Tan on 'Foretelling and the fornaldarsögur', Sam Ashby-Crane's 'Eating Hearts and Drinking Blood: Saga Heroes and the Abject in Hrólfs saga kraka and Völsunga saga', and Isabella Clarke's 'Sense and Sensibility: Generic Framings of Emotions of Portrayals of Brynhildr'. Cassidy Croci gave a fascinating presentation on the use of network analysis to approach complicated family networks in 'A New Method for the (Land)-taking: Social Network Analysis and Landnámabók', and I found Solveig M. Wang's paper on 'Indigenous Presence, Spatial Relations and Questions of Identity: Some Observations from Egils saga Skallagrímssonar' to be incredibly illuminating, as she illustrated how we need to reconsider Scandinavia as more multi-cultural than we originally assume. These are only some of the many fascinating papers that week, and I was very grateful for the chance I had to network with fellow Old Norse scholars, share my research, and gather new ideas for how to develop my Old Norse interests in the future.
In preparation for PhD study, I attended this stimulating conference on music and literature, which proved to be a perfect introduction to my new area of study. Taking place over two days, the papers were varied in their focuses, with some following a more musicological approach, and others a more literary. We were even treated to a wonderful presentation and performance by members of the Viegli Foundation in Latvia on poetry and art in a new museum of inspiration.
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The keynote was delivered by Peter Dayan, titled 'Between Literature and Music: Immobilism, Incompatibility, and Incomprehension', which inspired many considerations for my future research in its overview of the issues of combining literature with music. Of particular interest was Avital Rom's paper 'Rereading Histories: Music, Literature, and the Study of Ancient Cultures - The Case for Early China', which considered the importance of musical references in understanding concepts in ancient Chinese political texts. Therese Wiwe Loebner's research was equally thought-provoking, as she presented a paper titled 'Exploring and Experiencing the "Melophrasis": Music in Prose as an Intermedial Genre?' which considered the possibility that we might experience music in literature as more than a metaphor. I was also interested in Christopher Wiley's paper on 'Musical Biography and the (Non-)Consonance of Music and Literature', which illustrated the issues which arise when writing musical biographies, as the fields of biography and music attempt to co-exist.
I had the perfect chance to get to know such a fantastic community of people, all interested in a similar area to myself, at the beginning of my PhD journey. I eagerly look forward to seeing everyone again, as well as meeting new faces, at the next Music and Literature Conference, and similar related conferences as I begin my PhD research into music as metaphor in contemporary novels.
I had the opportunity to co-organise this conference with Alex Wilson, which was a fantastic learning experience, and we were both extremely pleased with how well the event went. As well as co-organising, I also chaired a panel, and presented the beginnings of my own MA dissertation on translations of Eddic Poems relating to Guðrún.
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Centred around the theme of Emotions and Mindsets in Old Norse Literature and Society, this conference featured an interesting selection of papers from both UK and international scholars. William Raybould's ‘Homage in the Old Norse World: The Uses of Emotion and Ritual in Personal Bonds’ started off the day, and raised interesting considerations of the importance of personal bonds in Old Norse literature. Eleonora Pancetti presented a linguistics-focussed paper on ‘Constellations of Words of Sorrow: The Vocabulary of Negative Emotions in the Poetic Edda’ which proved incredibly useful for future steps in my MA research. Harriet Jean Evans argued for an important reconsideration of how we translate animal's emotions as described in Old Norse literature in ‘The Animal Effect: The Alternative Translation of Emotions Between Animal and Human?’, and Hannah Burrows presented a fantastic keynote to end the day on ‘Old Norse Poetry as a Mind-Altering Substance’ and the consideration of cognitive studies of thought-processes when considering the Old Norse concepts around the mind.
This proved to be a fantastic day of papers, with a wonderful conference dinner to end a stimulating day of academic discussion. I look forward to attending the next NitN conference, to be held in York in 2019.