New (Virtual) Beginnings

As a team, we’re used to working in lockdown. Our PDRA interviews were conducted virtually, and although the project got going nearly three months ago we’ve yet to meet up in person. Coming into a new project under these circumstances has been quite daunting and, like all of us, I’m (still) trying to adjust. As a manuscripts specialist, I’m very grateful to have been able to spend a few days in Oxford’s Weston library in late November, but with new lockdown measures now introduced we’re all trying to figure out how to work effectively without library access and in a world where all our team interactions are taking place online.

All this has got me thinking again about the Quadrivium conference which was held virtually at the University of Kent this November. It was heartening to see so many people attend, and to hear how everyone is adapting. Technology is key, of course, and there’s much to be excited about. Professors Elaine Treharne, Jukka Tyrkkö and Mike Kestemont gave three fascinating talks on Digital Futures in Manuscript Studies, while Dr Johanna Green and Dr Diane Scott demonstrated a new camera at the University of Glasgow that captures incredibly detailed manuscript images. While I’m not working with anything quite so cutting edge, I have been trying various digital tools to help organise my research, and I’ve also found digitised catalogues and collections very helpful. Manchester Digital Collections, the Wren Digital Library and British Library Digitised Manuscripts have been particularly useful this month.

The session on Using Libraries in a Time of Pandemic, with contributions from Dr Paul Dryburgh (National Archives), Dr Alison Ray (Canterbury Cathedral Library) and Richard Ovenden (Bodleian Library) gave us all an opportunity to hear about the work that has continued at libraries and archives throughout the year, to share experiences and to hear about online tools and resources. For now, I’m making full use of these, and am compiling a list of manuscripts to consult in person, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. Seeing Professors Linne Mooney and Wendy Scase discussing Working with Manuscripts at Quadrivium made me eager to get back into the library, but also reminded me how much can be achieved when working from images.

Perhaps the most inspiring session of the conference for me showcased the work of the MEMSLib team. An initiative of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) at the University of Kent, MEMSLib is an online repository of content related to Medieval and Early Modern Studies. The team, Róisín Astell, Dr Daniella Gonzalez, Anna Hegland, Emma-Louise Hill and Anna-Nadine Pike, are all current or recent postgraduate students, and they’ve built something brilliant. The site includes a blog, lists of resources related to 13 subject areas within Medieval/Early Modern studies, online noticeboards, and a forum where members can share resources and discuss ideas. Hearing about the work the team have done and their plans for the future was really exciting.

This has been and continues to be a difficult year, but as we move forward I’ll continue to be buoyed and inspired by the camaraderie, innovation and resourcefulness that was on full display at Quadrivium 2020, and very grateful for the various tools and resources that facilitate our team’s research.

– Hannah Schühle-Lewis