Tag Archives: university of edinburgh

The Edinburgh Conference on Late Antiquity

The daffodils are out!

The daffodils are out!

This past Thursday and Friday, I was attending the Edinburgh Conference on Late Antiquity for Postgraduates and Early Career Researchers. It was an engaging time, and I applaud my colleagues and friends who put it together — Alison John, Fraser Reed, and Audrey Scardina. They received over 80 abstracts and had to whittle that number down to 40, although originally planning for 24 — this resulted in some parallel sessions. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

They chose wisely.

Indeed, when I think on the papers, I was really only bamboozled by two of the more archaeology/material culture papers, but not because the arguments and content were poor but because of the breakneck pace at which data of a sort I — as a more literary historian and philologist — don’t typically deal with was presented. Only one paper seemed more of a summary of evidence than an argument; this is a fate that befalls many when they give 20-minute papers — 20 minutes is sometimes enough to do nothing more than present all the data you have! It is an art and a skill to hone and, essentially, shrink an argument to fit the allotted time.

My only other critiques would be one paper needlessly spending over half the time on theory whose application seemed like common sense to me, and another that used different textual evidence to interpret some art than I would have, myself.

I was pleased to hear papers by two of my friends, Doctoranda Belinda Washington, and Doctorans Fraser Reed. I’d never quite got much grasp on what Fraser’s urban archaeology of Late Antique Thrace looked like before, so his paper, skilfully reduced from 40 to 20 minutes, ‘Gate Complexes as Indicators of Urban Character in Late Antique Thracia’, was most welcome. Belinda does research on imperial women of the same period I look at papal letters — also, her paper, ‘Gut Instincts: The Description of Eudoxia’s Death by Pseudo-Martyrius’, involved maggots and rotting flesh, so I was in.

Papers covered archaeology, art history, architecture, politics, literature, education, poetry, religion, epistolography, myth. The time range was as early as the late third century to as late as the seventh. Papers dealt with East (as far as Georgia) and West (as far as Gallaecia [that was my paper]), Latin and Greek and Syriac and Coptic authors, northern archaeology and Mediterranean archaeology, sarcophagi, domes, letters (as texts and as objects!).

And any conference with at least one paper on Gregory of Tours makes me happy.

I came away wanting to spend more time with Priscian, Donatus (the grammarian), the Panegyrici Latini, Ennodius of Pavia, as well as to revisit John Rufus’ Plerophoriae more deeply — and his Life of Peter the Iberian in the first place. I also met a bunch of new people, and I hope to keep these contacts open as our careers progress.

My own paper, ‘Picking Up the Pieces After the Barbarians Come to Town: The Letters of Leo the Great as Sources for the First Generation Unde Post-Roman Rule’ was well-received. I discussed Leo, Epistle 15, to Turribius of Astorga and why Turribius felt it necessary to write the pope on an essentially decided issue. Roger Collins agreed with my main argument (win!); one of my fellow early career scholars thinks there were more Priscillianists than I do.

Overall, a good conference. Glad I went.

Passing milestones and jumping through hoops: Getting a PhD

I am now — finally and officially — a doctor. It took four years and almost a month to get here, with most of the milestones and hoops transpiring over the past few months.

On 2 July, after 3 years and 10 months of intense research and furious writing that ended in a long day of formatting and creating a Table of Contents and such exciting things, I submitted two soft-bound copies of my PhD thesis to be examined, one would be sent to my external examiner, the other to my internal examiner. The submission of a thesis is, as an event, something of an anticlimax. You go to a little window at the Postgraduate Office and drop off the copies. No song and dance. To offset this fact, they have a plastic jar of candies from which you may choose one. I had something called a Drumstick that proved very chewy.

Before that milestone, I had to jump through the hoop of submitting paperwork that made me eligible to submit and alerted my examiners to my impending thesis.

The next milestone came very quickly on 6 August when I had my viva, my viva voce examination (defence). It was less a cross-examination/interrogation and more a thorough conversation about my research, pushing me to go farther on some issues than I was willing/had space to in the thesis itself. It was really good; they both liked it and had some very helpful feedback.

This was the big milestone for me. For some people, it’s submission. But submission was a grand anticlimax, not only because of the circumstances but also because the work itself was still untried, unproved. What would the outcome be? There was still too much uncertainty at submission. But after my viva, I knew what they thought of my work. And I knew that there were only minor corrections to do before I could submit the final copy and be officially awarded my PhD.

The next hoop that had to be jumped (and this one not by me!) was the submission of the examiners’ report to the committee that reviews vivas before officially letting me know what the corrections were to be. Unfortunately, due to a technical error, the examiners’ report did not reach the committee in time for their 17 August meeting (no one’s fault). I, nonetheless, had a copy of this report, so I was able to do my corrections before the committee’s meeting on 18 September.

Corrections are neither a milestone nor a hoop. They are a requirement (for all but a very select few), ranging from typos to factual errors to amplified bibliographies to added/rewritten chapters. Thankfully I only had typos and bibliographies to be amplified, as well as changing my citation of Gregory of Tours from Historia Francorum to Historiae (full stop).

Only 18 September, I received the e-mail from the committee approving my examiners’ corrections. I sent my corrected copy off to my internal examiner. He then had to approve my corrections, that I had done them correctly. This he did on Monday.

The next milestone involved several hoops. Not only must the final copy of the thesis be hardbound like a book with golden lettering on the spine, not only must it include things like the abstract and lay summary as well as a signed declaration that it’s my own work, not only must it be laid out and paginated in a very particular, detailed manner — it must also come with a piece of paperwork and a CD with a pdf of the thesis.

This is the hoop that makes the least sense whatsoever.


What is this, 2001?

I remembering burning CDs in 2001.

But most people don’t run around burning CDs anymore. I, at least, have an optical drive in my big laptop, so burning a CD was not difficult. But, really, in an age when Master’s students don’t even submit hard copies of their theses but only a digital, online copy, why can PhDs not be submitted digitally in such a way? Anyway, I bought ten CDs (one is not an option) and burned one.

Then it turns out that the quickest anyone in Edinburgh can hardbind a thesis is 24 hours, and that the university printer is not the one who can do it that quickly. So, on Tuesday, when I thought I was going to be passing another milestone, the final hoop had me waiting until Wednesday while Mail Boxes, Etc. did their job.

They did a fine job, and on Wednesday I successfully passed the final milestone by jumping through these hoops. Here I am:

IMG_20150923_113941And now I have a copy of this letter, making it all real:

PhD Letter


My close brush with royalty (aka I met HRH Anne, the Princess Royal)

Princess Anne is Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh. As part of her Chancellor duties, she visited New College yesterday, and a select group of students consisting of batches of undergrads, post-grads, as well as the Chancellor’s Fellows (post-docs) got to meet her after her tour of the library. I was among the select few.

HRH Princess Anne: Where are you from?

Me: Alberta.

Princess Anne: Where in Alberta?

Me: A small town between Calgary and Edmonton.

Princess Anne: Lots of wide, open spaces out there. Why did you choose to come here?

Me: I’m doing a PhD in both Classics and History of Christianity, and there was a supervisor in both fields I wanted to work with, so Edinburgh seemed the place to be.

Princess Anne: It seems that the Internet was designed for places like Alberta. What do you get from studying here that you would not get studying over the Internet?

Me: I think the one-on-one interaction with the supervisor is very important, and it goes very differently in person over a cup of coffee than online over Skype or e-mail.

Princess Anne: More and more subjects are becoming available online. Is there anything you think wouldn’t work as well online?

Me: Well, a lot of my research involves mediaeval manuscripts. A lot of these are digitised, but a digitisation is not always easy to work with, and it’s always better to see the manuscript itself.

Princess Anne: I’m relieved to hear you say that.

And she moved on to meet the Chancellor’s Fellows. Pretty cool opportunity! 🙂