A day in the life: visiting a local archive

The majority of our manuscripts are now contained in very large collections – at the British Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford,  the Cambridge University Library, the Portland Collection at Nottingham, the Brotherton Collection in Leeds and the manuscripts held in the John Rylands library in Manchester. These are all large collections which have over the centuries acquired sets of manuscripts from many different sources.

But today I thought it would be interesting to say a bit about what it’s like from a research point of view to visit a smaller collection. In the past year  we have visited local archives and record offices in, among others, Chester, Brighton, Woking, Stafford, Northampton, Hertford, Chelmsford, Aylesbury, Derby, Manchester, Leeds, Winchester, Taunton and Warwick as well as the National Archives (at Kew) and collections in Durham, the Society of Antiquaries in London and the Royal Society (also in London). One of the fascinating things about this project is how we are finding some examples of neo-Latin verse in almost every collection with significant material from the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

In February, for instance, I went to the Surrey History Centre in Woking. https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/heritage-culture-and-recreation/archives-and-history/surrey-history-centre

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Schola Latina Corcagiensis

From the 6th to the 12th of June, I attended the Schola Latina at University College Cork, an immersive Latin summer school. On the night before the course started, we had the opportunity to meet the other participants in a pub whilst speaking English. The group was varied, including undergraduate students, postgraduate students of different ages, teachers and of course academic staff.

Before we started our classes the next day, we had to promise only to speak Latin for the duration of the course and when interacting with fellow students away from the campus, unless everyone made it clear they were happy to speak English for a bit. I had never spoken Latin before, so it was a completely new experience and I was a little nervous. We also all had to pick a Latin name. I chose Sulpicia, after the poetess whose verses were preserved with those of Tibullus. Once we started lessons, my nerves soon abated. I was able to understand almost everything that was said and was able to respond in some way (although especially at the start, there was occasionally some French thrown in!). As the week went on, I was more and more able to express myself.

We had a busy schedule, with classes from 9 till 6 every day (apart from the Sunday when they were from 1 till 5), but the programme was so diverse that the time flew by! We also had generous lunch breaks and the weather was lovely all week, so we got to enjoy that as well. Every morning, we were given an epigram and one or more adagia to learn by heart. We also had a session on grammar, covering among other things dativi, orationes conditionales and similitudines et differentia. On the first day we also had a tour of the college.

On most days we read one or more texts on the topic of gender,  the school’s theme this year, including a letter by Isotta Nogarola, Sannazaro’s Salices and a passage from Petrus Forestus’s Observationes et Curationes Medicinales. We often rephrased what we read, using different Latin words. It was interesting to read and understand texts without translating them. We also had sessions with ‘Ludi’ in which we played different games, including Latin Scrabble, a Latin version of “Who am I?” and vas vocabulorum (there are two teams and there is a container with Latin words. In each team the players take turns and have a couple of minutes to describe as many words as they can. The other members of their team guess the word. The team that has most points at the end, wins). In other lessons we described what happened in a video clip, or what we saw in pictures. We had a music session on the Saturday, during which we sang traditional Irish songs and some pop songs in Latin. On the last day, we each gave a short speech about something that interested us; some people talked about their hobbies, others about their research, one of us even wrote his own fairy-tale! This showed how much we had all learnt.

It was a lovely experience, being part of a group of people that is so excited about Latin and speaking a language I work on so much. I think using it actively, really helped to consolidate my knowledge of Latin. I hope to come back in anno proximo..!

      University College Cork

At school with Shakespeare

In this post Bianca describes one of the first outreach initiatives of our research team: a primary-school workshop on “Being at school in Shakespeare’s time”. This project has been awarded a Public Engagement Small Grant from the KCL Centre for Doctoral Studies. Designed by Bianca (main grant applicant) and supported by Victoria, the workshop has been developed collaboratively by the whole team and has benefitted greatly from Sharon’s extensive experience in teaching (Latin) in primary schools.

Through interactive discussion, practical activities, and games, our workshop introduces primary-school children in years 5 and 6 to the sixteenth-century classroom, pointing out that children at school in Shakespeare’s time were taught not in English, but in Latin, the international language of the day. During the workshop, children have a chance to look at manuscript Latin poems and school exercises, decipher and translate some Latin words, and *make their own manuscript* writing with a quill pen. We especially encourage children to think about what it means to learn in a second language and how this might be connected to literary creativity. The workshop is particularly suitable for schools with a high proportion of children who do not speak English at home, and are therefore (like Shakespeare!) being educated in their second language.


On the 21st May Sharon, Raffaella, and I delivered our first two workshop sessions at Holy Trinity and St. Silas, a Church of England primary school located in a colourful neighbourhood between Kentish Town and Camden Town.

We met in front of the school at 8:45 a.m., all carrying large bags filled with ink bottles, quills, photocopies and various sorts of paper. After unwrapping our materials and making some final arrangements with the school teachers, by 9:30 a.m. we were ready to start with our first session with Mr. McIntyre’s Year 5 class. This was a wonderful first-time experience!

The first part of our workshop consists in an interactive presentation on school curriculum, Latin-English bilingualism, and Latin verse exercises in Shakespeare’s time, with projected drawings of a sixteenth-century classroom and images of manuscripts from the period. Children were very interested and participated eagerly to the discussion: Sharon, who was in charge of this part, was overwhelmed with answers, guesses, and comments about the sixteenth-century school timetable, writing equipment, and non-technological classroom! Children quickly grasped the meaning of words such as “manu-script” and “bi-lingualism” based on their Latin components. When asked to reflect on ancient and contemporary bilingualism, children came up with very interesting observations and stories concerning the advantages of speaking more than one language as a way to communicate with different kinds of people, see and interpret the world, and better understand one’s own language.

In the second part of our workshop, children are asked to *read some real manuscripts*, looking at printed reproductions of manuscript pages and answering a few questions about some Latin words and their possible meaning. As a facilitator of this part, I was struck by how promptly children were able to decipher the relevant Latin words (e.g. “liber”) and make the connection with their English derivatives (e.g. “library”)! The last workshop activity – writing with quills – was welcomed with even more enthusiasm by children: they both followed our suggestion and copied the Latin words we had been discussing and, in some cases, engaged in very creative compositions:

After a short break, we moved to Ms Law’s Year 6 class and repeated the workshop. These slightly older children participated with similar vivacity and also made stimulating remarks on the creative potential of bilingualism. Before we left, some children stated that they prefer quills over pens and asked where they could buy a quill!

Overall, this was an extremely enriching and rewarding experience. We were able to engage about 60 children and discuss with them the overall context of our research (i.e. sixteenth-century literary culture), as well as such broad and current topics as bilingualism. We are looking forward to further outreach experiences!