Today I am a National Teaching Fellow

Rosie Miles lecturing

Action lecturing!

I’ve known for weeks, but only today, 28th July 2011, do the Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellowships get formally announced.  I am very proud to have got one.  In one sense I sound a bit of a cliché saying that  — it’s what everyone says — but it means a good deal to me that I have been given this award.  The process of applying was one I quite enjoyed, even though it undoubtedly put me under some time pressures during the spring term in order to do so.  You effectively have to create a convincing and coherent narrative about yourself as a university teacher/lecturer.  For once — thankfully — there is no real template or proforma.  You create your own account.

By far the most meaningful part of the whole process for me was what happened when I had to solicit ‘evidence’ from colleagues and students to support my application.  The cynics amongst my readers could say that this basically means getting people to say nice things about you.  It does, but there is, of course, no guarantee they will.  I approached a number of students — mostly ex-students.  The relationship can feel a bit more complicated if you are still marking someone’s work – of course they are going to say nice things!   But the genuine enthusiasm and warmth of my students’ responses, and their absolute willingness to write supporting statements for me, was one of the highlights of my year, if not actually my entire academic career.  I recognised myself in what they said, but also saw myself through their eyes.  I printed out all their comments and will always keep them.

In addition some of my own colleagues at Wolverhampton and from English departments elsewhere also gave me supporting statements, and I am very grateful to them and also to Jane Gawthrope, Jonathan Gibson and Brett Lucas from the English Subject Centre for doing so.

I am not, as yet, entirely sure what being a National Teaching Fellow means or involves. This is probably not an existential question I am going to lose sleep over, and we get ‘briefed’ come October.  It means I can use the title, but much more significantly it says something about teaching mattering to me, and about something of my identity as an academic — in part — being a teacher.  Of that I’m proud.

We love Gladstone’s Library (Part One)

I have been spending a fair amount of the past few weeks at Gladstone’s Library (formerly known as St. Deiniol’s), Hawarden, Flintshire, just across the north Wales border.  It’s a real discovery.  I think I first heard of it several years ago via the British Association of Victorian Studies, but it is only now I’ve actually got here. 

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden.

Four-times Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone was an avid collector of books.  His country residence was the splendid (new) Hawarden Castle, which still has grounds partially open to the public today, five minutes away from the Library’s site.  Gladstone wished to make his books available to others and had established a ‘Tin Tabernacle’ edifice to house some of his books late in his life.  After his death in 1898 he left a legacy specifically to establish a more permanent residential library.  This opened in 1902.

As Gladstone’s Library says on its website homepage, it is “a residential library and meeting place dedicated to dialogue, debate and learning for open-minded individuals and groups who are looking to explore pressing questions and to pursue study and research in an age of distraction and easy solutions”. 

The library itself is small (in one sense) but perfectly formed, and specialises in theology and Victorian studies.  It is actually the most important research library in Wales outside of the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, with over 250,000 volumes.  As well as books the library involves a lot of wood (see photo), and narrow circling staircases that creak as you walk up them.  

Inside Gladstone's Library

In many ways part of the Library’s charm is that it still manages to be relatively free of the increasingly technology-rich paraphernalia that pervades modern libraries.  There is of course a computerised catalogue of the stock (with Gladstone’s own personal library mixed in on the shelves) but books are ‘taken out’ by filling in a slip with the book’s details on and inserting one copy into the space on the shelf where your book was.  Nice.   If you are resident at the Library you can colonise an upstairs gallery desk of your own.  Whilst this is obviously not the British Library the holdings in its specialist areas strike me as pretty good — the Victorian literature sections are serving me quite well, and one of the attractions for Victorian Studies scholars is that there are actually nineteenth-century books in the mix as well.  I stumbled across a first edition of Augusta Webster’s volume of poems Portraits (1870) which I had never seen before, and I’ve also been able to browse Alfred Miles’s multi-volume The Poets and Poetry of the Century (1891-97), which I am forever reading about in articles on Victorian poetry but had also never actually seen.   In short, if you have a writing project to progress or finish, or want some quiet space for reflection, then St. Deiniol’s is a great place to come.  Part Two of my reflections on being here to follow…