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…

Keeping it très réel en Paris…

Ms E-Mentor is currently not being very virtual, or particularly online. I’ve been doing a few of my VLE ‘demo’ visits to UK English departments, and most recently enjoyed meeting colleagues at the University of Chester. Professor Deborah Wynne, who invited me, told me she was once an undergraduate at Wolverhampton, which was nice to discover.

But Ms E-Mentor has undoubtedly been busy. Very busy. Last Friday I was part of le jury des thèses à la Sorbonne, en Paris, for a PhD candidate who had written on William Morris and the book arts and his influence into the early twentieth century on presses such as the Eragny Press of Lucien Pissarro and the Cranach Press in Germany. This involved my having to resussitate my very rusty A-Level French and I had a fortnight of quite intensive French revision.

The bonus, of course, was that I had 48 hrs à Paris. I was staying in the cinquième arrondissement, près de la Rue Mouffetard, which is fabulous: it’s a long, narrow, medieval street full of wonderful shops. I had simply forgotten how well les français ‘do food’.

Fromagerie, Rue Mouffetard

Les poissons, charcuterie, fromagerie, les légumes et les fruits — tous sont merveilleux! As I wandered along this street, several times during my stay as it took me from my hotel to the Sorbonne, I thought that some things will never ever be replaceable by the virtual.

I was so trigger happy after the viva that I decided to be a complete tourist and go all the way up La Tour Eiffel.  Par nuit. Me and a few hundred loved-up teengaers.  There’s no doubting that La Tour Eiffel is a nineteenth-century wonder of engineering and ingenuity, and as I stood underneath it I figured that it was going to have to make an entry into my introductory lecture on the Victorians to the First Years this week.

La Tour Eiffel


On the Saturday morning I also made a bit of a pilgrimage to La Tombe d’Oscar Wilde, crée par Jacob Epstein in 1912.  La Cimetière Père-Lachaise is well worth a visit.  It’s the Highgate Cemetery of Paris, where the great and the good wish to be buried, although — having never visited Highgate — I imagine it’s a bit less gloomy.  Really, it’s a kind of nineteenth and twentieth century sculptural feast of ways of remembering the dead.

I had seen a photo of Wilde’s tomb, and partly because I am just such a big fan of Wilde, and have been teaching him for several years, I knew that one day I wanted to visit.  And it’s still quite a tourist attraction.  There’s an official sign that says “Please respect the tomb of Oscar Wilde” … and then there’s the graffitti!  It’s quite simply fabulous, and it’s hard not to think that Oscar would have loved the fact that people write quotes by him on the tomb (“either this wallpaper goes or I do”) AND that it is covered in lipstick kisses.  His name had been outlined all the way round in bright red lipstick.  My French PhD student told me that one of the kisses was hers.

To my shame I did not bring green carnations, or even lilies.  I was slightly put off by the extortionate price of flowers in the flower shops en les environs de la cimetière.  But the excessive, wasteful gesture of buying expensive, over-priced flowers and leaving them to die in a day or two at Wilde’s tomb is surely what I should have done.  I’ll have to go back.

A few ‘blocks’ further on I found Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s grave.  No one else  interested in that at all except me on a Saturday morning, and it’s not a sculpturally showy grave, but I was quietly pleased they were buried together.

And now, back home, I’ve spent yesterday and this morning working up my ‘Introduction to the Victorian Period’ lecture.  Paris is going to get a mention…


A Forum of Our Own: The Virginia Woof competition

Due to decisions made which didn’t and don’t have my agreement at all I no longer have a module to teach this semester which has a significant online component.  That’s what you get for being an e-learning innovator.  So … I decided to see whether I could get any interest going on a non-assessed discussion forum on my Level 2 UG module Women’s Writing: Reading Gender.

Within Wolverhampton University’s VLE platform (WOLF) it’s possible to change the name of the ‘Course Café’ which is included within all of our online WOLF topics as a default forum.  So I suggested to the class that they come up with a name for it.  They had a week to post up their suggestions in the forum itself.

In addition, I decided to run the Virginia Woof competition.  We had looked at the famous extract from A Room of One’s Own about the imagined life of Shakespeare’s sister, Judith, in our first class.  In my office I have a copy of ARoOO which was left in class after one of my Women’s Writing sessions a couple of years back.  It was never claimed.  So … I offred a copy of ARoOO as the prize for the best 100 word or less response to the question “Why still have a module called Women’s Writing?”  Why the Virginia Woof competition?  Simply because of the apocryphal story about the student who wrote an entire essay about Virginia Woof … surely one of the best English Studies student howlers (please send me more).  Virginia Woof

I logged on to our VLE late last Friday, not really expecting very much.  To my (pleasant) surprise several names had been suggested (The Purple Room and The Woolf’s Lair were rather good) and about a dozen students had come up with 100 word responses, all of which engaged with a variety of feminist issues and perspectives.  I picked a response that was suitably literary in focus as the winner, and added the quote, verbatim, to the homepage of our VLE topic, so it’s there for the rest of our course.  The Course Café name itself has been changed to the rather witty and Woo(l)f-oriented sugestion in this post’s title.

There’s no integrated use of a discussion forum on this module so it will now be largely up to the student group themselves as to whether they make any use of it as the term goes on.  Certainly getting the class to name their own forum is a good initial way of fostering a community spirit on a module.

Somewhere near you a library is closing…

Philip Pullman, recently speaking to a packed audience in Oxford Town Hall, on the county council’s proposals to cut 20 out of 43 public libraries in the region.  He makes the very vaild point that it is somewhat insulting to librarians for there to be the ‘Big Society’ idea that volunteers can just take their places.