‘Facing Challenges’ – An account of the SLC Postgraduate Colloquium, by Josh Bengough

This year’s School of Languages and Cultures Postgraduate Colloquium finally came round on 20 May 2015. Every year, a group of taught Masters and PhD students are given the responsibility of putting together a small-scale conference for themselves and their fellow postgraduate students as a forum for presenting their research. I was not part of this team, but I will present to you my experience of this event.

The broad theme was ‘Facing Challenges’, a topic that offered a lot of scope and something that we could all relate to. Over the course of the day there were twelve talks (including mine!) which took varying interpretations of the theme and covered a wide range of disciplines from within the School. These were divided neatly into three panels of four speakers, each with one PhD student acting as the ‘plenary’ speaker for 20 minutes of each session. These were Kirsty Hemsworth, Valentina Caruso, and Tom Jackson. There were also three 10-minute presentations by MA students in each panel, followed by the Q&A for all four presenters.

The first panel was entitled ‘Political or Creative Responses to Challenging Situations’, beginning with Kirsty’s work on the troubles of translating 9/11 fiction and passing through German politics, past and present, to the Columbian football team as a symbol of national unity. This was followed by the second panel: ‘Challenges of the Global Written Word’. This panel was most removed from my work in linguistics, but still provided food for thought. Valentina’s talk about gendered space in the novels she was looking at was of note, and other subjects included migrant literature, linguistic creativity as a form of resistance, and the exploration of de Beauvoir’s war diary as a coping mechanism.

After lunch, we came to the third and final panel of the day (and from my biased perspective arguably the most interesting!): ‘Challenges in Institutional, Societal and Linguistic Contexts’. This was ostensibly the ‘others’ panel: Tom’s presentation was about the legal side of French decolonisation, and the rest of us were working in areas as diverse as historical literature, gender studies, and language policy. Despite the differences, we all challenged the standard discourse and encouraged taking primary sources directly in order to find the ‘stories’ that have previously remained hidden.

But of course the colloquium wasn’t just about the day itself. The call for abstracts was circulated in March, so I began thinking how my research into language policy in Renaissance France could fit in with the ‘facing challenges’ brief, and decided I would be the one ‘doing’ the challenging. After my abstract was accepted, I began writing the presentation. I had created a poster on the representations and interpretations of the 1539 Edict of Villers-Cotterêts for a previous conference, so I could take argumentative elements such as the ideas that policy is not necessarily imposed at its promulgation but can in fact reflect existing practices, as well as visual elements such as a map of the broad dialect areas of France.

I decided to alter my presentation a week before the colloquium after reading a highly inaccurate representation of the Edict. This quote provided examples of the different misrepresentations that often appears surrounding this Edict and other historical texts. The most striking error was that King Louis XII apparently signed this Edict – miraculously about 24 years after his death! I think unpacking the quote in my presentation rather than describing various representations made for a much more interesting talk, both for myself and the audience.

To summarise, the Postgraduate Colloquium was an excellent event for all involved. It offered a friendly atmosphere for us to present our research interests to other postgrads, and to get inspiration from those working in some very different disciplines across the School. If you’re undecided about presenting at next year’s colloquium, then definitely go for it. Everyone there wants you to do well, and the time flies when you’re up on stage talking about something you love. You needn’t be nervous either, as you’re most likely the only expert in the room! Do look out for the 15-credit Spring semester module if you want to help with organisation. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the call for papers next year!

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