The Humanities Research Centre Doctoral Fellowships Finals

Posted on 17 August 2012

Nine HRC doctoral fellowships have been awarded to outstanding 3rd year PhD students

HRC doctoral fellows and judges

The finals of the Humanities Research Centre Doctoral Fellowships Competition were held on Thursday 5th July 2012.  The eight HRC-affiliated departments (Archaeology, English, History, History of Art, Language and Linguistic Science, Music, Philosophy, Theatre, Film and Television) and the one affiliated centre that admits doctoral students (the Centre for Medieval Studies) had previously run their own internal competition to nominate the best 3rd year doctoral student according to the criteria set.  It was these nine nominated candidates who formed the line-up for the finals.

Finalists were asked to give a prepared 10-minute presentation to an audience in the Treehouse to demonstrate not only the quality of their research but also of their engaging communication skills.  Each gave a superlative presentation and then took questions from the floor. The assembled audience therefore had the pleasure of being serially ambushed by intellectual pleasures from diverse subjects across the Arts and Humanities as these came thick and fast through the morning.  It was a heady morning of richly educative and entertaining research treats.

The Humanities Research Centre is proud to have appointed nine strikingly able newly emerging academics to the ranks of its doctoral fellows.

Judith Buchanan

Lizzie Swann (English) gave a fascinating talk entitled ‘”The Apish Art”: Taste in England c.1590-1735’ which included immersing her audience in both the specific sensuality and the potent metaphoricity of taste in the period.  This proved to be an extremely illuminating prism through which the discriminating and the undiscriminating could be represented and adjudged.

Benjamin Gait (Music) gave a richly illustrated presentation entitled ‘Adapting Harry Partch’s “corporeal” aesthetic to a contemporary idiom’ based on his doctoral composition project.  Through his winningly quiet style of delivery Ben gave his audience an enticing sample taste of his compositional approach across differently instrumentalised ensembles and written in response to different literary triggers.

Mariana López (Theatre, Film and Television) gave a zippy and brilliantly well organised presentation entitled ‘Hearing the York Cycle: Acoustics, Staging and Performance’ in which she explained both the scientific method and the historical research underpinning her project to reconstruct the type of soundscape in which the York Mystery Cycle would have been received on Medieval Stonegate.

Victoria Flood (Centre for Medieval Studies) gave a scholarly and closely worked talk entitled ‘The Influence of Political Prophecy in the British Isles, c.1120s-1465’ which, through some extremely impressive manuscript study, tracked the contribution of political prophecy to rhetorical and substantive constructions of nationhood in her chosen period.

Matt Jenkins (Archaeology) provided a wonderfully clear and engaging tour of the streetscapes and domestic spaces of the Georgian city under the title ‘Urban Myths: Housing and Shopping in York during the Long Eighteenth Century’, and took questions with noteworthy ease and informed capacity.


Darren Wagner (History) was another candidate who handled questions with impressive poise.  His research talk, ‘Sex, Spirits, and Sensibility: Human Generation in British Medicine, Anatomy and Literature, 1660-1780’ drew on a rich bank of extraordinary visual materials – entertaining, enlightening and disquieting in equal measures.  Darren explored the relationship of mind to groin with knowledgeable range and a dry wit.

Marta Szreder (Language and Linguistic Science) gave a talk on ‘Child phonology as a dynamic system’, addressing her audience with a clarity and relaxed ease that were winning.  Her illustrations were terrific, and she took her audience gently into the specifics of her research area through a series of well deployed, accessible homologies. 

James Legard (History of Art) took his audience to Blenheim Palace, past and present.  His title ‘Vanbrugh, Blenheim Palace, and the Meanings of Baroque Architecture’ allowed him both to interrogate ‘meanings’ and also to exploit the power of human anecdote. He did so with aplomb, communicating a great sense of evolving story in a measured but engaging style.  He was immensely well informed in response to questions, shaping each answer in sophisticated ways that both answered the question precisely while simultaneously extended the enquiry: a bravura performance.  

Filippo Contesi (Philosophy) bookended the morning for the audience by returning us to questions of gustation and taste, a general area of enquiry ably launched by Lizzie Swann in the first session.  Filippo’s interest, however, was in questions of disgust and his material was art – his title, ‘The Disgusting in Art’.    Filippo’s scale of enquiry was ambitious but the quality of his slide show, of his level of direct audience engagement and of his capacity to do illuminating things with complex ideas made this a highly engaging presentation.

‎‎The HRC Doctoral Fellowships panel of judges, chaired by Dr David Duncan, University Registrar, and comprising also Dr Ken Dixon and Professor Judith Buchanan, had a tough job making their discriminations in response to the very high quality of the projects and presentations before them.   It was in their gift to award a certain number of HRC Doctoral Fellowships to the candidates whom they thought merited it – a title that can be carried on the cv in perpetuity. They decided unanimously to award the title and a fellowship award of £250 to all the excellent finalists.


 The three top prizes, with additional cash prizes, were then presented to Mariana López (in 3rd place), Matt Jenkins (in 2nd place) and James Legard (in 1st place).  In the face of very stiff competition, these three candidates were deemed those who had read the occasion best on the day, and who had tailored their material to suit the audience with the greatest flair and clarity and winning capacity to engage.

The Humanities Research Centre is proud to have appointed nine strikingly able newly emerging academics to the ranks of its doctoral fellows and warmly wishes them all well as they move towards the final writing up and submission stages of their doctoral projects.

Judith Buchanan