In January 2016 I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to attend the Newberry Library’s annual graduate student conference in Chicago, Illinois. The three-day event saw scholars from a host of institutions present papers on a range of subjects, from the poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt and the implications of Jean-George Noverre and Louis de Cahusac’s politically inspired ballets to the influence of the digital humanities in medieval archaeology and queer identities in pre-modern Europe. The conference was marketed as a multidisciplinary platform, from which graduate students from a variety of backgrounds and at different stages in their research could posit arguments and test out new ideas – the conference did not fail to live up to its billing. Students from history, art history, English, philosophy, musicology, Hispanic studies, French, Italian, theology, anthropology and archaeology came together in what was a truly interdisciplinary conference. The collaboration between those institutions that make up the ‘Newberry School Consortium’, of which the University of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of the Renaissance is a leading member, has engendered a trans-Atlantic connection that provides Warwick students with the opportunity to present new research in a genuinely friendly and constructive atmosphere.
I was one of two Warwick PhDs to participate. In addition to hearing a selection of fascinating papers, I presented a paper on Henry VII’s patronage policy in the North-East. The paper examined how Henry’s co-option of the local gentry, coupled with the strategic parachuting of trusted royal officials into the Durham Palatinate, helped the first Tudor monarch consolidate his authority in the staunchly Yorkist and autonomous county palatinate of Durham. My presentation also touched on arguably the most controversial aspect of Henry VII’s kingship: his use of recognisances and other financial exactions. The contention here was that the use of fiscal measures was motivated not by a desire to browbeat the local gentry into submission, but rather as a means of ensuring political security. My paper formed part of a panel whose focus centred on the formation and efficacy of patronage networks in Tudor and Stuart England. All three papers touched on similar issues, which facilitated a fruitful discussion on matters concerning state formation and political machinery. I was asked a number of interesting questions, all of which will contribute to my PhD going forward.
Discussions continued outside of the seminar rooms and I was lucky enough to meet one historian from the US whose research into the medieval German palatinates touched on a number of issues pertinent to my own research. It was during the conference’s evening reception on the first night that we discussed in greater depth how our respective projects might be of benefit to one another – I was certainly convinced of the need to inject more in the way of digital humanities into future research. Being able to discuss your research ideas in such a relaxed, interdisciplinary, environment, with scholars who ordinarily one might mot be able to the meet, is paramount and makes attendance at this annual conference so worthwhile, not to mention the freedom to discover one of America’s premier research libraries and one of the country’s most vibrant cities.
My presenting at the 2016 conference would not have been possible had it not been for the more than generous financial and administrative support provided by the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance. I am deeply indebted to Ingrid De Smet, Director of the Centre, and Jayne Brown. I would also like to thank Karen Christianson and those responsible organising what was one of most productive and insightful conferences during my time as a doctoral student.