Posted on October 21, 2005 by Holly Hayes
Part of: Graduate School in Oxford

Sorry it's been awhile since our last post - things have been busy here since I last wrote. We've been enjoying spending some time with Brenda (right, being goofy), who's here through Monday, and I've had lots of school stuff going on.

Tuesday night was dinner with Brenda and her English friend Lee at a local Italian restaurant. We enjoyed very tasty pizza and interesting conversation. Lee does security contract work all over the world, especially Baghdad these days, so he had lots of interesting stories. Right after dinner David and I headed down the road to a Faculty of Theology reception at a grand old manor house which is now owned by one of the Oxford colleges. It was pouring down rain, possibly the first time it had done so when we were out and about.

The reception was pretty fun - there was free wine and snacks and David got to meet a couple of my professors and fellow students. A guy made a short speech standing up on the grand stairway and he couldn't have been more stereotypical English professor - bow tie, great accent - he even rolled his Rs - and used the word "beastly." It was really crowded and loud, though, as everyone was standing around in the main entryway of the big house. David was happy to meet the people I've talked about, but it was also quite a challenge for him to try to listen to people with a British accent talk about ancient history in a very loud room. Not to mention attempting to look interested... But there were also two monks! I don't know what their connection is to the department, but they sure did drink a lot of wine. I like monks. I've also seen several Buddhist monks walking around Oxford. Interesting place this is.

Wednesday I had a lunch meeting with my academic supervisor to check in and see how things are going. We had lunch in the Wolfson College dining hall (bread pudding for dessert, yum) followed by coffee in the Upper Common Room. I was a little nervous, as I'd like to impress her and not sound stupid, but it was also interesting to talk to her and she's very nice. Her name is Morwenna Ludlow and she specializes in 4th-century Greek Christian history. She will be tutoring me individually next term, but for now is just giving me general guidance as I concentrate on my historiography seminar. When I first learned she was my supervisor I found a book of hers on Amazon and read some excerpts of it, so I was able to ask her about it. It actually looks quite interesting. She seemed delighted I'd heard of it and was happy to talk about her PhD process and her career since, which was very helpful. She also gave me a great tip about the Classics library - where it is and the fact that I can use it - and I checked out a couple of books from it later that afternoon that I couldn't find anywhere else.

Most of Wednesday and Thursday was spent preparing for another presentation for my Friday seminar, which I'm happy to say is now over! It was on Eusebius of Caesarea, a 4th-century bishop who wrote the first history of Christianity. He's also notable for having written the Life of Constantine, which is one of our few sources for the life of this important Christian emperor. He was present at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD that I mentioned previously, and recorded the events there as well. There was an astounding amount of stuff to read on Eusebius (the tutor gave me a reading list) and I felt rushed right up until I had to leave for the seminar at 2:30 today. But I think I did okay, and the tutor seemed pretty happy with it. I also went the extra mile and made a handout with a timeline on one side and pictures of stuff related to Constantine on the other side (a statue, a coin, and a photo of the Arch of Constantine in Rome). Hey, every bit helps in this intimidating place!

I spent all of today without interruption working on that, but yesterday I did take a break to go to the museum and dinner with David and Brenda. That was way fun. We met Brenda at the University Museum of Natural History at 3:30, and were happy to discover it's free! And it's such a great museum. The building itself is lovely and it has an excellent collection. Lots of dinosaur bones, really really old rocks, stuffed birds, and the usual stuff.

There's also a great exhibit on Alice in Wonderland. What's the connection? Alice in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll, which was the pen name of Charles Dodgson, a mathematics professor at Christ Church College, Oxford. He used to entertain his friend's daughter, Alice Liddell, with fanciful stories incorporating places around Oxford. This included taking her to the museum on rainy days and inventing stories about the dodo and a rabbit with a pocketwatch, and eventually he was persuaded to write the stories down for lots of kids to enjoy.

One fun factoid is that this museum was the site of "the Great Darwinian Debate of 1860." In the museum library was a meeting of the British Association, which was attended by T.H. Huxley and the bishop of Oxford, William Wilberforce. The story goes that the debate over Darwinism grew more and more heated until the bishop finally stood up and said, "So tell me, Mr. Huxley, is it your grandfather's or grandmother's side which is descended from a monkey?" Amid great laughter, Huxley calmly replied, "I'd rather be descended from a monkey than from a bishop like Wilberforce."

Another highlight was a second museum that's located in the back of the Natural History Museum. It's called the Pitt Rivers Museum and is a wonderful collection of stuff English explorers have collected from all over the world. A world away from the fancy, well-lit displays out in the main museum, this one is full of stuff all crammed together in glass cases that are grouped by topic. So there were cases of "Musical Instruments," "Smoking Pipes," and of course my favorite, "Religious Figures." It was wonderful. I wanted to take several of the glass cases home and just put it in my living room. (Brenda felt the same way about a glass dome with stuffed bats - she's an odd one.) David's favorite item was a tomahawk that doubled as a peace pipe.

There's plenty of room for the weird and scary in this museum, too. We spent quite some time examining the "shrunken heads" exhibit and it was very informative. I'd often wondered how in the world you could shrink a skull - well, you don't. They removed it from the head first. There were also drawers full of random stuff underneath all the glass cases, and we had a great time pulling them open. One had voodoo dolls complete with pins, another had a gaudy icon of the Virgin Mary with a red light bulb. We'd heard a rumor about a severed finger being in one of them, but never found it. David and I will definitely be back to do more exploring.

After that adventure we had dinner at All Bar One, a trendy bar-restaurant chain that I really liked in Edinburgh. Brenda had a lamb burger that was very good, David had a burger that actually wasn't too bad for a UK burger, and I had a tasty chicken sandwich. They also had a "beer boutique" with fun beers from around the world, and David tried one from Austria. He plans to come back for the tasting nights they have throughout the month.

Back to tonight, we've mostly been relaxing after the busy day. David got a couple of job calls today that seem promising, and he did lots of walking around town while I was in my class. We had a nice dinner here at home, then watched Star Wars Episode II on the laptop. It's pretty silly, but at least it was a movie.

Tomorrow we go to London with Brenda. We're meeting at the bus station at 9:30 and it should be a really fun time. One major sight Brenda wants to see is the famous department store Harrod's, which I'm really excited about because I've never been inside, even though I've walked by many times and thought "I should really go in there sometime." I hear it has a wonderful gourmet food department!

If I'm not too beat tomorrow night, I'll try to put up some photos and a brief post of our day. Have a good weekend!