Five Days in Rome (Day 5)

[Shortcut to the poem mentioned in this blog: Border Butter]

This blog is part of a short series documenting 5 days of activities at the British School at Rome, supported by my funders, Northern Bridge DTP.  If you’ve missed out so far, try out details from Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 or Day 4!

And so we come to the end, Day 5: Friday, 24 January 2020.  For today, we had some ‘team time’ scheduled right after our 8am breakfast; a few hours free to explore; an afternoon lecture from the British School at Rome Director and a final presentation.

First up was team time. We were working in groups of 2 to prepare a mock funding application for a theme that would ‘answer’ the research of both participants.  I was working with Australian artist, Alasdair Asmussen Doyle, shown below snapping our research design notes.


Everyone set off around Rome to visit St Peters, rarer Churches with hidden altarpieces, to reflect on art and photography exhibitions and to the local supermarket for crisps (I did one of those. You get to guess. Crunch.).

After a sandwich lunch, Professor Stephen Milner provided a lecture. He is known for his role at University of Manchester as well as his Roman role. A biography is here.

This lecture focused on what happens when people across academic disciplines collaborate. Prof Milner, an expert in culture, worked with scientific colleagues to examine whether vellum, often calf-skin, used for books historically, was necessarily taken from ‘uterine sources’ in order to produce vellum thin enough to use for detailed books like the bible. The term ‘uterine sources’ refers to the skin of pre-birth calves.  It’s a fascinating, if slightly gruesome, subject and is worth reading by clicking here.

Prof Milner in full flow

We finished up in time for the School’s afternoon tea at 4.15pm – a most welcome part of the institution! Next, Alice Robinson, classicist extraordinaire and one of our colleagues, organised us all to have a photograph on the steps of the School.


We had various iterations as colleagues stepped out to take pictures.  The next one was by Helen McGhie (check out her website here).

© Helen McGhie 2020

Friday evening was just the time for a wrap-up session.  First, was a challenge provided at the start of the week, to use the postcard as a restricted and physical format to write up some reflections of the week. For me, this focused on the collaboration with Alasdair and this free verse form may make more sense to him that others.  Which I think is cool.  We will post these at some point when we are back home.


We went on to share with the whole team a final presentation on a proposed collaboration between each group of two.  People had created all kinds of exciting projects, all of which could have some future form, if time and funds were to allow.  I was very proud of the work that I did with Alasdair and, speaking for myself, it was something that could help me better illuminate my own research.

Part of the presentation used my poem from last year, Border Butter.  It’s about the shooting dead of my Great Aunt by the Black & Tans and you can find it by clicking here.

Karen Fleming’s Photographs

By the end of the week, we had a WhatsApp group and many colleagues have shared photographs. I’ve snaffled a couple for use here from Karen Fleming, University of Ulster, that show another perspective.

First up, we found ourselves in the Common Room for two very mundane reasons: first, we were waiting for a co-ordinator to arrive and second, we were such a chatty bunch that our collective din was (practically) causing the Library to vibrate.  It’s these accidental moments that were the times that this conversation or that opened our minds.

© Karen Fleming 2020

Not saying this second one is my favourite because I’m in it. But it is.

© Karen Fleming 2020

The School is one of those places where you wander past an open door and there’s a whole universe of difference from the everyday within a glimpse. I think Karen grasped that in the following shot.

© Karen Fleming 2020

Sleep and Crank

Blogs, like social media, have a tendency to display the fantastic aspects of everyday life. The pictures are of the fun times, or the cute selfie, or a lovely view. And that’s great – I love that! But it’s not the whole story. There are realities to being away for a week… yes, it is an experience you couldn’t buy. Not only because of the access to places and speakers in such a rare combination, but also to appreciate what other doctoral candidates are working on. On the other hand, it’s like working out for a whole day, then multiplied by 5.  Except it’s your mind.  By the end of the week, I was exhausted… still grateful, and finding joy in every experience. But shorter-tempered than usual.  In every experience there’s a lesson.  While I was careful to get to bed early and exercise every day, I was in the group almost all the time. I live and work alone so that was a big leap.  Both my natural curiosity and chattiness were to the fore.  However, it would be sensible to make sure I take more of a balance during group work, to step away and absorb some silence.

At 8.40am on Saturday, a taxi was ready to take four of us to Fiumicino Airport, three of us heading for Dublin.  It was moving when three of our colleagues bounded down the steps at the front of the School to hug us goodbye and gladdens the heart that this group, one brought together by a funding system, contains such warmth and humanity.

As usual, I wangled a seat at the front of the plane and bounced off the plane at Dublin to an empty terminal, glad to see home.

Dublin Airport, Terminal 2

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