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Francesco Brenna

Warwick-JHU Exchange. 1 July 2018

I spent June 2018 as a visiting PhD student at the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick. My time there was incredibly fruitful: I had the chance to discuss my research with both senior faculty members and younger researchers who introduced me to their most recent and cutting-edge work.

This exchange has been first and foremost a great chance to connect with many scholars and fellow graduate students and to receive feedback on my dissertation. I had many productive conversations with professors such as Paul Botley (my tutor at Warwick), Ingrid de Smet, Catherine Bates, Marco Nievergelt, Bryan Brazeau, and Peter Mack, that helped considerably in clarifying how I want to frame my research. The input of the faculty members of the Centre, cross-disciplinary in nature, proved to be an invaluable chance to hear from scholars specialized in the many different fields my dissertation addresses about the strengths and the weaknesses of my project.

I participated in a PhD workshop organized by the Centre, where PhD students had to pitch their dissertation in 5 minutes and receive input on their presenting skills and on the big questions raised by their projects. It was very useful to reflect on how to present and situate my research within a larger critical and scholarly context. The Centre also organized a lecture by Carlo Bajetta on Elizabeth I’s Italian letters, and a conference on rhetoric for Professor Peter Mack’s retirement: it was a great chance to meet with additional scholars and to hear about their most recent work. Finally, Prof. Nievergelt organized a visit to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where we took a tour of the chapel and of the library.

This exchange was indeed an occasion to visit several universities in the area—besides Oxford, Cambridge and Leicester. I was able to discuss my work with Miltonists and specialists of early modern poetics (Vladimir Brljak, Sarah Knight, Micha Lazarus, Gordon Campbell, William Poole), some of whom were former students or post-docs at Warwick. It was also a great chance to visit several libraries and study the circulation of early modern Italian books in England through an analysis of their provenance and their marginalia. At Trinity College, in Cambridge, I was able to examine Milton’s so-called Trinity manuscript: having such a substantial autograph of the poet I am studying in front of me was definitively one of the highlights of this trip.

I lived in an on-campus accommodation—Heronbank. I had a room with an en-suite bathroom and a shared kitchen. The room was nice and the building collocated in a peaceful and rural area (after all, Warwickshire is part of the region that inspired Tolkien’s The Shire), including a pond, a stream, meadows, and numerous more or less friendly geese. Urban centers like Coventry and Birmingham (the second largest city in the UK, I learned) are nevertheless quite close and well-connected to campus.

It was very easy to find quiet places to work in the library and to become familiar with the borrowing system. I could find most of the books I needed in the stacks, and I was able to obtain the others through a very efficient interlibrary loan service. The campus offered other nice facilities, all in walking distance—the gym, the music practice rooms, and several restaurants and bars, which surrounded a piazza where students watched World Cup games on a big screen.

In short, I would certainly recommend this exchange to anyone interested in early modern studies and in an open academic environment where it is very easy to work and discuss your research within a network of eminent scholars and fellow researchers.

Oxford Trip June 2018

Renaissance students enjoying a research trip to Oxford


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