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Daniel Gettings: Newberry Library Student Conference Report

I am a third year PhD student in the History department working on a PhD titled “Sustaining Body and Soul: the early modern English and their water, 1550 – 1750.” My work on this project hopes to utilise its subject matter of water as a way into accessing the everyday lives and understandings of early modern people. Water is an ideal entry point to studies of the everyday due to how heavily it featured in early modern lives and how fundamental it was to so many daily experiences. As such, the study attempts to take water in all forms across a broad national context in order to compare and contrast understandings of this substance and what it can tell us about how early modern people constructed the world around them.

Despite my PhD being based in the History department, I have sought to maintain links with the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance throughout my project thus far. This has included attendance at the centres very interesting “STVDIO” seminar series, as well as maintaining both a working relationship but also a friendship with a number of PhD students based in the Renaissance centre. Through these links, I have managed to remain aware of the interesting work the centre continues to do regardless of my technically external position. I was immensely excited to receive the grant from the Centre and from the Newberry library which enabled me to visit Chicago in person for a very fulfilling and enjoyable trip to attend the 2023 Multidisciplinary Graduate Conference.

Following some small flight delays, my arrival in Chicago was on a snowy evening, and it was not until the next day, as I walked to the Newberry for the first day of the conference, that I saw the city properly for the first time. The park in front of the library (right) highlights the “winter wonderland” atmosphere of Chicago in January and proved a delightful contrast to a British winter that had been sadly devoid of snow.

Entering the library, my experience of the conference itself began. Both the attendants and the regular staff of the Newberry noted that, in this particular year, a large number of the papers came from the field of English literature. This was particularly interesting and exciting to me, as I have primarily attended conferences of a strongly “history” persuasion, and the opportunity to hear so many papers with such different approaches was both fascinating as well as deeply useful in demonstrating alternative methodologies that I am now looking to utilise in my work.

The conference itself featured 12 panels worth of papers, split into 6 sessions over the three days. It also featured a number of other sessions, including talks from fellows of the Newberry library which I found very useful both for learning about the academic job market in the United States, as well as for considering the kinds of non-academic positions that a PhD can take you into. Additionally, there was a very exciting session that allowed for hands on use of a few of the specialist items from the Newberry’s collection. The items ranged from the beautiful, to the bizarre to the unique, and a work attempting to categorise local lands produced by indigenous peoples in Nahuatl was a particular highlight. The first day featured a keynote conversation between Yasmine Hachimi and Molly G. Yarn which, again, highlighted the options after completion of the PhD in a really helpful way. The day concluded with a drinks evening where I was able to discuss the goings on of the conference and do some valuable networking.

I also very much enjoyed the city of Chicago and my time spent there. I managed to try the city's famous deep-dish pizza, as well as see several famous sites including the Art Institute, lake Michigan, Navy Pier, and the Chicago Zoo.

It would have been financially impossible for me to travel to the Newberry as an unfunded PhD student without the generous support of both the Renaissance Centre at Warwick and the Newberry Library itself. Throughout my application process, Jayne Sweet, David Lines and Rebecca Fall were invaluable in assisting me and I could not have done it without their help in particular. I would like to thank them all.

I think that attending the Newberry conference has made me stronger as a researcher, and more aware of my career options for the future. The papers I heard at the conference have sparked a number of fruitful avenues to explore in my research and I am now far better aware of academia in the United States than I was before I attended. I am so glad to have been given the opportunity.

Chicago skyline
Snowy Chicago