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Imogen Knox

I am a second year PhD researcher in the History department. My work examines the ways in which early modern people expressed and enacted feelings of suicide and self-harm in the context of British supernatural narratives from the mid sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. My work seeks to provide a more holistic and nuanced perspective on early modern attitudes towards suicide, by focusing on cases of non-fatal self-harming behaviour, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. I also read the supernatural as a means by which early modern people were able to give voice to self-destructive feelings, a mode of expression which was deprived in the later eighteenth century.

I’ve been involved with the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance (CSR) in various capacities throughout my PhD. I have attended their Early Career Club sessions throughout the first two years of my PhD, and more recently completed the joint Warwick-Newberry ‘English Palaeography’ course in autumn 2021. During my second year I taught on (CSR Director of Graduate Studies) Aysu Dincer Hadjianastasis’s second year history module ‘Crossing Boundaries and Breaking Norms in the Medieval World’, and attended the RSA 2022 conference in Dublin alongside several other members of the CSR. I was delighted to receive this grant from the CSR and the Newberry which has allowed me to not only visit the Newberry Library, but to make use of their collections and spend a very enjoyable period in Chicago.

I had initially planned to visit the Newberry Library in January, to coincide with their 2022 Graduate Conference. I was keen to present having had a great experience at the virtual 2020 conference, which had been the first conference paper of my PhD. I had found the Newberry Graduate Conference to be a really welcoming environment and a great way to meet scholars working across the broad field of Renaissance studies. Ultimately the decision was made to take the conference online, so I cancelled my visit with the intention to visit later in the year.

At the virtual 2022 conference I presented my paper ‘Emotional responses to suicidal intent in supernatural narratives, 1560-1735’ as part of the panel ‘Expressions of Sin and Free Will’. My paper explored how those close to suicidal people, friends and family members, reacted to disclosures about suicidality or witnessing suicidal behaviour. I sought to demonstrate that shame (an emotion often assumed to have a strong connection to suicide) was not the dominant feeling towards suicidal people, and that early modern people were far more empathetic towards such feelings than has been credited. I received insightful questions on my paper and engaged in a fruitful dialogue with my co-panellists. This left me with plenty to think about moving forwards with this paper, which comprises part of the third chapter of my thesis.

Following the cancellation of the in-person element of the conference, I was invited to attend the ‘Unconference’ in June. I was excited to take up this opportunity as I had been keen to visit the Newberry in person, and to undertake primary research using their collections. The Unconference included: a tour of the library; workshops on translating research for academic & non-academic audiences, and using the Newberry catalogue; a presentation on the collection; and a career conversation session with two ex-Newberrians. Hearing from two previous Newberrian scholars was particularly useful, as well as thinking about how to communicate and make impact with research when engaging non-academic audiences. The day concluded with drinks which provided a further opportunity for us to share and discuss our experiences.

I also made use of my time in Chicago by consulting the Newberry collections. I was able to view several items pertinent to my thesis, including works by Increase Mather and Joseph Glanvill, and also used the opportunity to explore potential sources for my postdoctoral work, for which I am currently planning my application. The collections staff were extremely helpful both during the run up to my visit and my time at the Newberry, and have kindly offered to photograph items for me should I need to consult any materials after my return to the UK.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Chicago, both at the Newberry and exploring the city – highlights were visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and sampling Chicago deep dish pizza!

I would not have been able to travel to the Newberry without the generous support of the CSR and the Newberry. I am especially grateful to the support of Jayne Sweet, David Lines, and Rebecca Fall in helping me to organise this trip. Both the virtual and in-person conference, as well as my archive work at the Newberry, have been great experiences, of significant value to my development as a researcher.

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