After completing my BA in English Literature (with Starred-First-Class Honours) at the University of East Anglia, I embarked on Warwick's MA in the Culture of the European Renaissance, as it promised to offer the most exciting combination of topics in European cultural and intellectual history across the late-medieval and Renaissance periods. For someone drawn in particular to Italian culture, the Venice term and the Centre's concentration of Italian experts were also irresistible attractions.
The intensive term in Venice introduced me to the study of social and artistic history, as well as giving me a taste (in many cases literally) of what it was like to live in one of the most unique and stunning cities in the world. Even now, after only a short time, it still feels as unreal as a dream, almost as though it barely happened. Even so, seeing the Dolomites across the lagoon from the Lido while waiting for the vaporetto on clear mornings, and hearing the bells ringing late at night from a nearby, mist-enwrapped campanile on Ognissanti, are just two memories which will never leave me. Equally indelible are scenes from weekend excursions: evening falling over the student- and music-filled parkland around the Castello Sforzesco in Milan; the view over a wintry Mantua; a Christmas market in fair, if foggy, Verona, where we also raced around trying to see all of the fine churches and museums before they closed for the evening.
Upon returning to Warwick (and in addition to my core modules, which included extra classes in methodology and palaeography), I embarked, with a fellow MA student, on an Advanced Study Option (a kind of collaborative custom module) in Italian Renaissance Humanism, convened by Dr David Lines. My dissertation was on Gavin Douglas' 1513 translation of Maffeo Vegio's 1428 Supplementum, or Thirteenth Book to Virgil's Aeneid, and was supervised by Dr Paul Botley.
My MA experiences as a whole, from my first forays into Italian and the study of visual and material culture, to the improvement of my Latin (through the 'Latin for Research in the Humanities' reading group) and the experience of being in a Centre for Renaissance Studies in which varied research was being constantly undertaken around me at breakneck speed, have been essential preparations for my PhD study. Without these foundational skills and the insight into how another, major institution functioned, I wouldn't have been able to begin to engage so readily with the Italian scholarship and archival research which is a key part of my current doctoral project, and I wouldn't have as much knowledge with which to prioritise my ambitions and guide my future career progression. The prolonged period of living in Italy provided by the Venice term has also deposited its documents in what Schama calls the 'archive of the feet', in the form of bar and restaurant experiences as well as those details which described the 'sense of place' in more intellectual and emotional terms. Being able to recently introduce a friend to some of the better-hidden gems of the city (and to still be recognised by some of their owners), before pointing out easily-missed details of the arrangement and architecture of the Piazza San Marco, is a privilege and a joy which I owe entirely to my MA.
Currently I am being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (through the Consortium for the Humanities and Arts in South-East England) to research the reception of Virgil's writings in the works of Maffeo Vegio (1407 - 1458), while contextualising Vegio's responses alongside other interpretations and reworkings of Virgil, literary and visual, in the early quattrocento. The latter part of my project, continuing the work of my MA thesis (for which I was awarded the Centre's first Sir John Hale Prize for Best Dissertation) will then examine the afterlife of these works (especially Vegio's fan-fiction-like Virgilian sequel, for which he is best known) across Europe into the sixteenth century. I am conducting this research as a PhD candidate back at the University of East Anglia. For a little more about this project, click here: https://people.uea.ac.uk/en/persons/b-mottram.
Since graduating from my MA and as part of my funded research, I have attended, helped to organise, and taught skills training programmes and conducted archival research in the UK and in Italy. I have also taught on undergraduate modules, assisted in the selection process for staff appointments in my new department, participated in public engagement events, and presented the results of my studies at academic conferences.
My post-MA work has therefore been mostly within academia, but I would emphasise that the skills gained during my MA, especially during the Venice term with its (inter-)disciplinary, institutional, geographical, cultural and personal unfamiliarity, have enabled me to face greater challenges, understand different perspectives, explore in new directions, and think in more creative ways. These skills have allowed me to enrich and go beyond the requirements of my PhD research, and are equally capable of enhancing the performance of anyone who after their MA chooses another career. As with many things in life, what you get out of a Masters is whatever you want (and work) to get out of it. And of course, undertaking further study into the culture of Europe during the Renaissance will enable you to discover more about an extraordinary and incalculably influential era of human history, which, as well as being worthy of study for its own sake, should also increase your appreciation and understanding of the world today.