Signs of Spring are all over the Madingley gardens: the snowdrops and hellebores are at their peak, but will shortly have to make way for the pesky daffodils whose job is to form a jubilant guard of honour either side of the Madingley Hall driveway for most of March. (Pesky? Because – with apologies to William and Dorothy Wordsworth – I don’t like daffodils, even though everyone else does!) The season is changing, and we’re moving into a new season in the ‘making’ of Summer Schools, too. Now that the courses are all in place, and displayed on the web pages and in the brochure, our focus is on responding to enquiries, processing incoming applications, planning the logistics (teaching rooms, daily rotas) and – crucially – completing the plenary series. Essentially, the Summer Schools are very largely built, but there is work to do in the coming weeks to finesse our offering, so that everything is ready for your arrival.
The list of accepted plenary invitations grows daily, and in conversations with speakers, we juggle diaries to slot these jigsaw puzzle pieces neatly into the available slots. Intriguing titles abound: Human life at the limits – the physiology of exploration; Ancient Egyptian mummies - curious puzzles and curious answers; The Iron Lady and her enemies; Asteroids and impacts; Naval heroes of the First World War - are there any?; Criminal gangs in medieval England; What Shakespeare did with Cleopatra; Serving a villain: Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII; How to change the world – climate change and food security… with many more to follow. We’ll be posting titles as they are finalised on the relevant programme pages.
Ideas for plenary speakers and talks come from all corners. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a request to a speaker whose talks have been very well received in the past. Sometimes it’s a new acquaintance who’s giving a talk for colleagues in the Institute of Continuing Education, or elsewhere in the University. The Festival of Ideas has recently finished, but it’s the Science Festival in Cambridge very shortly, and we have checked in their literature to see if there are bright ideas we can ‘steal’ to add to our own lists.
Those students who have already been accepted now have the opportunity to begin their conversations on the Online Resource Centre (the ORC), catching up with old friends returning for another Summer School, finding out who else is on the same courses or coming from the same country. We’re hoping people will share their knowledge of the city if they have been before, and use the chance to ask questions if they have not. What are the bookshops like? (Some really good booksellers, including several second-hand ones!) What day is market day, and what can I buy there? (There’s a market in the town centre every day, selling food, books, clothing, pottery, jewellery, and gifts. There’s a craft market on Saturdays.) What are the ‘must sees’ if I am on a rather tight budget? (Okay, I’ll leave it to the ORC foum to pick up these threads and provide more answers, and questions.)
Some 390 programme applications from students representing 30 nationalities have already been accepted, and other applications are being processed as I write. Several accommodation options are fully booked, but space is still available in the others. A number of courses are already recruiting well, and others are catching up fast. Among several at the head of the ‘leader-board’ so far are courses as diverse as The reform and rise of the Papacy, 1000-1215; The imperial French: Napoleon and after; Reading medieval letters; The reigns of William and Mary, and Anne, 1688; Romanesque Europe, 1100-50; Hamlet’s problems; Romanticising Shakespeare; The CIA in Cold War historical perspective; Reading Virginia Woolf; Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit: mystery and sedition; Women of power and property; How does your immune system work and International politics in a global age.
For accepted students, excursion tickets are now on sale, and that means people can add a trip to Canterbury, ‘the other place’, Hampton Court, Royal Greenwich, Lincoln, and plays at Stratford-upon-Avon or the Globe Theatre, depending on the dates of their programmes. There are also Cambridge walking tours on ‘arrival day’ afternoons.
Just listing some of the talks, the courses, and the venues brings Summer very much closer – a pleasing thought on a rather grey and rainy Spring day. There are still plenty of tasks for Spring, though. I had better sort out a few more plenary invitations.
Sarah J Ormrod, 26 February 2014