Summer Schools in the making: endings and beginnings

Written by Sarah Ormrod Tuesday, 25 August 2015 18:11

Sunset blog

The time has flown. As I rather anticipated, the whirlwind of the Summer enfolded us all, and before I had a chance to write a ‘mid-term’ blog, the Summer Schools were over for 2015.

Looking back, we had grey rainy days, and sunshine, and six fast-paced weeks of plenaries and courses. I have been compiling statistics for our Annual Report, and taking stock reminds me why we seemed to have plenty of activity to fill each day. On any one day there were up to 40 teaching sessions and 8 plenaries. Over 180 people were involved in the delivery of over 170 plenary sessions and 184 courses. Courses embraced a great swathe of subjects, including new ones such as: animal behaviour; media theory and practice; modern fantasy fiction; the modern graphic novel; and Greek drama. Workshops, practical sessions and visits included palaeography, ecology, geology, zoology, astronomy, palaeontology, botany and the history of science.

I’ve been very fortunate to hear a good number of those 170 plenary sessions, and come away from each summer with a pile of notes I take to help the information sink in.. As a ‘fringe benefit’ of chairing these talks, I have considerably extended my understanding of Charles Darwin’s circle of influence; the importance of Magna Carta; poisonous plants; Aztec sacrifice; Leonardo da Vinci’s understanding of the anatomy of the human heart. (I must go back to notes taken on the history of English and on dialects, to be reminded of the definitions for words which have fallen out of use: ‘curglaff’, ‘torfle’ and (in its original meaning) ‘skype’.)

Science plenaries explored Curiosity through topics as wide-ranging as Egyptian mummies, bees, black holes, stem cells and evolution. Plenary lectures on Tragedy and Comedy for the Literature programme have embraced the Greeks and Shakespeare, photography, and satire. Students on Ancient and Classical Worlds investigated the parallel lives of Alexander and Julius Caesar, Achilles and Oysseus and ‘noble Greeks and Romans’. The Shakespeareans have been treated to lute music and very fine acting, as well as a host of interpretations of their theme: Truth and Fiction. Medievalists heard about criminal gangs, criminal justice under Henry V, and punishment and pardon. The Creative Writers heard from novelists, poets and agents, wrote copiously, and produced some very fine pieces of their own. Our IARU GSP students tackled communication milestones, the rise and fall of empires, Darwin’s influence and major wars in their understanding of Our changing world.

Oh yes: the first stick insect, python, giant millipede and trainee guide-dog made guest appearances for our animal behaviour courses (on Science and ISS Term I).

A great many people have volunteered to be ‘film stars’, recording their response to the Summer for us to use in future publicity.

At Closing Dinners we asked for everyone to fill in an online feedback form (thanks, these are still coming in) and to send entries for the photo competition. We gave out attendance certificates and exchanged ‘au revoirs’ rather than ‘goodbyes’. We spoke of friendships: new ones just made, and ones re-kindled by returning students and lecturers. I admitted that I have been greatly influenced by my own first study abroad experience, and since then, a sustained friendship with a great mentor whose example has reminded me how you should surround yourself with people who make the best of every opportunity, who love travel and learning, and who have open minds… other words, precisely the type of people who come to Summer Schools. It has been rewarding to do this great job for so many years!

It’s the uplifting sense of group achievement (something satisfactory for teachers, students and organisers alike) at the end of a really good, vintage summer like this one, which sustains the International Programmes team as we begin all over again, working with our Programme and Course Directors to plan a new round of fascinating courses and intriguing plenaries for 2016.

Watch this space!


Sarah Ormrod


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