A Perfect Opportunity for a Perfect End to a Year in Medieval Poitiers

Joint Honours Student Holly Wain on using her French and Art History skills to work for the journal Cahiers de civilisation médiévale.

As my days at the University of Poitiers drew to a close, I was determined to make the most of the last weeks of my Year Abroad in France. During my course, I was lucky enough to have translation classes with Stephen Morrison, a researcher specialising in the medieval period and director of the Centre for Medieval Studies in Poitiers (CESCM). I began speaking to him about my course at Birmingham and my interest in medieval art history and, then later, about possible work experience at the research centre. I am grateful for all his efforts, as in June I began work at the centre’s journal, the Cahiers de civilisation médiévale.

The journal began in 1958 and covers a variety of areas including philosophy, art history, literature, and musicology. It aims to bring together summaries of topics that deepen understanding in medieval civilisation and articles are submitted by researchers from all over the world. The articles include a short summary abstract in English, and literature reviews were also often published in both English and French. I was therefore given a range of pieces to translate, which was not only brilliant practice for my French but allowed me to learn about subjects I had never come across before such as the celtic ‘evil eye’ which cropped up while translating a review of a work by Jacqueline Borsje. Some of the texts tackled extremely specific areas of the early medieval period so there were sentences that I did not even understand in English! However, in the three weeks that I was there I did manage to translate substantial amounts of text. I was able to develop my translation skills immensely as I had to work around difficult sections to be able to communicate their broader sense.

The Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, where I worked under the direction of editor Blaise Royer.

The Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, where I worked under the direction of editor Blaise Royer.

It was very fortunate that the weeks I spent at the journal coincided with the annual conference held by the centre, the Semaines d’études médiévales in which students from many different countries flock to Poitiers to hear speakers present a variety of papers. I was very kindly invited by Blaise and the team to attend the opening lecture by Piotr Skubiszewski from the University of Warsaw on a manuscript found in Poitiers and the tradition of author ‘portraits’. Back at the journal, the team took a lot of interest in my own studies, for example I was able to attend the lecture by Stephen Morrison the topic of which was relevant to my own dissertation project, an early fifteenth-century tomb in Canterbury Cathedral. I gained an insight into the Lollard movement whilst also practising my French! I could not have asked for more.

A flyer presents the conference, detailing the great international presence among the speakers.

A flyer presents the conference, detailing the great international presence among the speakers.

The three weeks spent at the journal were often overwhelming as the team were working on lots of  different projects . As well as translation, I gained experience in the digitisation of previous issues of the journal and the translation of searchable terms for the Brepols database of the International Medieval Bibliography which is primarily linked to the University of Leeds. I worked with Karine Corre who looks after the indexation of books for the development of the database. It is a mammoth task with hundreds of books being sent in. I often felt sorry for her as I entered the office in the morning to find her surrounded by piles of yet more new books! I was also given access to the database so I could use it for my own research. Karine was extremely helpful and we found several very promising articles for my dissertation.

The site of the CESCM, Hôtel Berthelot (although due to building works the team at the journal were relocated, so I spent my time in a much less picturesque university building!)

The site of the CESCM, Hôtel Berthelot (although due to building works the team at the journal were relocated, so I spent my time in a much less picturesque university building!)

After finishing exams and feeling like my year abroad was fading away, work experience at the Cahiers was a brilliant insight into the world of medieval research and the demands of translation. The team were extremely welcoming and enabled my year abroad to be more than lessons at the University, but a full experience in the medieval world of the CESCM.

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One thought on “A Perfect Opportunity for a Perfect End to a Year in Medieval Poitiers

  1. Emma Tyler says:

    Holly, this is fantastic – such an interesting experience for you. You have been so resourceful! Thanks for sharing. See you in September.

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