2018: 60th Annual Teachers’ Conference, Somerville College, Oxford, 21-22 September 2018
In September 2018, SRTS took place in the friendly grounds of Somerville College. A former women’s college, Somerville has a proud history of championing equal opportunities for all, and it was thus a fitting environment for one of the Modern Languages Faculty’s flagship outreach events of the year. Somerville’s own Head of House, Baroness Janet Royall, who is herself a modern linguist, kindly gave the after-dinner address, where she spoke of the value of languages in the current political climate and the need to nurture Modern Foreign Languages in schools. Ninety-four teachers attended the conference this year: fifty-two from the state sector, thirty-nine from the independent sector, and three retired members. We were pleased to be joined by delegates from all over the UK, including regions quite far from Oxford, such as Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Cumbria, and Newcastle – to name a few! They were joined by around twenty members of the Faculty representing a range of languages. We also had the pleasure of welcoming two representatives from the University of Cardiff, as well as other academics and outreach officers from across the Humanities Division. All in all, it made for a lively and varied event which brought together a community of like-minded, dedicated linguists.
The programme this year offered a mix of academic content related to the A Level syllabus, taster lectures, and admissions sessions. We opened with a roundtable on ‘Creative Approaches to Translation’, which looked particularly at German, French, and Portuguese. Dr Charlotte Ryland, Prof. Toby Garfitt, and Dr Simon Park shared three different approaches to translation, between them covering the notion of translation as a form of creative play, the idea of mapping translation, and the potential for translation as an outreach activity. As Director of the Stephen Spender Trust, which runs an annual poetry translation competition, and one of the founders of the new Translation Outreach Centre at The Queen’s College, Dr Ryland was also able to share her experience of these schemes and how they might be expanded or adapted to new school contexts.
Following the roundtable, we were treated to a brilliant lecture by Dr María del Pilar Blanco on ‘Teaching Spanish with Images of the Past: Encounters with a fin-de-siècle Archive’. Dr Blanco’s talk was a fascinating dive into the archives of early-twentieth-century Latin American modernist magazines, and touched on a number of topics, from dictatorships to representations of the aristocracy, from images of the body to the Porfirian regime in Mexico. With our minds stimulated, we headed to Somerville’s charming dining hall for a convivial dinner, which was followed by an equally pleasing trip to the college bar. In this, the sixtieth anniversary of the SRTS, we were pleased to be joined by our longstanding supporter, David Willetts, and offer him our thanks for his unwavering generosity in providing bursaries for state school delegates to attend. We would also like to thank Maria Willetts, who was not able to join us on this occasion, but whose support is equally cherished.
Despite the late night, we were up bright and early on the Saturday morning for a literary circus on ‘Narrative Openings’. Taking a number of the texts on the A Level syllabi, academics from the sub-faculties of French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Italian spoke about the ways in which close readings of the opening passage of a literary text can offer insight into the novels as a whole. They pointed to techniques for literary analysis that can be applied beyond the passage in question.
After a break, we moved to the ‘Building Bridges’ panel, a session which was introduced to SRTS in 2016 and has since become a much-valued regular forum for discussion about the issues facing MFL. We were privileged to hear from Prof. Claire Gorrara and Lucy Jenkins, from the University of Cardiff and Routes Cymru, who spoke about their resoundingly successful MFL student mentoring programme in schools. Two teachers then took the floor: Irena Hubble-Brezowski from Bridgwater and Taunton College spoke about two large MFL events she has run for schools in Somerset, and Jennifer Hopper from Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School spoke about the new government scheme to promote MFL through hub schools, which has just launched. As ever, we are grateful for the perceptive and generous spirit with which all the delegates approached the ‘Building Bridges’ panel, which is so useful to the Faculty in giving us an insight into the latest developments in MFL in schools.
We finished the programme with a session on admissions. Prof. Julie Curtis, Director of Outreach, gave an overview of the Oxford admissions process, which was followed by a mock interview with a current French and Russian student at Oxford, and finally by a Q&A. We finished with lunch and an optional extra workshop in ‘Multilingual Performance Techniques’ at the Taylor Institution. This additional workshop, which was attended by around fifteen teachers, was part of the Creative Multilingualism Programme’s ‘Multilingual Performance Project’, which aims to encourage teachers to use languages in performance contexts as a way to prompt linguistic creativity: this could be as simple as introducing some drama exercises to the classroom as a way to practise vocabulary, or as complex as a full-scale school play in a different language. Teachers took part in the workshop with enthusiasm and flair, with many offering suggestions as to how the activities could be adapted to language learning.
Overall, we packed a lot into twenty-four hours but the conference proved an enjoyable and dynamic event, which provided a forum for many voices to come together and discuss the very thing about which we are all passionate – our commitment to teaching and learning languages. We look forward to the next one!
2017: 59th Annual Teachers’ Conference, St Anne’s College, Oxford, 22-23 September 2017
2017 saw 75 teachers from across the state and independent sectors convened with retired members and representatives from the Modern Languages Faculty at St Anne’s College. The Friday evening included a roundtable on the short story in German, Spanish, and Italian, with contributions from Prof. Ritchie Richardson (Kafka), Prof. Ben Bollig (Borges), and Prof. Guido Bonsaver (Calvino). Thomas Cuthbertson then presented a discussion of a clip from the film Cléo de 5 à 7, by French director Agnès Varda. After dinner prepared by award-winning chef Raymond Killick and served in the stunning glass-fronted dining hall, we were treated to a fascinating address by Bridget Kendall MBE. Ms Kendall is an alumna of Lady Margaret Hall and St Antony’s College, Oxford, former Moscow and Washington correspondent for the BBC, and current Master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. She has over thirty years of experience as an international correspondent for the BBC, and has interviewed a number of senior politicians, including live broadcasts of interviews with President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin in 2001 and 2006.
On Saturday morning we were up bright and early to hear a talk on Dostoevsky given by Dr Oliver Ready, whose new translation of Crime and Punishment, with Notes and Introduction, was published by Penguin Classics in 2014. This was followed by our annual Building Bridges panel. This year, we were lucky enough to have Dr. Jim Anderson from Goldsmith’s University of London presenting his Multilingual Digital Storytelling Project; this was followed by presentations from Dr Laura Lonsdale and Prof. Julie Curtis on the work they have been carrying out to support language teaching and learning in schools. After a break for a fortifying coffee, Dr Jenny Oliver taught us all how to write the perfect essay, through the medium of Early Modern French drama. Finally, Dr Simon Kemp conducted a mock interview with a current student, before leading a Q&A discussion about applications for and the study of Modern Languages at Oxford and Cambridge. We were also excited to be able to offer for the first time a research showcase, featuring posters from PhD students as well as two large-scale multi-institution projects: Creative Multilingualism and Writing Brecht.
We hope that all those who attended found the programme both useful and inspirational, and we look forward to seeing you next year.
2016: 58th Annual Teachers’ Conference, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, 23-24 September 2016
Our 58th annual conference took place at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 September 2016. One hundred and twenty teachers were in attendance: sixty-two from the independent sector, fifty-six from the maintained sector, and two retired members. In addition to this, around twenty-five members of the Medieval and Modern Languages faculty at the University of Oxford attended, as well as affiliated guests, including representatives from the University of Cambridge and our guest speaker Prof. Michael Worton, former Vice-Provost of University College London.
The programme offered a mix of academic taster lectures and admissions sessions. We opened with a presentation by Prof. Catriona Seth, who introduced her new project ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 5×5’, which explores multimedia adaptations of Laclos’ novel. Following this, there was a panel on twentieth-century theatre: academics from five sub-faculties gave short introductions to Chekhov, Pirandello, Brecht, Lorca, and Beckett.
Friday’s programme closed with a performance of ‘Never say Never’, a translation and adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s Il ne faut jurer de rien, performed by students of the university. After the play, delegates moved to a drinks reception and formal dinner, at which Prof. Worton gave a speech outlining some of the challenges facing MFL and emphasising the need to continue to promote the subject, particularly in the wake of ‘Brexit’. Prof. Worton’s wealth of experience in teaching modern languages, and his evident passion for the subject and the variety of cultures to which languages give us access empowered us all to become ‘agents of change’. This was followed by an equally enjoyable trip to the college bar!
Saturday morning opened with two academic presentations: a talk on Cervantes to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death; and an ‘explication de texte’ – a close reading of a passage from Racine’s Iphigénie. We then moved to the newly introduced ‘Building Bridges’ panel, a session designed to raise any issues MFL faces at the current time and discuss how we might present a united front in tackling these. We heard from faculty members from Oxford and Cambridge, representatives from the independent sector (Nick Mair, Dulwich College) and maintained sector (Irena Hubble-Brezowski, Bridgwater College, and Alex Hobson, Darrick Wood Senior School), as well as voices from the audience. Some of the major points raised included: A Level grading, the new A Level syllabus, the availability of teaching resources for this syllabus, and the varying levels of support MFL receives in schools.
After a break, we had an introduction to studying ab initio languages at Oxford, and modern languages alongside Oriental Studies. This was followed by a mock interview with a current Spanish student at Oxford, and finally by a Q&A about the Oxford admissions process. We finished with lunch and an optional visit to the nearby Pitt Rivers Museum.
Overall, it is clear that Modern Languages faces a challenging time ahead, with alterations to the syllabus and political events throwing the future of the discipline into some doubt. However, what emerged from the conference is that the community of modern linguists is united in its drive to champion MFL, and passion for the subject remains strong within both schools and universities. It was a pleasure to hear so many voices joined in celebration of languages learning.
The SRTS would like to thank the Ferreras-Willetts family for their unfailing support of the society, as well as the National Network for Collaborative Outreach for an additional grant in 2016. Many thanks to Aidan Huxford for providing the photographs.
2015: 57th Annual Teachers’ Conference, Pembroke College Oxford, 25-26 September 2015
In 2015, The Sir Robert Taylor Society Conference was held, for the second year, within the charming grounds of Pembroke College. It was attended by almost one hundred delegates, with a pleasing balance between schools from the independent and maintained sectors, as well as around twenty members of the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty at Oxford. It was particularly good to see all of the sub-faculties represented.
The conference opened with a round table on the theme of Waterloo to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the battle. This panel was chaired by Prof. Catriona Seth, the newly-appointed Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature, and featured talks from Prof. Emanuela Tandello (Italian), Dr Tim Farrant (French), Dr Jan Fellerer (Polish), and Philip Chadwick (Russian). This was followed by discussion, with questions from the floor.
We next moved to the Harold Lee Room for a drinks reception, which was followed by dinner in the dining hall, with after-dinner speeches from Prof. Richard Cooper, President of the SRTS and Chair of the MML Faculty, and the Chancellor of the University, the Rt Hon. Lord Patten of Barnes. Lord Patten gave an inspiring speech about the value of the humanities, and modern languages in particular, which was met with a standing ovation.
Dr Jennifer Rushworth opened Saturday’s proceedings with a talk on ‘Dante today’, a lecture to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the poet. There was then a panel on ‘Modernism’, with contributions from Dr Xon de Ros (Spanish), Prof. Carolin Duttlinger (German), Prof. Cláudia Pazos-Alonso (Portuguese), and Prof. Dimitris Papanikolaou (Modern Greek).
After a coffee break, we were treated to a performance of Dr David Maskell’s translation of ‘La Châtelaine de Vergi’ by Lucy Rayfield (Director) and her cast from Vitruvian Productions. Finally, the conference wrapped up with a Q&A session on the admissions process, and Nick Mair (Dulwich College) voiced concerns over severe and unpredictable grading.
After lunch we moved over to the Bodleian Library, including the new Weston building, for a tour, enthusiastically led by Prof. Cooper and kindly organised by James Legg.
We are grateful to all who attended and participated for making the conference such an interesting and enjoyable event.
2014: 56th Annual Teachers’ Conference, Pembroke College Oxford, 26-27 September 2014
Not since the 1980s has the Society’s annual conference attracted 125 delegates. The large number was made possible by the new venue at Pembroke College where an ancient college in the centre of Oxford offers the perfect combination of comfort and high-tech. A particularly pleasing feature was the balance between teachers from state and independent schools as well as a strong representation from the Oxford Faculty.
In his first year as President, Professor Richard Cooper, who is Head of Faculty, organised a superb programme which was both topical and thematic. And so the death earlier this year of García Márquez was commemorated by a moving, fascinating and beautifully lucid account of examples of the author’s ‘Magic Moments’ by Professor Robin Fiddian.
Professor Cooper’s account of the decidedly robust humour to be found in Rabelais made clear that the idea of ‘political correctness’ had not yet arrived. His suggestion that we might like to use some of this material in our lessons led us to believe that Dr Bowdler may have had a point. It was great fun, a stark contrast to the delicate, poetic imaginings of the Márquez and an excellent preparation for a performance in English of Poliziano’s 1480 short play Orfeo.
Apart from Poliziano’s not insignificant contribution, every other aspect of the play – the introduction by Professor Martin McLaughlin, the verse translation by Dr David Maskell, the direction by Lucy Rayfield, the acting and the singing of the specially composed and performed music – was the work of the Oxford Faculty and its students. This wonderfully accomplished staging was a triumph, and we are hoping to be able to make available a DVD of the performance.
Our principal theme on the Friday had been the literature of the 1st WW, presented from the point of view of the different countries, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, France, Italy, Portugal. The outstanding panel of experts from the Faculty then discussed more general questions raised by the audience.
This theme found its historical perspective in a most thought-provoking after dinner speech by one of the leading experts on the 1st WW Sir Hew Strachan of All Souls in which he reflected on the real significance of Remembrance.
Our final session on Saturday provided teachers with the opportunity to ask about admissions, courses, expectations and any other matters associated with the study of Modern Languages at Oxford. Dr Tim Farrant outlined the splendid Pembroke outreach programme which aims to raise aspirations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study at university.
At the AGM due thanks were offered to the Committee and the organisers. Jon Corrall (Secretary) and Dr Geoffrey Plow (Treasurer) are stepping down after 6 years, and teachers are invited to express an interest in joining the committee to help define the next stage in the Society’s history.
After lunch we enjoyed our ‘insider treat’ a visit to the Old Library and Picture Gallery in Christ Church, kindly organised by Dr Emanuela Tandello.
This was our first year at Pembroke. The quality of the catering, the availability of the bar after dinner, the excellent facilities allowed us to mix business and pleasure in a most stimulating and enjoyable way and ensured that we could network and discuss well into the night. Our thanks go to Professor Cooper and all the members of the Faculty who contributed in such a generous and stimulating way to the success of the conference.
Highlights of 2014 Programme
This year’s exciting programme of talks focuses on topics of great interest to linguists, such as a tribute to García Márquez and the literature of the 1st WW, viewed from the point of view of different countries. We are also delighted to welcome as our speaker at the conference dinner Sir Hew Strachan from All Souls who is a leading expert and broadcaster on the history of the Great War.
Round Table: Literature and World War One, with Prof. Ritchie Robertson (German, Queen’s), Prof. Phillip Rothwell (Portuguese, St Peter’s), and Prof. Philip Bullock (Russian, Wadham). The purpose of this session is to have three presentations, with texts and translations, of writing from less well-known perspectives about how the Great War was experienced, namely in Germany, in Russia (on whom Germany declared war on 1 August 1914), and in Portugal (which was already involved in Africa in 1914-15, but joined the War in March 1916). Colleagues from French, German and Italian will join in the Round Table.
Conference Dinner with speaker Sir Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, All Souls’. Sir Hew is an acknowledged authority on the British Army and on the First World War, and is the author, among other books, of European armies and the conduct of war (1983); The Politics of the British Army (1997); The First World War: vol. 1: To Arms (2001); The First World War: a new illustrated history (2003); How Fighting Ends. A History of Surrender (2012); The Direction of War: Contemporary Strategy in Historical Perspective (2013).
Magic Moments: García Márquez in memoriam, Professor Robin Fiddian (Spanish, Wadham). A lecture given to commemorate the novelist’s death on 17 April 2014 by Professor Fiddian, a specialist on Spanish American literature and cinema, and author of works on (among others) Borges, Del Paso, and Gabriel García Márquez (1995, 2006).
Renaissance Theatre, Prof. Richard Cooper (French, Brasenose): Rabelaisian Farce. Professor Martin McLaughlin (Italian, Magdalen): Poliziano’s Orfeo.
Performance in English of Poliziano’s Orfeo. Hastily improvised by the Italian Humanist Angelo Poliziano for performance in Mantua in 1480, this short pastoral recounts Orfeo’s descent into the underworld to rescue Euridice, complete with appearances of Mercury, shepherds, sheep and a Satyr. This new translation by Dr David Maskell (Oriel) is directed by Lucy Rayfield (Balliol), and performed by Oxford students with specially composed music.
Q & A discussion with Oxford tutors about applying for and studying Modern Languages (and its Joint Schools degrees) at Oxford, schools’ liaison and outreach, and any other matters members wish to raise about the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages, followed by the AGM.
Visit to Christ Church Picture Gallery.
Watch the production of Orpheus by Poliziano in a new translation by David Maskell performed as a part of the 2014 Sir Robert Taylor Society conference.
2013: 55th Annual Teachers’ Conference, St. Hilda’s College Oxford, 27-8 September 2013
Although Friday, 27th September, marked the 225th anniversary of the death of Sir Robert Taylor, this year’s conference showed that the Society is alive and well, and going from strength to strength. 80 delegates from the whole range of independent and state schools as well as members of the Oxford Faculty represented the largest attendance for many years and filled the lecture hall to capacity. The availability of bursaries for colleagues from the state sector, provided by the Ferreras Willetts Family, has helped ensure a balanced representation of schools.
The programme included lectures representing the three main languages taught in schools. In addition we enjoyed an inspiring talk on Brazilian Favela culture by Dr Claire Williams.
Dr Williams focused on the deprivation suffered by this marginalised culture, and outlined how works of considerable power of expression and emotion have emerged, most notably in literature and film. It was of particular interest to see how she taught this material to her students, and how they responded in a very personal way, deprived of the customary mass of secondary literature. Who would have thought it possible to study a literature at university where the ink is still wet?
Professor Ann Jefferson treated us to a fascinatingly original approach to Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir, viewed through the description of current fashions. We are familiar with the references to the church and the army of the title, but much less so to the significance of the recent manufacture of brightly coloured materials and the attitudes these fashions reveal. Through this imaginative perspective Professor Jefferson captured many of the themes central to the novel. We were reminded of the best of our own student days and the reasons we are pleased to have chosen modern languages.
The final lecture was given by Dr Maria Blanco who again surprised us by focusing on the unlikely, but fascinating topic of science fiction in the literature of Mexico at the end of the 19th century.
The Q & A session proved to be particularly lively. Nick Mair from Dulwich College, who has tirelessly led the campaign highlighting the severe marking of A level modern language papers, outlined the current situation and his efforts to achieve a fairer and more helpful response from the examining boards. He continued his crusade at dinner through the happy coincidence of sitting next to our guest of honour, Baroness Shephard, who promised to take the arguments back to Westminster. And so an alliance was forged at the conference between the schoolteachers, the politicians and the university lecturers which promises to alert a wider public to the crisis in modern languages, and must help to change the inexplicably bizarre mind-set of the examination boards.
The dinner is a delightful opportunity to network with colleagues from other schools. The hospitality provided by St Hilda’s was of the customary high standard, and we were delighted to welcome Gillian Baroness Shephard as our guest speaker. Without question her brilliantly witty speech was one of the highlights of the conference. She had been a modern languages student at St Hilda’s, before becoming a teacher in East Anglia, and then entering politics where she rose to become Minister of State for Education. With such extensive first-hand experience she told us stories ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous which we all recognise as forming part of our own career and love of modern languages. Her role as translator in a dinner conversation between the unlikely pairing of the cultured, irreverent and hedonistic François Mitterand and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, will long remain in the memory of modern linguists who have been required to translate the untranslatable.
Our special cultural treat on Saturday afternoon took us, appropriately enough, to the Taylor Institution Library which was founded with the bequest of Sir Robert. It remains something of a mystery why this celebrated architect chose to advance the cause of medieval and modern languages at Oxford. But all other aspects of the role and use of the library were explained to us by Jill Hughes, the acting Librarian in Charge, who also showed us round this splendid building.
At our final session, Professor Richard Cooper, who is the Society’s new President, offered our heartfelt thanks to Dr Helen Swift, the outgoing President, who has done so much in her role as Schools’ Liaison Officer to build strong and effective links between teachers of modern languages and Oxford University. Her sympathetic and no-nonsense approach has helped dispel some of the myths and mystification of study at Oxford without compromising the high standards which the university represents. She has ensured that she leaves the Society in rude health. The conference allows teachers to respond to the two most important questions: Would you wish your most able pupils to have the opportunity to study in Oxford? And would you wish your pupils to be taught by these lecturers? The feed-back we have received answers both questions with a resounding ‘Yes’.
Highlights of 2013 Programme
‘The Power of Metaphor: The Case of Kafka’, Prof Katrin Kohl (German, Jesus College).
Q & A discussion with Oxford tutors about applying for and studying modern languages (and its joint schools degrees) at Oxford, schools liaison and outreach, and any other matters that members wish to raise about the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages, followed by the AGM.
Conference Dinner with speaker Baroness Gillian Shephard
‘The Favela’s Revenge: from the Margins to the Mainstream in Modern Brazilian Culture’, Dr Claire Williams (Portuguese, St Peter’s College),
‘Soft furnishings and the realist wardrobe: Material considerations in Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir’, Prof. Ann Jefferson (French, New College)
‘Brave New World: Mexican Science Fiction in the 19th Century’, Dr María del Pilar Blanco (Spanish, Trinity College),
Guided visit of Taylor Institution Library by Acting Librarian in Charge, Jill Hughes
The Taylor Institution (www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylor ) is the University’s centre for the study of Modern Languages; it houses lecture rooms, the Modern Languages Faculty Library and the main Taylor Institution Library which holds in its special collections a number of treasures of European literature.