Cavendishes, Castles and Special Collections: IPA670

New opportunity for postgraduates studying the region’s early modern past

More information is now available about the new MA module in Interdisciplinary Early Modern Studies (IPA670) which kicks off this autumn:

This 15-credit course presents an opportunity to explore local early modern environments. Academically, participants form a research network unbounded by individual department or discipline (not only for students but also those teaching, with all sessions to be co-taught in cross-disciplinary fashion). Geographically, the curriculum will engage with early modern features within the city and at other regional sites.

This year’s cohort will benefit from an organised field trip to Bolsover Castle. They will discover how the English Heritage property’s bold scheme of redecoration (carried out by the first Duke of Newcastle, William Cavendish) provided a backdrop to masques and horse ballet. In the classroom, students will encounter Margaret Cavendish, the Duke’s second wife, a philosopher, dramatist, poet and femme forte, mooted to be the most prolific published woman in the seventeenth century. Connecting with the Peak District, records of Reformation in Bradbourne village and Ashcroft poet and diarist Leonard Wheatcroft will also feature prominently. Independent site visits within the city bounds will be encouraged, supported by the Sheffield Lives and Castlegate initiatives.

The pedagogic expectation is not that students to become competent in disciplines other than their own, but rather grow their critical awareness and appreciation for other disciplines’ native practices. The teaching team will model learning and thinking processes and make explicit what guides their own approach to an item of study, facilitating critical comparison. By observing how different disciplines work with common artefacts to pursue different interests, students will reflect collectively on the relationship between research questions, the selection of appropriate methods, and objects for study. This experience should feed into subsequent research design including dissertation planning, enabling them to frame effective research questions and articulate their own methodological choices clearly. A session held in Special Collections will introduce students to some of Sheffield’s unique holdings, as well as giving them confidence to access such resources.

The module’s assessment tasks introduce skills of direct value for those pursuing an academic career and in other kinds of employment. For example, a book review exercise requires students to think about the gap between reviewed author(s) and audience(s), providing a stepping stone for those who wish to review books for publication in academic journals and for professional writing more broadly. (Students will also have the opportunity to publish their reviews, post-assessment, as part of a review series here on the SCEMS website.)

The module, together with The City in Literature (also new in 2017/18), opens the way for new and renewed Early Modern Pathways across the Faculty. Designed by the Sheffield Centre for Early Modern Studies with support from the Faculty of Arts & Humanities Learning & Teaching Fund, the module will also reward participation in early modern activities on and off campus. Postgraduate researchers can also opt into the module as part of their personalised Doctoral Development Portfolio.


Ceiling and wall paintings with human figures, from Bolsover Castle
Detail from a painted ceiling, Bolsover Castle by Tony Grist. Public Domain.