As the weather clears, and the days get longer and brighter, my spirits are lifted as I navigate through the streets of Oxford. The city is beautiful and pulsing with a young, intellectual vibe. There are many restaurants and theaters, and the University always has something going on. Pembroke College is located right in the center of the city and has a great student body. It is easy to make friends with the students here, as there are many opportunities to interact through Junior Common Room activities, bops and special events on campus, as well as the informal and formal dinners. With art shows, concerts, or guest speaker appearances scheduled every week, there is no shortage of intellectual stimulation.
This week I attended a cross-college workshop to discuss my research with undergraduate and graduate students and faculty from across the university who are interested in disability studies. It was heartening to see how interest in the subject of disabilities spanned across many areas such as law, policy, government, and medicine with concerns at local, national and international levels. We discussed and compared our research topics and their applications. Although disability studies is not yet a formal area of study at Oxford, I will not be surprised if it is added to the curriculum sometime in the future. The diversity of the student body at Oxford is wonderful and I am constantly surprised at the different cultures, and often languages, incorporated into the discussions here. Most students speak several languages fluently, and all speak English well.
This term, I feel fully immersed in the material I am studying and have become very comfortable with the tutorial system, which did take getting used to. The deadlines for reading and essays are pressured, however, you get used to accepting the assignments as personal challenges to prove your abilities. I have taken two history tutorials per term and have significantly broadened my historical focus. Last term, I read nineteenth century British history and eighteenth century disability history. This term, I am studying seventeenth century European history and changes in social attitudes towards disabilities during World War I. No matter what the subject, you quickly become immersed in the readings and the tutors’ expertise make every session exciting.
On weekends, I usually take an evening off from studying and go out to dinner at a pub or restaurant followed by a movie or a night at the theater. There are several live theaters in town and with the student discount, all are well worth it. I also have visited several of Oxford’s many museums, including the Ashmolean, which next month will be exhibiting Michelangelo’s drawings and the Pitt Rivers museum, which is an unusually overloaded artifact museum with genuine shrunken heads, capes from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands made of seal intestines, and a really cool collection of Japanese Noh masks. These are just a few of the many exotic items on display.
As the season begins to change, I often think of the famous poem Thyrsis, by Matthew Arnold who in 1866 noted:
This winter-eve is warm,
Humid the air; leafless, yet soft as spring,
The tender purple spray on copse and briers;
And that sweet City with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening,
Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night!