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A Sestina for the Huntington

In this latest Guest Blog, Thomas Tyrrell talks about his experience of the AHRC International Placement Scheme, and ultimately, his “Sestina for the Huntington”.

On my first day at the Huntington Library, Los Angeles, I was allocated a shelf for my books beneath a bust of Lord Byron. Madly jet-lagged but wide-eyed and vibrating on American coffee, I was here on the AHRC international placement scheme, which gives British PhD students the chance to travel abroad and access collections they couldn’t reach on their own budgets.

A bust of George Gordon, Lord Byron, from the Ahrmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Centre - Photo Credit Thomas Tyrrell

A bust of George Gordon, Lord Byron, from the Ahrmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Centre – Photo Credit Thomas Tyrrell

After a previous fellowship at the Chawton House Library, Hampshire, I had thanked my hosts with a country house poem. Suitably inspired by Byron, I set myself the challenge of writing a poem for the Huntington. To make things difficult for myself, I chose a sestina, an unusually difficult poetic form where the same six words are repeated in new orders in every verse. That meant that these six words had to be important—they had to embody my experience. These are the six I chose.

Library. Understandably, this was where I spent most of my time. Henry Huntington, one of the richest millionaires of the Gatsby age, had inherited a railroad fortune and built a property fortune on top of it. Much of this cash had been splashed in buying up wholesale the libraries of impecunious English aristocrats, or of other book collectors. I largely spent my time on early atlases and eighteenth-century poetry, but treasures of the library included Gutenberg bibles, first editions of William Blake and a beautifully illuminated Chaucer manuscript.

The Rothenberg Reading Room in the Huntington Library. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

The Rothenberg Reading Room in the Huntington Library. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Garden. The greatest attraction for the Huntington’s ordinary visitors, however, were the acres of botanical gardens, which showcased a vast variety of flora and landscaping techniques, from the stillness of the Chinese and Japanese gardens to the baroque labyrinth of the cacti garden. It was more than possible to go for a quick stroll after lunch and lose yourself for the rest of the afternoon.

A bridge in the Japanese garden at the Huntingdon Library. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

A bridge in the Japanese garden at the Huntington Library. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Art. Among the various galleries of American and European art in the Huntington grounds, one could find a William Morris stained glass window, a painting by Edward Hopper that used to hang (in reproduction) above the fireplace at my parents house and even a bust of John Milton, the key author of my thesis. When I was stuck, I used to go and gaze into his eyes for insight. He had a remarkably sympathetic expression.

Mountains. Waking up in a brand new place, the peak of Mount Wilson to the north made a great impression on me. They were a constant presence through the trip, towering above the parking lots of the Huntington, a reminder of the greater wilderness in tension with the immense urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

Window. American air-conditioning took some getting used to, but I was grateful for it when the temperature hit thirty degrees in February. As I looked out over the sun-baked gardens from the cool, climate-controlled archive spaces, it felt like looking into another world, and I tried to build that sense of slightly uncanny transition into the poem.

Move. I needed a verb to effect a transition between these elements, and stop the poem from falling into an elegant stasis. Something as simple as possible—I considered ‘walk’, ‘pass’, and ‘go’, but I found ‘move’ to be the most adaptable to my purpose.

The Munger Research Centre, where I conducted my research. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

The Munger Research Centre, where I conducted my research. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Then I sat down and wrote.

Huntington Library Sestina by Thomas Tyrrell

The city sprawls out shoreward from the mountains,
Grids grafted to the plain by strength of art:
The craftsman’s skill that makes and frames the window,
With the persistence that sustains the garden
In times of drought; the eloquence to move
A people with the vision of a library.

It’s cool and still and silent in the library,
Where books inform me of the distant mountains:
How hawks and lizards and coyote move
Over a wilderness no human art
Can tame into a farmstead or a garden.
Beneath my eye the page becomes a window.

The world is beckoning beyond the window.
So from the studious pleasures of the library
I go to seek out nature in the garden.
Sheltered in the wind-shadow of the mountains,
The shoots sprout strongly, methodised by art
Which guides their courses as they grow and move.

When down the garden’s winding paths I move
I see far-distant lands as through a window,
The world’s arboreal and floral art
Arranged to form a vast botanic library.
Raked gravel and old stones encompass mountains
And oceans in the stillness of the garden.

The noon-day sun beats down upon the garden
And sweat rolls down my forehead as I move.
Against the cloudless blue horizon, mountains
Stand stark as cut-outs. Wishing for a window
On cooler air, too restless for the library
I go to walk the galleries of art.

The mind and hand combine in making art,
More than in writing books or tending garden.
There’s nothing that could tell me in the library
Quite how a pigment-loaded brush can move
Over an empty canvas, now a window
On men and women, palaces and mountains.

Here is great art with power to awe and move,
A library with all the world its window,
A garden in the shelter of the mountains.

(c) Thomas Tyrell

Thomas Tyrrell gazing at a bust in the Huntingdon Art Gallery - Photo Credit Thomas' Mum

Thomas Tyrrell gazing at a bust in the Huntington Art Gallery – Photo Credit, Kathryn Tyrrell


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A Flurry of AHRC International Opportunities

International Placement Scheme (IPS)

The IPS call is open – as well as continuing with opportunities to visit some fantastic organisations in the USA and Japan, this year we have an exciting new host – the Shanghai Theatre Academy. The IPS scheme enables doctoral students, doctoral level researchers and Early Career Researchers to undertake a fellowship of 2-6 months. More information is available on the AHRC website and the deadline is 15th January 2015.

If you want to know what being a IPS fellow is like, we have several blog posts from previous award holders about their experiences, just click on the International Placement Scheme Tag to read more . We are always open to new suggestions of hosts, if you have a suggestion of somewhere that should be a part of this scheme, please do comment. One our current hosts, Harry Ransom center was previously suggested via a comment so it can work!

Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urbanisation Workshop in India

The AHRC, Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) and the British Library are organising a workshop on ‘Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urbanisation in India’. Funding is available for 20 UK based researchers to attend. Expression of Interest must be submitted by 4pm 30th January 2015. For more information please see the AHRC website.

International Co-Investigator continues

The AHRC pilot for International Co-investigator (Co-I) has been extended until 31st December 2016. We are very pleased with how this is progressing and have extended this to allow us to fully review all aspects of international Co-I on a grant through both application and award. International Co-Investigators are eligible on research grants, research networking and follow on fund applications (other schemes may also allow this but this is decided on a case by case basis so please consult call guidance).

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Researching Heifetz at the Library of Congress

In this guest blog, Dr Dario Sarlo explains how the chance to work with unique archival material at the Library of Congress provided him with opportunities for international research collaborations and to share his research worldwide.

It all started back in 2006 with a letter from the AHRC – well, a rather bulky packet, actually. I had won an AHRC doctoral award at Goldsmiths, University of London to support my research into the legacy of the violinist Jascha Heifetz. When I accepted my doctoral award, I had no idea just how it would shape my career.

Heifetz 1A year into my PhD, I won another AHRC competition. This time, for a 6-month International Placement Scheme (IPS) Fellowship to study the archives of the Jascha Heifetz Collection at the Library of Congress’ John W. Kluge Centre. I had always hoped to spend time in this extraordinary institution,so the IPS Fellowship was a perfect opportunity. During my IPS Fellowship I examined tens of thousands of archival items, and the work I did became the basis of my thesis, which I completed in 2011.

I made many useful and rewarding international connections whilst in the USA, resulting in two exciting side projects: I co-edited a translation of a 600-page Heifetz biography by the Russian author Galina Kopytova, which was published by Indiana University Press in 2013 (Jascha Heifetz: Early Years in Russia): I also provided extensive research for a New York film producer’s documentary Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler.

Although I achieved everything I set out to on my AHRC IPS Fellowship, there was still a great deal of research I wanted to carry out at the Library on Congress, so after I received my doctorate, I applied for one of the Kluge Center’s own Postdoctoral Fellowships. I am the first AHRC IPS Fellow to return with this award and I am sure that my experience as an AHRC IPS Fellow was a factor in me winning the Kluge Centre Fellowship.

During my 2013-14 Kluge Centre Fellowship, I have returned to the Library of Congress’ archives to complete a monograph based on my doctoral research: The Performance Style of Jascha Heifetz will be published by Ashgate in 2015.Image

Last month, as part of my Kluge Centre Fellowship, I organised and participated in an international panel discussion on Heifetz. I was joined at the event, which took place here at the Library of Congress, by two distinguished guests: Ayke Agus from Los Angeles (author of Heifetz as I Knew Him, 2001) and Arthur Vered from London (author of Jascha Heifetz, 1986). Rare Heifetz materials I have been researching here were exhibited to the public. The whole event was filmed and will be webcast by the Library of Congress – an incredible platform from which to share my research with an international audience.

None of this could have happened without the AHRC and the IPS award! The opportunities that the International Placement Scheme offered are still impacting on my career 7 years later.

Dario Sarlo

www.dariosarlo.com @DarioSarlo

The 2014/15 AHRC IPS Library of Congress Fellows will be announced in July 2014. More information on the AHRC International Placement Scheme and its host institutions can be found on the AHRC website.


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Notes from the Huntington Library, California

headshotJoan Redmond is a History PhD student from Dublin, studying seventeenth-century Irish history at University of Cambridge. From July to October 2013, Joan was researching at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, as part of the AHRC International Placement Scheme.

While I was packing up my College room and getting ready for a four month research trip to California, the question I was asked most often was, ‘Why are you going to California for research?!’. Yes, Los Angeles may seem like an odd destination for a student of seventeenth century Ireland and its religious changes, but I was bound for the Huntington Library, a semi-hidden treasure of rare books and manuscripts, located in the rarefied surroundings of San Marino, a prosperous city just north of LA in the San Gabriel Valley.

My research focuses on the period 1641-1660 in Ireland. It was a time of great rebellion, religious division and civil war across Ireland, England and Scotland. Pretty exciting stuff for a historian, right? And from July, I was bringing my warring Irish subjects to southern California, and to the Huntington.

Japanese_GardenThe Huntington actually consists not just of the library, but of an extensive art collection and acres of beautiful, themed gardens: thus there is the famous Japanese Garden, the strange and creepy Desert Garden, and the multitudinous varieties of roses in the Rose Garden (my particular favourites being the Anne Boleyn, Dolly Parton, and of course the St Patrick roses). The Huntington provides a unique environment for scholars, ranging from the compulsory 11.45-1pm lunch break, to free coffee and biscuits on Tuesday afternoons.

Huntington_LibraryThe Huntington was founded when railway tycoon Henry E. Huntington decided to build a winter house for himself and his wife Arabella in sunny California; after their deaths, the house and gardens were left in trust, as well as the extensive rare book and manuscript collections that Henry had gathered across his lifetime, and Arabella’s art collection. Together, these form the academic paradise that is the Huntington, one visited by thousands of tourists every year, but also catering for several hundred Readers, there to consult the scholarly materials, and top up their Vitamin D.

1641_rebellionThe major collection for my work was the Hastings Irish Papers, a vast collection spanning from the late sixteenth into the eighteenth century. These papers are a treasure trove of information about seventeenth-century Ireland, with glimpses into everyday life and high politics. Personal highlights included a disputed marriage case involving a recently widowed, conveniently wealthy woman, in which one of the chief witnesses was a little boy ‘hiding in the chimney-piece’; what happened subsequently we unfortunately do not know, as a response to the letter describing this case does not survive.

Grand_CanyonMy four months at the Huntington also provided ample opportunity to experience American life, and to partake of that great US tradition, the roadtrip. I attended two baseball games, one on each coast, and now have my loyalties divided between the LA Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. Los Angeles and southern California is also home to a huge diversity of cuisines, with Mexican and all varieties of Asian being especially well represented; I consider it a particular achievement that I did not come home about 10 stones heavier! I saw the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite, and San Francisco, all fantastic in their own way, and each contributing to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Dodger_StadiumDespite the impression of non-stop fun and holidays, I can assure you (and my supervisor!) that there was also work done: the documents I found and the information gathered have provided some critical context for my PhD. I am very grateful to the AHRC for the opportunity to go to the Huntington, and to everyone who looked after me while I was there. It has been an incredible experience on many different fronts, and one I will genuinely never forget.

The AHRC’s annual International Placement Scheme (IPS) provides funded research fellowships of up to 6 months at world-leading international research institutions such as The Huntington Library, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. Applications for IPS fellowships are invited until 15th January 2014.

Talk to current IPS fellows and AHRC staff in a Twitter chat from 2-3pm on Wed 11th December @ahrcpress, #AHRCchat.


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World class new hosts for AHRC’s International Placement Scheme

The AHRC is delighted to announce that Yale Center for British Art and the Harry Ransom Centre are joining the AHRC International Placement Scheme (IPS).

Home to the largest collection of British art outside the UK, Yale Center for British Art is an exceptional resource for understanding the story of British art, culture and life. Collections include 2,000 paintings and 200 sculptures from the medieval to the contemporary; 20,000 drawings and watercolors and 30,000 prints; 35,000 rare books and manuscripts; a reference library and archives with over 30,000 volumes; and two conservation studios. Works include masterpieces by Stubbs, Gainsborough, and Turner, as well as major artists who lived and worked in Britain.

Specialising in literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts, the Harry Ransom Center’s extensive collections include 42 million manuscripts; nearly one million rare books; 5 million photographs – including the first ever photograph; and 100,000 works of art. It holds one of the world’s strongest collections of 20th and 21st century British and American literature; as well as the holdings of key cultural figures – from The Magnum Photos Collection to Robert De Niro’s archive.

The AHRC IPS provides UK PhD students and early career researchers with funded research fellowships of up to six months at world-leading overseas research institutions. IPS fellows receive a travel and living stipend and enjoy dedicated access to their host’s exceptional collections, facilities and staff expertise, as well as opportunities to network and present their work to peers.

Also joining the IPS this year is The Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, and nine research facilities. 

Visit the AHRC website to find out more.


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International Placement Scheme – Events

We have showcased the International Placement Scheme (IPS) on the blog previously. It’s a great opportunity for AHRC funded PhD Students, Research Assistants or Early Career Researchers to spend some time at specified organisations in the USA, Japan and India.

The AHRC are running 3 ‘showcase’ events aimed at potential applicants so you can find out more about how to apply and hear from alumni about their experiences. The dates and locations are:

  • Friday 2nd November – University of Leeds;  
  • Thursday 15th November – University of Birmingham;  
  • Friday 16th November – University of Westminster.

More information, including how to register to attend is available on the AHRC website.


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International Placement Scheme – awards announced

The AHRC run an International Placement Scheme  for AHRC-funded PhD students and early career researchers to spend time at an overseas organisation with dedicated access to their world-class research facilities, expertise and networking opportunities.

Successful Library of Congress Award Holders from Univesity of Lincoln (© University of Lincoln)

 We’ve just announced the awarded placements from the last call – 65 in total, going to one of four hosts:

  •  Library of Congress – USA
  •  National Institutes for the Humanities  (NIHU) – Japan
  •  Huntington Library – USA
  •  SARAI-CSDS  – India

Andrew and Adam, as featured in the post photo are two University of Lincoln students who are about to head off to the Library of Congress for their research on popular attitudes and comics during the second world war. The funding for the next round of the scheme isn’t confirmed yet, but we are hoping to run it in a similar way.  Please note the timetable may be brought forward  so expect an announcement later in the autumn. If you’re an early career researcher, it’s well-worth considering applying as this scheme is open to more than just PhD students: previous award holders are extremely positive about the value these awards have on their research. You can hear one of them speak here.

 We are always looking for ways to expand the scheme:  if you have any ideas of other places which might make great future hosts please let us know (either post in comments or contact Pippa Craggs – see ‘about’ link above).  Note that these partnerships require a level of support from the host institution and can take a while for the AHRC to set up.