Colleen Curran \'11

I first visited Rome in 2004 with a group of high school students on a cultural exchange trip. When we arrived at the Trevi Fountain, my tour guide informed us that it’s a tradition to throw in a coin, which guarantees that you’ll see Rome again. If you throw in two, you’ll supposedly meet the love of your life in Rome, and if you throw in three, you’ll live in Rome for forever. Being the Classics nerd that I am, I wasn’t taking any chances that day, and I threw in about fifteen.

The coins seem to have worked so far; I returned to Rome with my sister in 2010 shortly before I returned to Holy Cross for my senior year.

That trip was filled mostly with me running around Rome and dragging my sister to all of the awesome nerdy sites. No worries; Caitie survived, but I don’t think she’ll travel with me in the near future.

I’m happy to report that the coins seem to still be working. Last week, I found out that I received a grant from both the Vatican and Bodleian Libraries to spend a week in the Vatican Library. I’ll be working with two manuscripts that factor into the matrix of my current research interest, Junius 11. I’ll be leaving at the end of September, which unfortunately means that I’ll have to miss Holy Cross’ Homecoming. But, hey – a week with my manuscripts in Rome? I think I can handle it. I’m really excited about this opportunity, since this is essentially a gateway grant to further grants at other libraries. And, who knows? Maybe I’ll discover something particularly rare in the dusty archives.

All I can say is maybe I should’ve thrown in thirty coins or so.

Yes, this is where I’ll be working. I might not come back…

If you’ve read this blog at all, you should know one thing: I love Holy Cross. It really was the place where I learned so much in such a short amount of time. Although I had attended Catholic school since kindergarten, I learned so much more about my faith – both dogmatically and personally – than I ever have at any other institution, or indeed time in my life.

If there was one person who really embodied all of the reasons why I love Holy Cross so much, it was Fr. Brooks. I didn’t meet Fr. Brooks until the first semester of my senior year, when I took his Contemporary Christology course. The Christology course is something of a tradition at Holy Cross. In a way, it almost is a tutorial. Every student in the class selects one theologian to study and, inevitably, present and argue in the style of at the end of the year before a panel of Jesuits. In the regular class meetings, Fr. Brooks would expound upon key critical questions in Christology, and then let us go away and read to balance the arguments he presented in class with those of our theologians.

Every Tuesday morning, Fr. Brooks’ passion for the subject material and how his students were absorbing and processing it was so clearly evident. If any of us had a particular question, Fr. Brooks would immediately direct us to another book or article. He encouraged and fostered debate, and, most importantly, he challenged us to wrangle with the questions he presented in class for ourselves. Answering a question how Rahner might answer it, for instance, was fine, but Fr. Brooks would always prod back, ‘But what do you think?’

Unfortunately, Fr. Brooks passed away yesterday afternoon. His passing is extremely sad for all of Holy Cross since he truly embodied what it meant to be a Crusader – intelligent, faithful, and embracing. His vision for Holy Cross forever impacted and changed the school, and it’s due to his insight that Holy Cross became one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation. I could go on about his achievements for the college, but I’m sure that those will be listed in far better detail elsewhere. All I can say is that as a student, Fr. Brooks’ vision and insight forever changed me as a person and Catholic, for which I am eternally grateful.

When I was at Holy Cross in September, Fr. Brooks was gracious enough to take time out of his schedule to speak with me (again displaying how his students – past or present – always came first). In the course of the conversation, we talked about my plans for Oxford, how he wanted to visit the city again, and what his plans for this school year were. We talked about the past year’s Christology course and what I had learned from it. He closed with his now infamous line, “Keep Reading.” Thanks, Fr. Brooks. I intend to.

“Father, I thank you, I thank God you were born, I thank God you became a priest and that you came to Holy Cross. I know I speak for many, when I say that had there been no Father Brooks we would not be where we are. I certainly wouldn’t. You are a sine qua non in my life. I know that I am the better for you having lived. You were paternal but never paternalistic. You saw each of us as a person not a project. You wanted the fullness of humanity for all of us, our thoughts, our mistakes, our triumphs, our redemption. You loved us. God bless you, Father, for your wonderful, wonderful life.” – Justice Clarence Thomas

So, technically, I am a Master of English (MSt). Since I’m in the two year MPhil program, however, I still have another year to go. But I could technically leave Oxford now as an MSt, which is a beyond frightening thought for the rest of academia.

With all of the infinite wisdom that I have gained from my first year in graduate school, I surely must be more informed and knowledgable about my subject. Well, in a way, that’s certainly the case. But you know Socrates’ infamous quote, ‘I realize now that I know nothing’? Yes. That’s how I feel a bit. What’s great about my program is that all sixteen of the students approached the general strand of 650-1500 with such different ideas and expectations. As you all know, I’m all about the manuscripts, and the earlier, the better. But I encountered people who were more focused on dialect, sociological factors, and unique literary instances. I met some classmates who declared that they hated working with manuscripts (which is anathema to me), and others who thought that Middle English was enough of a foreign language and French was more important than Old English. The different perspectives with which all of my classmates have challenged me to approach the same material has been so rewarding.

Here’s the other thing about graduate school. In undergraduate, I feel that professors are looking more for effort. Did you come up with an original research topic? Did you make valid, intelligent points? Can you back up your claims with research? Wonderful. I won’t lie – I wrote a paper or two (or three…) the night before they were due, and I got A’s. My argument was always clear and they were ‘good’ papers, don’t get me wrong. But, in essence, they were just foundation papers. And here’s where graduate school is different – effort is great. But it is not going to get you the highest mark. I find that graduate school looks more for publication possibility. Every last stone has to be turned, and every idea has to be cooked through and completely syncretized. Now, this is not a bad thing at all. I’ve suffered from perhaps not developing my ideas enough in my undergraduate career, and my graduate career is really ironing those kinks out of me. Every sentence, phrase, and word matters. It’s like applying literary theory to your own essays, which is quite the surreal experience. My undergraduate career prepared me wonderfully to think about a myriad of topics in a very wide range, and now my graduate career requires me to look deeper into more specific issues, and how to engage with prior research – how is what I’m doing novel or important to my field? – and potentially challenge previously held notions regarding what I study. Overall, it’s been a completely whirlwind of an academic year. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever learned this much in a mere nine months. I think the highlight of my academic year here has been accessing a manuscript at a college here, transcribing and translating the text, and then writing an argument about that same text and how the codicological aspects factor into the presentation and interpretation of that same text. Talk about a head to toe treatment. But this is what I want to do, and this immediate contact with manuscripts really fuels my passion for the period and, as cheesy as it sounds, continues to inspire me about my research on a daily basis. To be able to hold and analyze the very same book that someone wrote and read nearly 1,000 years ago is just a stunning experience.  Being able to then interpet that same text within a modern setting is just even more stunning.

If anything, this year – despite the sleepless nights, the insane reading lists, and the endless cups of tea – has reasserted the fact that this is my passion, and that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I realize how lucky I am that I can be so young and just know that this is sincerely what I want to do. I mean, maybe I’ll have a midlife crisis at the age of 27 and realize that affording groceries would be nice. But, at the moment, I’m incredibly happy with what I do, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s academic experiences bring.

On June 11th, I technically became a Master of English.

Yeah, that’s a scary thought.

I turned in my dissertation on the images in Junius 11 earlier in the morning, and…well, now I’m finished for the year. It seems strange – I’ve spent nearly every day since mid-April working on the thesis, and suddenly….it’s just finished. There’s still so much more that I want to write about the Junius manuscript, but I was only allowed to write 11,000 words. I presented my dissertation two days later at a conference at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Although traveling to Scotland was a bit of an adventure, the conference itself went really well. I presented at the Scottish Word and Image Group conference, and I was the only Old English presentation. Most of the other presentations focused on the sixteenth century and beyond, so it was helpful to learn how I needed to adapt my material for a non-specialist audience.

So, now that I’ve technically finished for the year, I’m taking advantage of all of the libraries in Oxford and catching up on some reading. I’m working through a few classics at the moment, and I’ll start researching my dissertation topics for next year (if you can believe it…). Until then, I’m working to save up some money for my trip back to Boston starting on July 17th. And, yes, you can bet that I will be meeting up with more than a few Crusaders.

May 27, 2011. When I first arrived at Holy Cross on August 24, 2007, that date seemed so far away. In my mind, graduation would never arrive – four years seemed like an eternity at that time, and leaving the idyllic gates didn’t seem possible. Now it’s May 27, 2012, and I’ve been an alumna for a year. All of it seems a bit unreal. It seems like it couldn’t have been a year ago when I walked down to Fitton Field in my graduation gear, when I walked across the stage, when I said good-bye to friends and Holy Cross. Okay, I might be being a bit dramatic, but it really doesn’t seem real.

Graduation itself was a wonderful day – to be able to celebrate all of our four years with friends and family was an incredible experience. The day itself was nostalgic and anxious – we were all excited about what the future held for us all (and still does hold), but we were all worried about leaving Holy Cross, saying goodbye to the friends and professors that we met, not living in such close proximity to such wonderful people, trying to find jobs, and learning how to live on our own (I am still working on the last one). We knew that there would be no more Sunday brunches with Kimball waffles, Thursday nights at Blackstone Tap, or daily emails from every single department about the events that they were putting on that day. I remember walking around Holy Cross the night before Graduation and just thinking, ‘This can’t be over.’

Although we were all anxious about leaving the immediate Holy Cross community, I think we’ve all learned something in just a year after our graduation. The alumni network is, perhaps, even stronger than the community that we knew at Holy Cross. Yes, our time at Holy Cross is over – it has been for a while. But the experience is still growing. Walking across that stage was merely a step. Looking back through all of my photos from Holy Cross (well over five thousand, and I’m not exaggerating), I can associate at least one funny story with every single photo. The time that we stole trays from Kimball and went sledding. The time that Mass wasn’t set up at all so Jordie and I had to shout out the readings so people could hear us. The time that we painted ourselves purple for Homecoming against Harvard. The time that we slept outside right before graduation. The time that we took the midnight train back from Boston because we couldn’t remember what time the bus back to Holy Cross came. I sit here now just thankful for all of the memories that I have from Holy Cross and the wonderful people that I met along the way. My freshman year roommate and several of the girls that I met on my first Kimball shift are my best friends. I still keep in touch and use my professors as resources, including the late Prof. Murphy’s book on Apocalypticism. One of the main reasons why I’m in Oxford today is because of the Study Abroad department at Holy Cross. Every day is a constant reminder of how my experience at Holy Cross shaped me into who I am today.

Logging into Facebook brought back so many of those anxious memories, since that’s the day that the Class of 2012 graduated. I remember being at the Mass of the Holy Spirit for the Class of 2012; their graduation (and still mine) seemed so far away. So, to the Class of 2012: after being an alumna for a year, I can tell you that you will miss the Hill. There will be times that you want to go back and re-live all of your four years. You’ll miss your friends living so close to you, Sis saying your name when she swipes you in at Kimball, and, yes, all of those daily emails. But, in my experience, you’re truly never far from a Crusader or reliving your Crusader memories. Congratulations to you all, and good luck with your future endeavors.

When I moved to England in September, I shocked and awed a little British school boy when he heard my accent. ‘Did you hear that?’ he asked one of his friends. ‘Her accent was American!’ It’s still one of my favorite living abroad moments. Well, since Thursday, there’s been one more American accent in Oxford. Mom is currently visiting me through the beginning of next week (and the weather is perfect. Not.). We’ve already had quite the action-packed schedule. One of my medievalist friends, Hannah, took all of the medievalists to formal hall at her college, Worcester, and Mom was able to tag along for her first formal dinner, complete with a roast pork belly with ginger and rhubarb compote.

Over the weekend, Mom attended both of my ballroom competitions. Yes, that’s right – I had one competition on Saturday and one on  Sunday. Needless to say, I never want to put gel in my hair again. The competition on Sunday was the 39th Varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge. Essentially, you have two teams of nine couples from both universities each, who will dance waltz, quickstep, cha, and jive against each other in a succession of three heats per dance. Dean and I danced on the B-Team.

Dean and I were somewhat nervous about our events since we just learned our waltz and advanced quickstep routine about two weeks before. That’s an incredibly limited amount of time to get the steps down, make sure that we’re dancing it properly, and adjust it to floor sizes. We were happy with how we danced our ballroom overall, but, as usual, our Latin felt stronger.

Photo Copyright Nathalie Raunet

One of the more embarrassing moments of the day (come on, it’s me) came with our Latin walk on. Dean and I learned the choreography the night before the Match (whoops), and he kept on asking me if I felt comfortable with the choreo. ‘Of course!’ I replied enthusiastically.

As you can tell from the second photo, I failed. Wrong leg. Whoops. According to Dean, I might’ve danced it wrong, but at least I danced with conviction. The rest of the audience will never know if my version was correct or not. Well. Wait. No, they know that it wasn’t correct. But hey. Points for effort?

Unfortunately, Oxford lost both the A and B Team Matches to Cambridge.

We all look pretty defeated. But check out my tan.

A-Team lost by 10 points, and B-Team lost by 200 points. It was heart-wrenching. At the end of the presentations, the coaches then gave out awards for the Best Latin, Ballroom, Overall, and Newcomer couples from both universities. I’ll spare you the details, but Dean and I won the best Latin and Newcomer couple for the B-Team (it was announced today after a minor glitch in the results from Saturday). Dean and I were really pleased with that result, and we also came 5th overall in the entire B-Team match. So, our ballroom didn’t bring us down too much (one judge even marked our Quickstep as second place!), which was really encouraging.

My friends then attended the Varsity Ball, but Dean and I had to sleep since we had to be up at 5:30 the next morning to attend our second competition of the weekend. We attended the ISTD Regional Qualifiers in Hove, which is where I won two years ago (it’s all cooooooming back to me noooooooow). I’ve moved up a few levels now, and I was more focused on just qualifying, which I did in both my ballroom and Latin. So, I will be competing at the ISTD Nationals in Blackpool in November again.

Latin Line-Up

I also placed 5th in my Waltz pairs and 3rd in my Cha pairs with Dean. I had a bit of a bumble moment (as usual) for the Latin pairs. I really had to use the bathroom before our final, and I thought that I had enough time. As I was washing my hands, I heard ‘Calling 248 to the floor…calling 248 to the floor’. Yes. 248 was my number. I ran down the stairs, met Mom halfway, who exclaimed ‘YOU’RE ON’. ‘I KNOW’. As soon as my feet hit the stage, though, I just sauntered up to Dean and the music started playing as if nothing had happened. But wait. It gets better. Upon receiving my third place trophy, the presenter and I had a bit of a bumble moment, and somehow the trophy was dropped in the exchange. Usually, these trophies are just harder plastic, so they normally don’t break. Nope. This one did. It broke right into two pieces. The entire room was silent for a good five seconds and then just erupted into laughter. Well, I will never be late for a final again.

Currently, Mom and I are exploring Oxford for a bit. We are headed into London tomorrow to celebrate Mothers’ Day, and then we are off to Cambridge for my first conference on Thursday and Friday.

If you haven’t seen this video, you should check it out. It highlights some of the most beloved places on campus with the Crusader mascot dancing with dancing volunteers. It also features my Magis Chaplain, Paul Melley, at 0:46 and the Ballroom Dance Team. But that’s just a side note.

Watching the video and reading all of the Twitter updates from this weekend’s Accepted Student Day brought me back to my own Accepted Student Day back in April of 2007 (I know; I’m such an old fart). At the time, I was still deciding between colleges, and I wasn’t sure if Holy Cross was the place for me yet. I remember when my mom picked me up after spending the weekend at Holy Cross, where I experienced classes, Mass, and the infamous Chicken Parm at Kimball (fun fact: Since it was such terrible weather, I also witnessed the little river that occurs on the side steps of Dinand whenever it pours. Check it out sometime). Mom asked me how my weekend was, and I just responded, ‘Can we send in my deposit now?’ By the Tuesday of that week, I was officially a Crusader of the Class of 2011, and I was absolutely smitten with the College. At that time, I couldn’t fathom being finished with Holy Cross. And yet, here I am, sitting at my laptop in Oxford and taking a break from my dissertation and grant applications. 5 years ago, I was that high school senior who got lost on campus and thought that Holy Cross was so enormous (my friends who went to UGA and Alabama laugh at me when I tell them that). Time really does fly, doesn’t it?

Now, nearly every day, my friends from the Class of 2012 will let me know how they’re feeling about graduating in a mere month. I can’t believe that I was preparing to graduate nearly a year ago. It just seems unreal. Like I was feeling, my friends are sad to leave Holy Cross since it is such a wonderful place. All of them have remarked on the same idea – four years really goes by far too quickly.

I could sit here and wax poetic about why I personally love Holy Cross. But, frankly, if you’ve ever read this blog, I think that’s fairly self explanatory. I love Holy Cross (perhaps obsessed is the best word). I love everything that the College gave to me in my four years there, and continues to give me right now. The friends I made, the professors I met, the life changing experiences that I had on the Hill – everything just adds up to the many reasons why I love Holy Cross.

So, to the Accepted Class of 2016 (I think I just gained a wrinkle after writing that) – enjoy it all. Enjoy the late nights that you spend writing papers; go to all of the sport events that you can. Listen to the Jesuits’ homilies, and go to Culpeppers’ with your friends as many times as possible (once again, Culpeppers has no idea who I am and they do not pay me to advertise. I am just a huge fan). Claim your study spot in Dinand. Find a place on campus and take a photo of that exact spot every single year. You’ll be amazed at how much you grow and change within just four years. For example…

2007

2011

So, take the advice that Dean Freeman gave to my class when we celebrated our commencement – Savor everything as if college were a meal. I wish you all the best of luck.

I just returned from my research field trip to Vercelli, Italy. Vercelli is in the north, situated between Milan and Turin. Along with some of my classmates, I was working in the Archives at the Cathedral in Vercelli, which has quite an array of manuscripts. The primary reason why Vercelli is so important to Old English people like me is because one of the four Old English poetical manuscripts is in Vercelli. We’re not exactly sure how it ended up there, but Vercelli was one of the first major points on the Via Francigena after the Alps, and we have records of many British pilgrims being in Vercelli. The Vercelli Book is an odd assortment of poetry and homilies; it’s our only source of poetry such as ‘The Dream of the Rood’, ‘Andreas’, and ‘The Fates of the Apostles’. And yes, I got to work with it.

To be able to work with ‘one of the four’ is quite rare and, indeed, an honor. Two of the four (Nowell/Beowulf Codex and the Exeter Book) are on display, and the last one (Junius 11) is not. In order to access those three, you essentially have to be a senior scholar, and even then you might not be able to see the manuscripts. But my group was very fortunate since our guiding professor from Gottingen, Germany, is working on digitizing the Vercelli Book. Since he was with us at all times, we were able to access the Vercelli Book. It was incredible.

We were also able to access the other manuscripts in the Archive. The Archive contains primarily Latin manuscripts, and I was working with several homilies. The Archive contains a 1600 year old (yes, you read that properly) version of St. Eseubius’ Gospels, a copy of the Lombardic Law book (extremely rare), the ‘Green Gregory’, and other incredible books. I was lucky enough to work with several books that factor into my personal research, and I hope to visit Vercelli again in the near future to aid my dissertation and DPhil proposals.

Of course, since we were in Italy, we all ate. A lot. Vercelli is known for its risotto dishes, specifically one made with sausage and lard called panissa. Oh. My. It was incredible. Between all of the manuscripts, gelato, risotto, pasta, pizza, and Negronis, I’m kind of surprised that I returned to England!

Since Blackpool, I have been holed up in the library every single day – either the English Faculty Library, the Sackler Classics Library, the Radcliffe Camera, or the Duke Humphery’s Library (it’s very easy to unlock the different levels of the ‘Bookworm Badge’ on Foursquare in Oxford). The past month has really been quite a blur. To quote my Paleography professor on March 5th, ‘This is the most difficult part of your course. If you survive, you will be fine.’ Reassuring words, I think? We had our Paleography exam on March 8th, in which we had three hours to discuss two out of three manuscript plates given to us. We had to correctly identify the hand, the date, and give articulate reasons as to our logic. You wouldn’t realize it, but the crossbar above a ‘t’ can tell you a whole lot about the date/tendency of a hand. After that, Margaret, HC ’11, and Carrie came to visit for the weekend.

Margaret is currently a first year law student at William and Mary. She was on her Spring Break, so she decided to take her parents up on her graduation gift of a ticket to England and re-live some of the highlights of our junior year abroad. Luckily, the weather cooperated, so we had a wonderful weekend exploring Magdalen College gardens, our favorite outdoor cafe, and the Eagle and Child.

Unfortunately, Margaret had to leave to return to Law School, and Carrie has a job. Psh. And…well, I had two essays to write. The first one was on the linguistic aspects of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, specifically how he refers to himself within various landscape settings. I was exploring the actual construction of the words and the metrical stability of the words. I turned in that essay on Monday, and then I had to turn around and write my Paleography essay. One of my friends (a DPhil Student), Zach, alerted me about a rather peculiar version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care. The work in of itself is not interesting, but it’s how people received it and responded to it that is. There are these curious Middle English glosses throughout the text, a book curse, a book price (rare), and several names. I was able to track down three out of the four names, but Mr. Anthony Diggison remains unfound at the moment. Why is all of this important? My personal research is beginning to look at book culture itself – how people received texts, what they did with them, how they passed them on, etc. Identifying three of the named owners of this text helped situation this manuscript in a different setting in a different range of years; each of these different owners did something different with it. My research ended up focusing primarily on the Middle English glosses, and I’m fairly confident that the book was a Latin primer used in a monastic setting. More research will have to be done, but that’s where the paper stood when I turned it in on Thursday.

The last event of this incredibly busy term happened on Sunday. I’ve had a total of five dance competitions over the past month and a half. That is a lot of hair gel and fake tan. It’s been an interesting five competitions as well; sometimes, the results were wonderful, and other times, the results were dreadful. With such an unstable range of dance results and my first free weekend after a very busy term, I was quite reluctant to attend the competition yesterday. Well, I’m glad I did, since Dean and I ended up winning. The wins came as a huge shock to the two of us – we haven’t really practiced since both of our exam sessions began earlier this month, and we didn’t expect to do well; we just went to have some fun. Apparently, that’s the attitude that we need to maintain from now on. We have another competition in late April, and then a major one against Cambridge in May.

Until then, though, I’m headed to Vercelli, Italy next week to research some Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. After that, I’ll be working non-stop on my dissertation, with the hope of finishing it in early May so I can enjoy the rest of a wonderful summer in Oxford. However, I’m taking a bit of a break…for now.

I am officially the most unnatural shade of orange that I have been in my entire life. But, the good news is that this month of dance competitions has finally concluded. I spent last weekend at Blackpool (it’s beginning to be my home away from home) for the 50th IVDC (essentially, the national university championships). It was such a fascinating experience – the organizers brought in the Empress Orchestra to play the music for our final team match rounds. Dancing to a live orchestra is always an honor, but dancing in the Winter Gardens to the Empress Orchestra? That’s a rare treat that only the world champions really get to enjoy.

Dean and I did well. We managed to dance the best that we’ve ever done in ballroom. We were a bit disappointed with the Latin results, but these things happen. We came 13th in both events – so now we’re asking the awful nagging questions like “If I had held my poise a bit more, would the judge have marked me? Would I have been through the next round if I smiled a bit more?” Overall, we can’t really complain about our performances. Oxford unfortunately lost the Overall title to Cambridge. We have our Varsity match against the Tabs in May where we will hopefully reclaim our rightful title.

Now that the dancing high has worn off, I’ve chained myself to my desk. I have a massive Paleography exam on Thursday and two essays due in two weeks. It’s going to be a busy two weeks… For the Paleography exam, I have to transcribe a given set of plates and correctly date them (within fifty years) and identify the script used. You never knew it, but the crossbar above a “t” tells you a whole lot about a manuscript’s date.

In very exciting news, I’ve been accepted to speak at my first conference. I will give my paper at COLSONOEL, which is a conference geared specifically toward topics relating to Old Norse, Old English, and Latin studies. The conference is going to be held at Cambridge in May. I’m rather excited about this next step in my academic career.

And now, I’m off to study more manuscripts!