Joanne Edge

Student spotlight details

Joanne Edge enrolled on our Foundation Certificate in History, has now completed a PhD, and is currently researching at Cambridge.

'The only way to psychologically cope with the idea of not getting an academic role at the end of the PhD was to treat it as a job, and not think too far ahead in the first two years or so. I have always been a very regulated worker, rarely working into the evening or at weekends, so that helped. By the time I got to my third year, I started thinking ahead and applied for fourth-year funding in the form of a Scouloudi Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research. I was very lucky to be awarded this fellowship, which gave me more time to finish my thesis.

'The hardest thing I had to do was grapple with some pretty hardcore philosophy concerning medieval number theory. At the same time I was trawling through manuscript catalogues - often not digitised - to look for manuscripts that might potentially contain the Sphere of Life and Death, looking at these manuscripts wherever they were housed (fortunately, mainly London, Cambridge and Oxford) and transcribing the accompanying texts. Ultimately, I had to spend a lot of time simply thinking about how best to present my findings. It became clear during the course of my research that trying to find a ‘rationale’ for divination wasn’t really the question I wanted to answer. Instead, I showed through manuscript context what sorts of people were using ‘Spheres’ (a clue: every stratum of literate society) and gave some thoughts on why.

'Right at the end of my PhD, in May 2014, I attended a workshop at the Wellcome Library where I was doing some part-time work and saw a presentation by The Casebooks Project, based at the University of Cambridge. The aim of the project was to produce a digitised edition of the medical-astrological casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier (1596-1634). They mentioned they would be hiring a postdoc in the next academic year and, as my research interests were so closely matched, I was lucky enough to get an interview and be offered the role. So I got the thesis done and started at Cambridge in October 2014 - though continued to live in London, working from home and going to Cambridge when necessary.

'Casebooks is just coming to an end after four years - the money runs out in June. We got all the transcriptions done, and are now doing all the last minute stuff that needs to happen before the last release can happen. I’m so proud of it - we’ve really been sailing in uncharted water with a lot of the digitisation and I really, really like everyone on the team. After Casebooks, the plan is to write the book of my thesis (with or without funding) and apply for further postdoctoral positions or whatever academic roles come up. A period of illness in 2016 led me to reassess my priorities and, now I am better, I’m just glad to be well again. Anything else is a bonus.

'It’s no exaggeration to say that without the opportunity to study part-time at Conted, and without Tom and Christine’s unfailing kindness and encouragement, I would not have gone on to study at Goldsmiths. I owe a lot to Conted and the fantastic teaching I received there: it is an absolutely crucial institution.'

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Joanne's first student spotlight:

Joanne Edge was looking for a bit of a challenge when she enrolled on our Foundation Certificate in History - and liked it so much that she's now working toward her PhD.

'I'd dropped out of a degree course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama after a year, and moved to Oxford to play in a band with a friend who lived there. I began working as an administrator in local government. After a few years I realised I wasn't being intellectually challenged, so I decided to study part-time to see if I was really suited to academia.

'I found out about the Foundation Certificate in History from a friend who had done it two years before me, and another who was doing the Foundation Certificate in English Literature, so I had first-hand accounts of how good courses at OUDCE were. I did some research and saw I could get a grant from the County Council to pay my fees. While I've three A levels, I didn't do History, which many degree courses in History would have required. Once I'd met Christine Jackson (who, with Tom Buchanan co-directs the programme) and had my interview with her, I was sure that it was the right subject for me to study, plus of course I could continue to work full time so I didn't have to make any major lifestyle changes.

'There was a great mix of people in our class - younger and older; working and not working; male and female; and from a range of different backgrounds and countries. This provided an excellent chance for interesting and varied discussions on historical topics. Tom and Christine were fantastic tutors and spent a lot of time helping us and giving us feedback. The most challenging part was finding the time to study around a full-time job: but as soon as I realised I wanted to carry on to do a degree, this gave me the motivation to study even when I didn't feel like it!

'At first I had no expectations: I just wanted to learn more. This changed in the second year, when my marks really began to improve and I realised that I wanted to go back to university and get my degree. The biggest surprise was how well I got on with everyone and how many firm friends I made with similar interests, I hadn't enrolled on the course in order to socialise. This social aspect was brilliant for discussing ideas over a drink, too!

'I wanted to move to London to live with my boyfriend, and Goldsmiths College very kindly said I didn't have to repeat my first year, as I'd done that part time at OUDCE. I went straight into the second year in September 2006 and found that being able to put so much time into my studies meant that my grades improved dramatically. By the third year I was sure I wanted to do the MA in Medieval Studies at UCL.'

'I obtained a First in my degree and then took a gap year to work and save for the MA, and then commenced the MA in September 2009. The MA was one of the hardest things I have ever done, especially as I had to work 20 hours a week to fund myself, but I obtained a High Distinction, averaging 77%. I am now in my first year of a PhD at Royal Holloway, supervised by Prof. Peregrine Horden, generously funded by the College's Reid scholarship.

'My PhD is on Onomancy - a form of divination which claims to reveal past, present or future events using the letters of an individual's given name. I'm looking at a specific kind of popular onomancy and it's use in the late Middle Ages (1100-1500) - the 'Spheres of Life and Death' - which claim to predict whether a sick person will live or die by performing simple arithmetic with the numbers correlating to the letters of the patient's name. This may sound superstitious, but I'm aiming to show that the 'rationale' behind the use of these devices actually conforms to mainstream medieval philosophy. I've just had great fun writing my first chapter on the medical context of the use of the 'Spheres', but it's early days yet...'

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