In my first blog post I thought I’d reflect upon the modules I took during my first semester on the Film Studies MA course. I took two modules: one is the compulsory core module which everyone on the course has to take, the other was a class run by the History department called Hollywood and the Second World War. In both instances, the class sizes are quite small (fewer than 10) and instead of a lecture followed by a seminar, as you might get as an undergraduate, the format tends to be a sort of lecture-seminar hybrid for 2 hours, with ample time for in-depth discussion.
The core module lasts for two semesters, the first semester focusing on space and the second semester on time. The first couple of weeks consisted of a whistle-stop history of film theory as well as all the key concepts necessary for film analysis. After this, each session was taught by a different lecturer and covered a topic (directly or loosely) relating to space, including spatial theory, marginality in cinema, set design and deconstructing the city. The great thing about the module is the variety; we’d be watching Code Unknown (2000) one week and Dredd (2012) the next. In the first essay, we could pick from the different topics covered and apply it to a film of our choice, so if a particular week sparked your interest you could spend more time exploring it in greater depth.
The Hollywood and the Second World War module looked at the impact of the war on the studio system while also covering some key approaches to film history and theory. Though you may expect from its title that we’d be watching lots of war films, the set viewing didn’t include any combat films, and many of the films didn’t even make direct reference to the war. In addition to classics like Casablanca (1942) and The Big Sleep (1945), we also watched a few titles which I was less familiar with, like Since You Went Away (1944) and Gaslight (1943). Each week we’d discuss the set film in the light of a different approach: star studies, genre, auteurism, reception studies, etc. I found the week on reception studies especially interesting as it involved reading responses to a Mass Observation survey from 1942-3 about people’s favourite movies from the past year. The general consensus was that the respondents didn’t like films about the war or anything they perceived as propaganda. Generally, the responses express a low opinion of contemporary filmmaking, with the exception of Fantasia and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (though one respondent didn’t like it, saying that ‘I don’t like colour and I can remember that the cinema was cold’). A few avoid movie-going altogether because they don’t want to catch flu at the ‘germ-exchange’.
When looking at universities to apply to, the course content was absolutely key in my decision making process. I looked at a lot of universities but I found that many of them were only offering traditional courses for English and didn’t study anything more modern than the eighteenth century. Many other courses had no option for choice, and you had to study prescribed texts and modules throughout the whole three year course.
I found a few universities with more modern course content, and also the option to pick modules (specific topics for teaching), and this, in combination with a number of other factors is why I picked Queen Mary. The way the English course works here is that in first year everyone studies the same modules, and second and third year is when you get to pick your own modules, with the option for more modern content.
Starting with first year, we all study ‘Shakespeare’, ‘Literatures in Time’ (Medieval texts) and ‘Reading Theory and Interpretation’ (reading books “through the lens” of theories such as Marxism and Feminism). We also study two other modules, for half a year each: ‘Poetry’ and ‘Narrative’ (reading books that demonstrate different elements of books). These modules cover most of the key elements that come into English studies later on and prepare us for the course.
When I saw the list of first year modules for the first time, I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed. I’d never got on well with Shakespeare at school and I’d only heard rumours of how ghastly Chaucer (for the Literatures in Time module) could be. When the Shakespeare book we needed for the course arrived (pictured below), needless to say, I was still worried.
The Shakespeare textbook, complete with pound coin for sizing reference
But studying topics at university is very different from school. Like I said in my last post, a lot of it is self-study and the way you’re taught is different. For Shakespeare, we had a film screening of the chosen play every week, so that if we were struggling to understand what was happening in a certain scene, we could see it performed. We also had lectures (where a lecturer – like a teacher – talks to the whole group) that linked the plays to modern film, television shows and art and then in the seminars (a group discussion on the texts and the lecture) we could discuss anything we didn’t understand or wanted to focus on more. We even got to go on a few trips to the Globe – a replica of the theatre many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at, to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then back again to perform a scene from it on the stage!
The view from on stage at the Globe
This was an incredible experience and it totally changed the way I thought about Shakespeare. Chaucer turned out to be not that bad either. We even studied The Summoners Tale which is all about farts (no seriously, it really is) which had everyone giggling all the way through the lecture. We got to do another trip for that module (English gets quite a few trips) to the V&A where we looked at all the artefacts that tied into what we had read in the texts. It even involved some dressing up…
My two friends trying on some of the costumes available.
Another feature of first year that came as a surprise to me, as I hadn’t seen this when I was researching my course were exams. We only had to do two exams in first year: one on Shakespeare and one on Literatures in Time. However after that, in second and third year (except for a few modules) the assessment is all coursework – so no more exams! As someone who struggles to revise and would much rather do things in my own time, this is really helpful and takes a lot of stress and pressure off.
Second year was when I got to pick my modules for the first time. When looking through the modules before I came to university, the ones focused on London really stood out for me, so top of my list was a module called ‘Representing London: The Eighteenth Century’. I also took ‘Renaissance Literary Culture’ which looked at how arts and literature really came about in that time and ‘Modernism’ – a module that included a lot more modern texts. I then took ‘Writing Now’ for half a year, all about texts published in the last few years and ‘Satire, Scandal and Society’ for the other half of the year which linked very well with the London module and studied satire in the eighteenth century. I found that overall I had more motivation because I was getting to study topics that I had picked for myself. We also got to go on more trips. Pictured below are a couple of the pictures I took on a walking tour we did for Representing London: The Eighteenth Century, where we walked along and thought about how the London landscape has changed.
The first part of the walking tour, up the Monument
A very attractive selfie of me and my walking tour group
Finally in third year, the modules I’ve picked are my favourites yet and I’m really enjoying them! I have to do a dissertation this year which counts for one of my modules. This is a 10,000 word final essay about a topic of my choice. I’m also doing a module called ‘Writing Modern London’ which was another module that excited me when I was doing my university research, and ‘Feminism(s)’, a module exploring feminist theory. Then for half a year I’m doing ‘In and Ideal World: Utopias from Plato to the Present’ which looks at utopian fiction (stories about ideal societies) and in the next half of the year I will be doing ‘British Culture in the 1950s’. I feel more motivated than ever approaching these modules and find that I am enjoying third year study the most. And the good news is that I still get to go on trips! This week I’m going to be going to the Tate Britain for my Feminism(s) course, looking at Tracey Emin’s famous bed and a photography exhibition, among all the other art. The fact that I get all this choice continues to excite me in my learning, I love getting taught about subjects I am really passionate about, and feel that I’m personally shaping my degree into what I want it to be.
Being in London for about a month and a half, I figured it was time for my first blog post.
So far, London has been a wonderful experience. My first few weeks were spent shopping, visiting markets and tourist spots, and of course keeping up with the academic life at QMUL. Unlike my classes in America, my modules here at QMUL meet less frequently, with each module meeting for essentially only 2 hours per week. In America, my classes typically met three times per week for one-hour lectures, with an additional one hour seminar per class. While taking four classes in America would translate to spending about sixteen hours per week in lectures/seminars, taking four classes at QMUL translates to spending only eight hours per week in the classroom. With more time outside the classroom, there are more expectations for independent studying. As an American student, I wasn’t used to this freedom for studying, but I’ve found that this laxity in scheduling teaches good productivity managing skills. For example, while I have much more time to spend exploring the city and participating in extracurricular activities, there is much more pressure to maintain responsibility for my studies outside of class, because if I don’t, my grades will obviously reflect it.
Anyways, aside from studying, here are some things I’ve done in London:
I visited the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum had cool stuff such as dinosaur bones and interactive displays involving human anatomy, while the V&A Museum had art and culture pieces.
I also visited Shoreditch, which is about two miles away from campus. With its vintage markets, cultural food and enticing graffiti, Shoreditch is probably my favorite place in London.
Shopping in London was also a great experience. I still need to buy more winter clothes!
Other things I’ve done include: visiting Chinatown, strolling by the park, eating fish and chips, trying pasta at Vapiano, participating in my first pub quiz, watching a show at a West End theatre, and walking by Piccadilly Circus!
Classes started a few weeks ago so I finally have a really reason to get up before 9am. I was starting to become one of those people that wanted to go back to school because it gives me something to do and think about.
I am excited for my classes although none of them are easy. The university categorizes modules by level, so I am currently taking three meant for second year and one for final year students. The last one will be much more difficult because they expect a higher caliber of work and theorizing. I think I am up to the challenge.
So far I like that classes only meet once a week with a section or film screening later on. It allows for more free time to do other things, but it also means I need to be productive on my own. I need to work on my individual productivity the most because I have grown used to constant class meetings covering all material pertaining to the courses in great detail. One two hour lecture a week obviously has less time for class-wide theorizing on major topics, so it is all up to me to connect the dots and make further connections.
Since art history isn’t technically a major here I am taking a combination of history and film classes, but this semester they are offering a class in Impressionism and another in Modern Art. I was enrolled in a Spanish Realism course but I mistakenly thought that it was Spanish fine art, not literature. I didn’t realize my mistake until receiving the reading list for the course and downloading one of the books. I noticed that the entire book was in Spanish and then checked if the other six were also not in English. After realizing that all of the full novels that I would need to read were in Spanish, I decided to switch into Cine-Museology, which focuses on theorizing cinema and the museum. This will likely be one of my hardest classes, but also the one that I am most interested in. There are only eight students enrolled and we screened Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” on the first day; all of these are promising characteristics of a class.
One great thing about the amount of free time is that I could take a trip down to Covent Garden with my flatmates, Sophie and Hetty, on Tuesday to walk around and explore without having to worry about classes or class work. There were musicians to be heard, food to be eaten and sights to be seen. There was a talented group of people playing string instruments who drew a large crowd on the balconies above them, so I got to enjoy their music until their time was up.
With this kind of time on my hands I am either going to be very well traveled within London and broke, or I will be making money with a part time job and much less free time. Hopefully I can manage a combination of the two!
It’s that time again! Summer is drawing to a close and another school year is about to begin. I can’t believe it! Summer is one season that always seems to fly by. Nevertheless, I am excited for the upcoming year; particularly my course modules in ‘media law’ and ‘intellectual property law.’ This will be my final year at Queen Mary so it has to be AWESOME: awesome grades and awesome experiences.
My exams ended early (May 14th) this year and before I knew it I was back home on my beautiful island of Bermuda. I was looking forward to a long and exciting summer break.
John Smith’s Bay Beach – Bermuda
I spent the months of June and August working at two of the island’s top corporate law firms. (As a budding lawyer I try to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can to gain legal work experience.)
Working as a summer law student was a great opportunity for learning and development. I met other Bermudian law students and also had mentors who were patient, encouraging and ensured that I had quality tasks to complete. Such assignments ranged from drafting opinions to running errands to the ‘Registrar of Companies’ and conducting library research.
One thing for sure is that even if you don’t reside permanently in the UK, any work experience is valuable when it comes to UK-based training contract and pupillage applications. Don’t ever underestimate international experience. More than anything it’s likely to help you stand out from the crowd so take advantage of it whenever possible.