Interviewed by Andre Theng
Thursday afternoons are something of a special time at the School of English: it’s the one time a week we gather for our weekly seminar series where we get the opportunity to hear from School members and visiting scholars on their latest research. This year, we have Dr. Anya Adair in charge of putting these sessions together. MPhil candidate Andre Joseph Theng chats with Dr. Adair to find out more.
Hello Dr. Adair! Could you tell us a little about the seminar series and how you’ve put it together?
The seminar series enriches the intellectual life of the university and the school. It gives us an opportunity to start conversations about important topics in the field and learn about cutting-edge research. It informs us about what scholars are currently working on, so there aren’t just ‘showcase’ lectures but also works-in-progress in which we can engage with the speakers.
We have a combination of internal and external speakers. Some come from our own School, some from other HKU faculties, some who come from other Hong Kong universities and yet others who come from abroad. They’re not just faculty members but also PhD students, members from the Society of Fellows and post-doctoral researchers. For these younger scholars, it’s somewhat of a rite of passage to give one of these talks. We also invite professors who may be travelling through Hong Kong or who have other work in the department to share their research at these seminars whenever there is an opportunity. In this regard, I am grateful to my colleagues who are always forthcoming with ideas on who might be able to present, as well as for the collaborations with other departments and faculties which have allowed us to have a wide range of topics and speakers. Finally, we are proud to have an enthusiastic audience who come from far and wide themselves and who bring with them their own research and experience.
What were some challenges with planning for the series?
It’s a tough balancing act to have researchers who are both from and outside the faculty; from the language and literature strands; from different fields of English; experienced and young scholars; and male and female researchers. We have such a broad range of people in our department; my own work is on Anglo-Saxon law from the 500s, and then we have colleagues working on contemporary topics. Regardless, even if our research interests are not entirely the same, the point remains to have good conversations with one another.
What were some highlights for you from this semester’s seminars?
If I can just mention three of this semester’s seminars, Dr. Clara Dawson, who is visiting our school from the University of Manchester, spoke about a little-known genre of literature – gift-annual poetry. She enlightened us about the significance of what can be thought of as ‘lost poetry’. Professor Balakrishnan Ananthakrishnan’s talk about Indian theatre during the colonial period taught us about an extraordinary and rich culture of performance that most of us in the room were unaware of, as he connected Indian theatre with the theatre scene in London. Our very own Dr. Bobo Wong’s highly philosophical talk was especially memorable – for me – for the lively conversation which followed the talk. We collectively grappled with the theoretical issues that arose from her talk. It reminded me of the value of a paper focused on the theoretical, and even more so, impressed upon me what a friendly, collegial and intellectually generous group we have at the School of English.
What can we expect next semester?
We have another full semester of talks which I hope will prove to be just as exciting, especially with job talks for two positions in the school and visits from external examiners. There will be a range of speakers and I look forward to being challenged by new ideas and being exposed to developing research, just as I hope will be the same for anyone who attends the talks.
Before we go, tell us: why should anyone come for the talks?
It’s extremely important for all of us to attend these talks even though they may not be on a topic that we are working on. I am always surprised at how many ideas I get for my own research from seminars that seemed entirely unrelated to my own field of interest. I especially encourage our postgraduates to come; it’s an important act of professionalisation to learn how to ask questions through listening to other questions, or better still, asking questions themselves. I think there’s no better training for thinking about our own research, the ability to think on our feet and to be able to respond to questions about our work.
On that note, if anyone has any ideas or suggestions on the coming semester’s talks, please feel free to get in touch with me!
The seminar series are usually held during term time at 16:30 on Thursdays at the School of English, Run Run Shaw Tower room 7.45. Look out for an updated list of talks in the coming semester – All are welcome!