“Europe: Inside Out” - a three-day event which took place from 25 to 27 March - was the Fourth Annual Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference of the Graduate Centre for Europe (GCfE).
The GCfE is both a postgraduate student-led and cross-disciplinary initiative, bringing together postgraduate students with an interest in Europe, from both inside the EU and beyond, aiming to further scholarly exchange on European matters at the University of Birmingham. Based on the successful structure of past GCfE conferences, this year’s programme consisted of an afternoon of skills sessions, a day and a half of plenary panel sessions, as well as two keynote speeches, and the launch of the Birmingham Journal for Europe.
The conference attracted around fifty participants from ten different European universities, demonstrating the international appeal of the event. Nineteen high-quality papers were presented at seven interdisciplinary panels. Particularly pleasing was the number of Birmingham postgraduates participating, which confirms the existence of a vibrant research community at the University which continues to share perspectives on Europe. Papers covered topics ranging from European music networks to EU law, from the representations of the body in European literature to Europe’s development policy towards Latin America, with all papers presenting insightful and detailed, yet highly comprehensible perspectives on differing aspects of European culture, history, society and law. Participants were able to experience conceptions of Europe which differed greatly from their own research projects, to defend their own work to non-specialists and to expand their knowledge of Europe while contributing to discussions outside their own field of expertise.
All panels and keynote speeches were chaired by members of the Postgraduate Steering Committee, demonstrating both the postgraduate-led nature of the event and the new skills which the conference gave committee members the opportunity to gain. This also fostered an open and friendly atmosphere for post-paper discussions, which brought out stimulating and constructive analysis of papers and highlighted the different aspects of Europe presented.
Before the presentation of papers, participants began by easing themselves into the conference process, networking and gaining useful research and transferable skills during the three sessions presented by staff and students of the University of Birmingham. Professor Frank Lough led a useful session on “Bibliographical Software”, followed by a talk on “Viva Tips” presented by Dr Nick Martin and Dr Paola Cori, who provided advice on the viva experience from both the examiner’s and the student’s point of view. The afternoon began with an interactive session on “Running a Postgraduate Journal” given by the BJLL’s own General Editors, Cristina Ivanovici and Sarah Macmillan.
The first day also saw the launch of the GCfE’s own online journal the Birmingham Journal for Europe (BJE), the first volume of which contains a selection of articles written by paper-givers at the 2009 GCfE conference “Europe: A Conference of Paradoxes.” The BJE is available at: www.ejournals.org.uk/BJE . Work on the second volume of the journal, which will contain the proceedings of Europe: Inside Out, is already under way.
Dr Eleanor Spaventa of Durham Law School completed the evening’s academic events with an accessible and thought-provoking speech on EU citizenship law, which offered new insights for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. This year also saw the return of Gisela Stuart, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, to the GCfE conference for the fourth consecutive year. Her keynote address, entitled ‘Greece and the Euro: Greater Integration or Break-Up’ was typically entertaining and provocative, challenging students’ preconceptions with regards to European politics.
The conference, like all of the GCfE’s successful events this year, was the product of the great teamwork shown by all members of the Postgraduate Steering Committee (Clare Watters, Tara Windsor, Judith Allan, Katharina Boehmker, Eleni Christodoulou, Matthew Frear, James Green, Katherine Meikle, Elena Polydorou Rachel Slater and Susanne Thuermer). The committee is indebted to its Director Dr Nicholas Martin, as well as its administrator Violet Scott, and Dr Oliver Mason for his help in the creation of the BJE.
The 2011 GCfE conference preparations are already underway, as are the finalisation of the full events programme for the coming academic year and the next volume of the BJE.