Friday, 1 December 2017

We won! Women in IT excellence awards

If you read our blog post at the end of October you will have seen that we travelled to London to support of Heidi Fraser-Krauss, Director of Information Services, who was shortlisted for  two Women in IT excellence awards; Chief Information Officer (CIO)  of the Year and Role Model of the Year (SME).

If you also follow IT Services on Twitter, you will have not just seen the glitz and glamour of the evening but may have also celebrated with us when Heidi was announced by Zoe Lyons, a University of York alumnus, as CIO of the Year!
We are incredibly proud of Heidi winning this award. Not only was this a celebration of women in the IT industry in general; Heidi’s win also brought the spotlight onto Higher Education. As the shortlist above shows, the competition was fierce.

From our perspective, on the event as a whole, it was great to see so many women from IT in one room together. However, some people may, and did, question the need for a women only award ceremony 'surely equality is all about level playing fields’. Although that is a debate that could very easily take up it’s own blog post, the answer to this was summed up very well by one of the speakers, and another University of York alumnus, Holly Brockwell.

“...In some areas there are zero women in the IT departments...but women have played and continue to play an enormous role and contribute massively to the sector...We are here to inspire the next generation of girls...Technology may create the future, but women are creating the technology.

[my edit here: if you haven’t seen the film Hidden Figures I urge you to do so].

Before the awards were announced we were given an inspirational talk from Bonita Norris who in 2010, and at the age of 22, was the youngest British woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. We all came away from hearing Bonita speak a little humbled at our own achievements and, for me anyway, with more confidence to believe in ourselves.

She commented on her feeling of fear and admitted that that feeling should never go away, but if you trust yourself you will conquer the fear.

For Bonita, reaching Everest was a case of simply taking one step at a time, focusing solely on the next step and not giving up when the going gets tough. She ended with this: “success is stringing along lots of small steps and taking leaps of faith along the way. All you need to do is conquer the next step”.

Having seen and heard so many amazing stories it made each of us reflect on our own journeys into IT. After a discussion with each other it became clear that there is no ‘normal’ route into the field. We wanted to find a way to share our experiences so we decided that further blog posts would reflect these and perhaps inspire others to take their own unique journey. In Heidi’s words, we should all ‘be brave, lead and realise that we can just do it’.

Take a look at our tweets from the night!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Of Infinite Jest

In 1759 Laurence Sterne published the first two volumes of a novel, Tristram Shandy, which was to revolutionize the art of novel-writing.  The grand Homeric horizons of the literary heroic mode—or English imitations of it—had, by the eighteenth century, retreated to a smaller, more modest scale: the comic epic.  The eighteenth century proved adept at turning out these, Pope’s Rape of the Lock earlier in the age being a prime example.  Domesticity to the degree Sterne made use of it was nonetheless unusual.    The action of Tristram Shandy hardly sets foot outside the precincts of Walter Shandy’s cottage or his brother Toby’s garden, but in terms of imagination it knows no bounds.  All of history is its purview.  Not only that but the historical and philosophical discourses when they come take the form of so many digressions or disquisitions, occurring in the most mundane of circumstances, as when somebody or other of the Shandy family is lighting a candle or has paused at the turn of a stair.   The narrator thinks nothing of leaving them stranded in that position for pages till he returns to them and their story again.  Zany is the word we now use about his art.

The Works of Laurence Sterne. Vol 1-10 (1780) (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Exactly what gave Sterne his impetus to start composing Tristram Shandy is anybody’s guess.  Soon after beginning his account, he mentions Voltaire’s Candide, which had been published earlier that same year.  Voltaire is very funny but his humour is unlike that of Sterne.  Where Voltaire milks a vein of satire from first to last, Sterne is ironic rather than satirical, and much gentler.   Voltaire writes with brio, he bowls along and takes you into extraordinary places, with a Rabelaisian sense of the grossness and vastness of things—above all, human folly.  Sterne no doubt responded to this, especially to Voltaire’s amazing sense of pace.  Tristram Shandy whistles along, even though its characters and their circumstances seem to stand forever still.  Time, which for Voltaire is a process of fast unfolding, in Sterne goes anywhere rather than straightforwardly forward, as it were.   Both are novelists of ideas, but whereas Voltaire like so many satirists of the eighteenth century sees as his mission the correction of human folly, for Sterne folly is itself the means to salvation.  In this he is closer in spirit to Erasmus and his Praise of Folly, though he appears to lack the underpinnings of Christian doctrine that Erasmus, in his offbeat way, sought to revitalize.
In terms of affinity, there are other comic writers with whom Sterne is perceived as having more in common, Rabelais himself of course but also Cervantes.  Rabelais, with his medical student’s sense of humour, emphasizes the body and bodily functions.  The colossal scale of the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel produces one kind of extravagance, but operating at another level we find the mischievous, Puckish Panurge, who makes ordinary-sized bodies also the occasion of weird japes.  The nature of the body, the peculiarities of its various nervous systems, the embarrassments to which it is prone, are all grist to the Sternian comic mill, whether in the form of Slawkenbergius and noses (fairly heavy innuendo there) or in that of the infant Tristram’s painful, involuntary circumcision, following an encounter with a sash window.
However, since the action, such as it is, of Tristram Shandy does not involve Rabelaisian giants but ordinary men and women, no matter how odd or eccentric, then the previous-age author who comes closest to him in spirit is Cervantes for whom Sterne felt an especial affection.   Cervantes has a strain of melancholy in his romance that is very like the sensibility of Sterne. Both Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy are constructed in part on antinomian principles.  For Quixote and Sancho Panza read Walter and Toby Shandy.  Walter’s irascible temperament, his ceaseless, idealistic search for universal knowledge, his remaining constantly in an unbearable state of frustration, contrast fully with his brother’s equanimity and resignation to circumstance.  Toby’s ability to ease the tension he feels by whistling a few bars of Lillibulero is calmly of a piece with his unwavering determination to ride a single hobby-horse, which takes the form of the reconstruction—to scale in his little garden—of the Siege of Namur, where he has suffered a calamitous wound (in the groin, of course).  Uncle Toby’s courtship of the Widow Wadman (or is it the other way round?) is accordingly doomed never to come to fruition, though much gentle humour is had by the widow’s trying to find out just what it is that accounts for Uncle Toby’s diffidence.  
Birth and death are two other controlling antinomies.  The novel begins memorably with the moment of Tristram’s conception, when Mrs Shandy asks her husband if he has wound up the clock, showing a preoccupation with instruments of measurement which recurs frequently in the novel, and which reflects the mechanistic age in which it was written.  The question almost puts Walter Shandy off his stroke.   As we grow more and more acquainted with the little Shandean universe, we encounter the other side of procreativity, for we learn almost as an aside of the death of Tristram’s brother Bobby, an event that, though occurring unobtrusively and at a distance, casts a long shadow over everything.  
Ideas proliferate in Tristram Shandy, discussion of them usually being initiated by Walter Shandy.  After his success with the novel Sterne travelled in Europe, and found inspiration for another much shorter novel, published less than a month before his death, and which he called A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy.  In spite of ‘through France and Italy’ the narrative only gets as far as France, for health and domestic affairs drew him home sooner than he had hoped.  The representation of ideas in the larger novel owes much to the philosophy of John Locke, who argued that the sensations are responsible for our acquiring knowledge, and that knowledge in turn is built up by the association of ideas.   In Sterne’s Quixotic application of this the associations of ideas simply means getting off the point, as happens to each character in turn and to the narrative itself.  But in A Sentimental Journey the story is driven chiefly by a singly idea: charity.  The narrator this time is Parson Yorick, a minor character in Tristram Shandy, but one who is now an extension of Sterne himself, posing as the Englishman (or English clergyman) abroad.  

Image from 'A sentimental journey through France and Italy.' (Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

In his travels through France en route to Paris, Yorick meets a selection of characters, some of whom are beggars, as befits the notion of charity, some military or diplomatic figures, some hotel servants, shopkeepers, and policemen, but the largest and most significant part of whom are women.   The ‘sentimental’ character, which Yorick prides himself on, is a charitable one.  He is happy—more or less—to give alms to a Franciscan but his finer feelings are stirred by the plight of a fair lady.  Yorick easily confuses the Pauline word for charitable love (agape) with that for sexual love (eros).  At times he seems to know what he is doing, at other times he remains in blissful ignorance, as when he buys rather more pairs of gloves than he had bargained for from a beautiful grisset of irresistible charms.  His naivety produces one of the novel’s funniest jokes.    In Paris he sees streams of women all handing a sum of money to an apparent beggar, ‘a tall figure of a philosophic serious, adust look’.  He is about to hand the man ‘a sou or two’ in his turn but the latter ignores him.   He asks money only of women and not at all of men.  Yorick never quite grasps what the true occupation of this man is nor the fact that virtually every woman in Paris is on the game.
Plagued by ill health, Sterne died of tuberculosis in 1768, the very year in which A Sentimental Journey was published.  The ninth and final volume of Tristram Shandy had come out the year before.  
He knew immense fame but his personal enjoyment of it lasted less than a decade.  Walter Shandy would have made a lugubrious aphorism out of that.

Written by Prof. John Roe (English and Related Literature)

The Library is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the publication of the 9th volume of Tristram Shandy with an exhibition of items from the Library collections, on the ground floor of the Fairhurst.
There will also be a talk by Mr Patrick Wildgust, of the Laurence Sterne Trust, on Tuesday 28th November. Book tickets for this event

Friday, 10 November 2017

Poor Yorick

In 2008 Patrick Wildgust, the Curator at Shandy Hall, approached me with the idea of devising a concert to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the publication of the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy in 1759. Over lunch at Shandy Hall, Patrick bombarded me with examples of musical associations and quotations in the novel, and by the end of the meeting it had become clear to me that a concert would not be enough. Instead I decided to make The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman the focus of the 2009 ‘Practical Project’ – a production created annually by our music students.  In November 2009 some 90 music students presented a 2 hour entertainment in which scenes from the novel were enacted, interspersed with music referred to by Sterne (Purcell, Abel, Scarlatti) and music especially composed by students.  The project was an ambitious one - to turn a notoriously difficult novel into a musical entertainment – but it was made easier by the fact that the novel is non-linear and already fragmented, with endless digressions, so that narrative continuity was not an issue.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Black page to express sorrow at Yorick's death. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Musical narrative has been at the heart of my own research (composition) for many years. For musicologists musical narrative means the way in which abstract music conforms to narrative theory. We speak casually about a musical ‘argument’ – but what does that mean? Can music convey argument?  But that is not what concerns me, as a composer. My concern is how to convey a narrative text within vocal music. This is much harder than one might suppose (since, surely, composers have been doing this for thousands of years). But the fact is that the moment words are conjoined with music, the competing demands of musical line, musical rhythm and musical texture all conspire to reduce the intelligibility of text.  That’s why opera houses resort to surtitles, and why choral societies print entire oratorio texts in your programme. That doesn’t happen in the theatre, does it?  In music we have become accustomed to ‘not quite hearing’ the words.  For many listeners, indeed, the words are of little importance. Beethoven’s Choral Symphony is about joy and brotherhood, and that will do.
Over the years I have employed a variety of methods to convey text in music, often including spoken passages and various forms of chant.  If words are to be sung, their intelligibility is enhanced if the musical line remains close to a monotone – that is, all the notes on or close to a single pitch – and if the setting is syllabic, without ‘melisma’ (stretching a syllable over several notes).  It also helps if the text is not too dense; a shorter text with short phrases is easier to handle than a long text with complicated phrase structure. Vocal music works best when the text is simple. Any librettist will tell you that their first draft has usually been cut drastically by the composer.
In 2008 I had the opportunity to write a piece for the Hilliard Ensemble – a quartet of male voices best known for their early music repertoire, but who have also commissioned a lot of new work throughout their 40 year career. I was asked to write something for a programme they were putting together around Petrarch and Dante, which would include madrigals by 16th century composers Pisano and Arcadelt.  The piece I wrote – Il Cor Tristo – is a setting of Canto XXXII and XXXIII from Dante’s Inferno.  In this passage, Dante arrives at the frozen lake at the bottom of the pit of Hell and discovers Ugolino, who tells the story of his incarceration and starvation along with his entire family. It is a powerful story, and the only extended narrative in the whole of the Divine Comedy.  I set the long text in Italian, since the premiere was to take place at a festival in Perugia.  The setting is entirely syllabic; the music is simple and uncluttered.  I hoped that an Italian audience (already familiar with this text of course) would be able to follow it simply by listening.  I think it worked.
The Hilliard Ensemble, in any case, were happy enough with the piece to perform it several times, and record it on ECM.  You can hear the piece here.  
Then, in 2013, the Hilliards announced their impending retirement and a 40th birthday concert tour, and they asked me to compose something for the four current members of the ensemble along with four former members who came back to celebrate with them.  For this I returned to Tristram Shandy, and to another long narrative – the death of parson Yorick.  
Yorick, a country vicar, is a relatively minor character in the novel, although Sterne later adopted the name as his own alter ego, and wrote about him again in Sentimental Journey.  But in Tristram Shandy Yorick dies quite early on, and his death is one of two moving death scenes in the novel – although nothing in Tristram Shandy is to be taken too seriously.  
I set the passage with only a few small omissions, and framed it with a chorus on Sterne’s famous comment on mortality from later in the novel: ‘Time wastes too fast’, together with Yorick’s motto ‘De vanitate mundi et fuga saeculi’ (‘on the vanity of the world and the swift passing of time’).  The main narrative is again set entirely syllabically, almost in the manner of Anglican chant.  Yorick himself sings in tired, deathly voice, with gaps as he gasps his last breaths.  His friend Eugenius, in a deep bass voice, speaks the final lines: ‘He lies buried in a corner of his churchyard…….. with no more than these three words of inscription, serving both for his epitaph and elegy: Alas Poor Yorick’

Prof. Roger Marsh and the Hilliard Ensemble recording in Coxwold Church. Copyright © Patrick Wildgust, 2016.

In 2016 I reconvened the now defunct Hilliard Ensemble in Coxwold church, and we recorded the piece on CD.  My colleague Jez Wells also recorded birdsong and creaking floorboards at Shandy Hall to provide a sense of place around the music.  The Poor Yorick CD is now on sale at the Shandy Hall shop, yards from where Patrick introduced me to the whole world of Tristram Shandy in 2009.

Written by Prof. Roger Marsh (Department of Music)
The Library is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the publication of the 9th volume of Tristram Shandy with an exhibition  of  items from the Library collections, on the ground floor of the Fairhurst.

There will also be a talk by Mr Patrick Wildgust, of the Laurence Sterne Trust, on Tuesday 28th November. Book tickets for this event

Friday, 3 November 2017

‘Rare Secrets Brought to Light’ : Highlights from the Milnes Walker Medical Collection

A project is currently underway to enhance the online catalogue records for the University of York’s Milnes Walker collection, adding details about the special characteristics of each book, such as handwritten annotations, as well as extra search terms.

The Milnes Walker collection consists of c. 200 fascinating early medical books, mainly from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, many with an association to Wakefield, Yorkshire. As the project cataloguer I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to take a close look at this collection. Here are a few favourites that I have come across so far:

One of the more important items in the collection is this beautiful early volume of anatomical plates. Bernhard Albinus of Leiden (1697–1770) was a leading eighteenth-century anatomist. For his Tabulae sceleti et musculorum, first published in 1747, Albinus collaborated with the artist Jan Wandelaar to produce a series of highly accurate engravings from life. Many of the engravings are given additional interest with architectural and landscape backgrounds. Two feature a rhinoceros, a result of drawings Wandelaar made in 1741 of a calf named Clara, the first rhinoceros to be exhibited in modern Europe.
Pharmacopoeia Radcliffeana: or, Dr. Radcliff's prescriptions, by John Radcliffe (London: Charles Rivington, 1716)
A pharmacopoeia is a book that lists approved drugs and their uses. This one contains the prescriptions of John Radcliffe (1650–1714), who was born in Wakefield and became a hugely successful society physician, giving his name to the Radcliffe Camera and Hospital at Oxford. Prescriptions were traditionally written in Latin, but these have been translated into English, resulting in some rather intriguing names such as ’The Hysterical Milky Mixture’, for use in fits, and ‘The Appeasing Pills’, for coughs, shown above.
The Compleat Midwife's Practice Enlarged, in the Most Weighty and High Concernments of the Birth of Man . . . with the Addition of Sir Theodore Mayern's Rare Secrets in Midwifry, with the Approbation of Sundry the Most Knowing Professors of Midwifry Now Living .. . A Work so Plain, that the Weakest Capacity May Easily Attain the Knowledge of the Whole Art. (London: Nathaniel Brooke, 1663)
Some detective work was required to identify this book. The title page in the library’s copy, which reads 'Rare Secrets Brought to Light', actually belongs to a section in the middle of the volume. This copy was evidently well used and at some point lost its original title page and many of the original engraved plates. It was then rebound, using this title page as a makeshift. The book is really The Compleat Midwife's Practice, a handbook on midwifery compiled from several sources, including the case notes of the French midwife Louise Bourgeois. The single remaining plate, shown above, depicts the different positions of infants in the womb.
Horti academici Lugduno-Batavi catalogus exhibens plantarum omnium nomina, quibus ab anno M DC LXXXI ad annum MDCLXXXVI hortus fuit instructus ut & plurimarum in eodem cultarum & à nemine hucusqueeditarum descriptiones & icones [Catalogue of the botanical garden of Leiden, showing the names of all the plants by which the garden was built from 1681 to 1686, with descriptions and images of the many plants cultivated in the garden and thus far undescribed], by Paul Hermann (Leiden: Cornelis Boutesteyn, 1687)

The Hortus Botanicus of Leiden, founded in 1587 for the instruction of university medical students, is one of the oldest botanical gardens still in use. This catalogue was prepared by the botanist and traveller Paul Hermann (1646–1695). It contains thousands of entries, many with engraved illustrations, including a number of specimens from the Dutch East Indies, Dutch Cape Colony, and America. The image is the allegorical frontispiece depicting plants being carried into the garden by personifications of the four continents, Asia, Africa, America, and Europe, and presented to Athena and her owl, representing wisdom. This copy has been extensively annotated by an early 18th-century owner who noted down the names of various plants and the dates of their flowering.  Based on the signature ‘ W. Stonestreet’ on the flyleaf, this owner can be identified as the London antiquary and botanist William Stonestreet (1659–1716).
Find out more about the Milnes Walker collection
All these books are on YorSearch (the Library catalogue) and are available for study. Contact Sarah Griffin, our Rare Books Librarian, for more information.
Written & researched by Jessica Lamothe

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Women in IT excellence awards

Women in IT excellence awards

I’ve worked for Information Services for nearly ten years and one thing we’ve always said we need to improve on is celebrating our own success. So this blog is the start of a series of blogs from us celebrating our “Women in IT” and we’ve got a pretty good reason to do so.

This week we’ll be travelling to London in support of Heidi Fraser-Krauss, Director of Information Services, who has been shortlisted for not one but two Women in IT excellence awards; CIO of the Year and Role Model of the Year (SME). The awards aim to celebrate the “groundbreaking work being done by women in the industry every day”.

Although the awards are a celebration they also highlight the low number of women working in technology. The current statistics show that the proportion of women working in STEM jobs in the UK is only 17%. The awards want “to inspire the next generation” and “to show them the remarkable footsteps they're following in”.

Following on this theme we’d like to showcase, through a series of blogs, some of our female staff and share their stories of working in IT so that we might inspire others. Starting with Heidi:

Heidi Fraser-Krauss, Director of Information Services

“To be a good role model to other women in business it is important to be visible at both a junior and senior level within the workplace as well as in the wider IT industry. I have done this through adopting the Sheryl Sandberg principle of “leaning in’. For example, I took on the role of chairing the Russell Group IT Directors Group, which is male dominated, have given numerous presentations at events both inside and outside my organisation and am currently organising my industry’s major leadership conference for 2018, UCISA18.

Visibility has provided me with the platform to inspire other women to apply for jobs in IT and take a proactive role in encouraging more women to think differently about the IT industry. I have mentored women from other Universities about how to progress their careers, being open and honest about the challenges I have faced. I have found it helpful, when mentoring, to share my family circumstances (I have three children) and have been honest about how I have juggled home and work life. As often, it’s practical issues that hold careers back. I have stressed that IT is a great career if you have a family because it's flexible and can be done from home.

My top tip for women looking to start a career in IT is to not be afraid of the technology. The common assumption is that you must have the technical ability to solve problems with hardware or software to succeed – this is not the case. I came into IT via business analysis, and have found that my broad understanding of the business and my ability to manage people is what has enabled my career to progress.

The biggest lesson I have learnt in my career is to overcome my squeamishness at promoting my skills and abilities. Putting myself forward for this award was really outside my comfort zone. I really hate ‘blowing my own trumpet’ and find it deeply embarrassing to do so, but, I have learnt that if I don’t, I will be passed over in favour of those who have no hesitation about extolling their own virtues!”

To make Heidi squirm a bit more, here’s why we supported her nomination for the awards:

  • From the minute you meet Heidi you can tell that she is passionate and committed to her role at the University”
  • Despite running a large department she makes time to listen to all staff making sure that everyone has an equal voice. Through this she has fostered an environment of collaboration and cooperation. This has really put IT at the forefront of everything that is done at the University.”
  • “Having a CIO that is both approachable and makes you feel valued is extremely important and Heidi excels at both these things.”
  • “As a woman working in a technical role within IT, it is very encouraging for me to see a female role model in a senior position.”

The awards take place on Wednesday 1 November and we’ll be live tweeting from the event so follow us on Twitter for updates @UOYitservices