Thursday, 18 April 2019

Ever wondered why we give chocolate eggs at Easter?

Easter comes around every year, and treats us to a lovely long weekend full of chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and hopefully sunshine – but have you ever stopped to wonder where these traditions come from?

We caught up with Dr Ceri Houlbrook, Programme Leader for MA Folklore Studies and Researcher in Folklore in History to see where these seasonal staples come from, and when they date back to.

Why chocolate eggs?

For most of those who celebrate Easter, let’s admit it; food plays a big role! This is likely largely due to the culture of fasting or abstinence around Lent, which leads up to Easter.

In the UK, Easter is synonymous with Easter eggs, but these weren’t always chocolate-based. In the past, they took the form of hard-boiled eggs that had been decorated, painted or dyed. They would be given as gifts as symbols of new life and resurrection after the 40-day period of Lent. 

Those who were wealthier purchased artificial eggs containing gifts, and by the late 19th century, chocolate eggs had begun to appear, originating in France and Germany. The first English chocolate egg was sold by Fry’s in 1873, with Cadbury’s following up two years later. Fast forward to today and the UK market sells over £220 million worth of Easter eggs a year. That’s a lot of chocolate!

The practice of hiding and hunting for Easter eggs possibly dates as far back as the 16th century in Germany, when men would hide eggs for women and children to find as part of the Easter festivities. Over in Britain, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularised the custom by hiding painted eggs for their children to find on Maundy Thursday.

What about hot cross buns?

Easter saccharine feasting isn’t limited to eggs. Hot cross buns are another staple treat, deriving from the Christian tradition of placing a consecrated wafer together with a crucifix in the sepulchre of a church on Good Friday as the embodiment of Christ. During the 18th and 19th centuries, many people in England adapted this custom by baking bread or biscuits marked with a cross – and thus the hot cross bun was born.
However, the hot cross bun was not just for eating. Because of the cross it bore, it was believed to have magical powers. These sweet, slightly spiced treats were said to never go mouldy, to have medicinal qualities, and to prevent shipwreck if taken to sea. They were also believed to protect a house from evil and fire, which is why people hung them in their homes or doorways. There’s evidence of people leaving their protective hot cross buns hanging all year round, to be replaced every Easter by a new one.

So next time you walk down the seasonal aisle of a supermarket, crack open an Easter egg, or slather butter on a toasted hot cross bun, do so smug in the knowledge that you have a good few years of history and folklore behind you!

If you’d like to find out more about the course Ceri teaches on, MA Folklore, check out this link:

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Top tips for revising and improving assignments through Studynet

It’s that time of year when revising for exams and writing your assignments is a priority. With this in mind, here are 5 top tips on how to make the most out of Studynet during this critical time. 

1. Did you know that you can search and access past exam papers?

If you have exams that are coming up, you can check to see if the past exam papers are available, and if they are, you are able to access them from the university’s online library. Searching for them is really easy and you can use them as a revision tool. The video below takes you through the steps on how you can access them:

2. Check your reading lists:

Your reading list may have been introduced to you at the start of the module. If you haven’t looked at this for a while, then it might be a good time to look over which resources your tutor has suggested as a starting point before revising or doing your assignment. Check the video below on how to subject search on the online library:

3. Access your previous feedback:

As recent alumni from this university, I will be the first to put my hands up and say that I did not always read my assignment feedback properly. Yes, I may have had a quick scan through it, however, I know I should have looked at it more carefully. With hindsight, if I had read through my feedback, I could have learnt lessons much earlier and achieved higher. 

If you read your feedback carefully over a few different assignments, you will probably notice some common themes. For example, you might be struggling with referencing. If you can pick up on these areas for improvement before the next assignment, you will be able to make changes and progress. It’s worth taking a little time now to find out what you can improve upon and address them, before you start your next assignment. 
Below is a video on how to access your feedback:

If referencing is an area of improvement, then read on for our next tip!

4. Use the library cite tool:

If you are using resources from the online library, did you know that it has a cite tool? This will give you the option to choose a referencing style and give you the citation. You can then copy and paste this citation into your list of references. However, you may need to edit the reference according to your school’s referencing style guide. But it’s a great starting point and does most of the hard work for you. See the video below on how to use this tool:

5. Check through earlier units on your module site:

And lastly, this might sound obvious, however, it might be worth going through the earlier units on your module site. Your tutor may have added new material since you last looked at them. You may also find useful materials and resources to revise from or that will help you with your assignment. 

Remember, there are lots of resources and people out there to help you through your study and revision period. If you want to talk to someone for any additional help, get in contact with your tutor or look at out for drop in sessions in the LRCs.

Lucy Bamwo and Samantha Clarkson
Studynet Training Coordinators

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Make the most of your LRCs and tips for exam success

With coursework and exams on your mind here’s some important information from your Library and Computing Services team about working in the LRCs, skills sessions and useful tips to help you succeed.

Tips for exam success
Going through past exam papers is a great way to revise. If past exam papers are available, you will find them:
EITHER from your module's Online Library or Teaching Resources
OR type your module name or code + “exam paper” in Library Search

Ebooks about exam revision can offer some very helpful (and calming!) guidance. Just type "study skills" exams into Library Search and select Library Catalogue.

Take a look at this StudyNet page for more Tips for exam success.

Revise and get support in the LRCs
Book yourself into a half hour LinkUP session where library experts will offer you help and tips for exam success, including tools to help with revision and practical ideas for effective study. 
  • College Lane LRC - Tuesday 30 April 12.00 – 12.30 LG1, Lower Ground floor
  • De Havilland LRC - Thursday 02 May 12.00 – 12.30 L218, Top floor 

Sign up via the booking page.

Find your space
Many of you will be studying in the LRCs, open 24/7 to suit whenever you want to work. Silent and quiet study areas, group study, cafe study…just choose what's best for you! It will be busy, so do please respect others #beconsiderate

Staff will be monitoring noise levels during this busy time – if you feel people around you are behaving inappropriately please talk to a member of LRC staff or talk to Security.

And do please remember to take frequent breaks!

Belinda Mobbs
Communications Officer, Library and Computer Services

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Achieving your goals without seeking perfection

That which you so desperately seek can become an unhealthy fantasy in your mind. Not eating, not sleeping; you overwork yourself to meet the demands expected of you, or that you expect of yourself. Often these standards you wish to reach, are like a mirage in a desert. Once you walk to the glistening lake you saw at a distance, it vanishes, and a new mirage appears. You then remain dissatisfied. This is was perfectionism looks like – a mirage in the desert.
Pushing yourself to work hard and reach a goal is not bad. But it is the unhealthy expectation to be “the best”, “better than others” or that you “have to” be “perfect” that has a negative impact on you in two ways:

1.     It creates pressure and stress.
Too much stress creates unhealthy levels of stress hormones, it can affect your sleep, your diet and ultimately your immune system and health.

2.     Mental paralysis. 
Expecting yourself to reach a high standard can create excessive fear. This excessive fear of not reaching your desired goal can prevent you from performing all together. When this happens, you find yourself within a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you do not reach your desired goal at all.  

Best way to move forward:
Remember that being “the best” or being “perfect” is like a mirage in a desert. It does not exist. Remind yourself often, when you feel the pressure rising that you will do your best. Focus instead on learning the material you have in front of you, rather than being focused on the result. The more you do this, the better you will perform, the more relaxed you will be and the more effective you will ultimately work. In this way, you set yourself up for reaching your desired goal without seeking perfection.  

Chaitanya Pankhania
Deputy Head of Student Wellbeing

Monday, 8 April 2019

Vampire's rebirth: from monstrous undead creature to sexy and romantic Byronic seducer in one ghost story

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The Nightmare by John Henry Fuseli. Detroit Institute of Arts
Sam George, University of Hertfordshire
Victorian physician John Polidori took the vampire out of the forests of eastern Europe, gave him an aristocratic lineage and placed him into the drawing rooms of Romantic-era England. His tale The Vampyre, published 200 years ago – on April 1 1819, was the first sustained fictional treatment of the vampire and completely recast the folklore and mythology on which it drew. The vampire figure abandoned its peasant roots and left its calling card in polite society in London.
The story emerged out of the same storytelling contest at the Villa Diodati that gave birth to that other archetype of the Gothic heritage, Frankenstein’s monster. Present at this gathering were Polidori (then Byron’s physician) as well as Mary Godwin, the author of Frankenstein, Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, Mary’s soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley, and – crucially – Lord Byron.

Read more: Fantasmagoriana: the German book of ghost stories that inspired Frankenstein

Byron’s contribution to the contest was an inconclusive fragment about a mysterious man, Augustus Darvell, characterised by “a cureless disquiet”. Polidori took this fragment and turned it into the sensational tale of the vampire Lord Ruthven, preying on the vulnerable women of society.

John William Polidori, by F.G. Gainsford. National Portrait Gallery

After its magazine debut the story was published in book form and went through seven English printings in 1819 alone. It was adapted for the stage the following year by melodramatic playwright James Robinson Planché, one of a growing number of vampire theatricals inspired by Polidori, such as those by Charles Nodier and others.

It was then expanded into a two-volume French novel by Cyprien Bérard, Lord Ruthwen ou les vampires. By 1830 it had been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.
Despite all these imitations and adaptations, “Poor Polidori”, as Mary Shelley liked to call him, has all but been forgotten and his lively tale has often been dismissed as a crude narrative, written under the influence of a greater, more subtle talent, Byron. And yet it was Polidori not Byron who succeeded in founding the entire modern tradition of vampire fiction.

Peasant to patrician

The vampire prior to this had been a blood-gorged, animalistic monster of the Slavic peasantry. In his study of the origins of Vampire lore, Vampires, Burials and Death, American scholar Paul Barber described the traditional image of the undead bloodsucker thus:
with long fingernails and a stubbly beard […] his face ruddy and swollen. He would wear informal attire — a linen shroud – and would look for all the world like a dishevelled peasant.
Polidori transformed the East European peasant vampire of old into a pale-faced, dead-eyed, licentious English aristocrat. This deceiving, dashing and cursed creature was in possession of “irresistible powers of seduction”, haunting the drawing rooms of Western society undetected. In the hands of Polidori, under the influence of Byron, vampires transitioned from dishevelled peasants into alluring, seductive aristocrats in the 19th century.

George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron by Richard Westall. National Portrait Gallery

This elevation in social status is not all. Polidori’s The Vampyre is responsible for a number of groundbreaking innovations. He established links to the aristocracy – where there had never before been an urban vampire, let alone one as educated and high in social rank. He also introduced the notion of the vampire as sexual predator, showing his readers, for the first time, the vampire as rake or libertine – a real “lady killer”. As he wrote in his novella:
The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared and Aubrey’s sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!

Mad and bad

Lord Ruthven is a satirical portrait of Byron as a seducer of women in polite society. “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know” – as the aristocratic writer Lady Caroline Lamb described the lover who had spurned her. This is the image we have of the vampire. Lamb cast Byron as the dark and duplicitous Gothic seducer, Lord Ruthven in her 1816 novel Glenarvon. In turn, Polidori took the name Lord Ruthven in order to create the first literary vampire.

Lord Ruthven spawned a series of saturnine or demonic lovers in turn, from the Brontës’ Mr Rochester to the more sexy incarnations of Dracula and the contemporary paranormal romances of mortal women seduced by brooding bad and dangerous vampires.

Edward Cullen, the vampire from the Twilight novels, as played by Robert Pattison. Goldcrest Pictures

Polidori’s vampire, despite being something of a blank canvas, is sexualised and mesmeric, providing a template not only for Count Dracula but for the “Byronic hero” that features in Gothic romance from pre-Victorian times down to present-day paranormal romances such as Twilight. Edward Cullen – played by Robert Pattison, continuing the tradition of British actors playing vampires from Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman – is a reproduction of this earlier archetype. He’s something of a consumerist fantasy – as expensive as diamonds, marble or crystal:
His skin white […] literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculptured incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare […] a perfect statue carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.
Cullen’s aristocratic charm and anachronistic way of speaking (“I endeavoured to secure your hand” he tells Bella) indicate he is a relic of earlier models of vampiric masculinity, further evidence of the long-reaching legacy of Polidori’s vampire.

As Catherine Spooner, Professor of Gothic Literature at Lancaster University, has argued in a collection of essays about Vampires – Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead which I co-edited in 2012: “Over a period of about 200 years vampires have changed from the grotty living corpses of folklore to witty, sexy, super achievers.”
Polidori died in London in August 1821, weighed down by depression and gambling debts. It is said that he committed suicide by means of cyanide but that, to protect his family’s name, the coroner gave a verdict of death by natural causes. Sadly he wasn’t to know the fame his creation would achieve as the star of hundreds of books, plays and films – and millions of nightmares.The Conversation
Sam George, Senior Lecturer in Literature, University of Hertfordshire

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

A Guide for Commuters

A big decision to make when deciding between universities can be the choice of moving away or living at home. Often, it is said that living at home means you miss out on the university experience and that there is not much point in doing so as you are wasting the whole idea of what university should be. However, from my own experience and from views of others, I can assure you they are wrong and you should not rule out living from home for university! Here is why…

Less student debt

Living at home cuts out the living costs of moving out to university. When you move out, you have to pay bills, rent and for daily essentials such as food. When you live at home, this is all taken for granted. Yes, you may have to contribute to a small monthly payment to your parents for living at home, but this would be far less than what it would be whilst at uni.

You can still attend all of your university’s social activities

Being a commuter, you can still be a part of the university community. There is nothing stopping you from joining societies, making friends, joining committees and being an active university member. Yes, it may mean you have to adjust your travel times, but is that really too much of an issue?
Additionally, some universities have commuter-only activities which is also helpful to be aware of. (For example, this Commuter Awareness Week, our Students’ Union is holding activities, from food classes to film club! Check it out here!)

It isn’t just about the night life

Many students move away for the freedom, the independence and the wild nights out. Yes, this is fun and a part of student life, but this is not everything that goes on!
Commuting certainly does not mean you have to miss out on the nights out. One tip I would say for this is to make friends with someone living on campus, just in case those wild nights leave you worse for wear to get home! There is nothing stopping you from sleeping at a mate’s house, hence you can still enjoy those nights. But ultimately, the nights out aren’t everything…so don’t fear the FOMO.

Being homesick

I know so many friends who have moved away and spent the first year being homesick. Yes, it is a part of ‘growing up’, but if it is going to come at the cost of your first year of uni being wasted feeling stressed and lacking full concentration, is it really worth it? If you can just live at home where you are comfortable, it could enable you to get the best out of your degree and performance.

I know for myself, I liked having the escape and comfort of being able to come home and work in my own time and under my own rules. When speaking to my friends who had moved away, they felt more socially pressured into following the status quo and going along with what their housemates were doing. For example, my friend explained how they would often have to push uni work to one side in order to engage socially. Of course, this was a decision that had two options, but if the choice to work instead of socially engage was chosen, they feared that they would be judged and miss out so they felt obliged. Being a commuter, there was less expectation to engage and so things, I feel, can be done better in your own terms.

It’s easier for students to live at home - think about all the hassle in changing doctors, dentists, hairdressers – even local grocers'!

Some tips for commuters:

  • Always check for traffic updates before you begin your journey to and from university – sometimes it may be more beneficial and time-efficient to work from home instead
  • Create a space at home for quiet revision. Ensure you have a go-to ‘university work’ environment
  • Use email and phone to contact with lecturers and tutors. Just because you may have less time to go and speak to tutors in person if you’re running for the bus, it does not mean you have to miss out on the advice. Use your initiative and find alternate ways of communication. Do not be afraid to reach out!
  • Research into discounts and deals for travel, particularly if you use public transport where weekly and yearly travel passes can be purchased
  • Do your best to make friends. It is harder to make friends when you commute, as you are not on campus as much. Therefore, it is key for you to try your best to network in the days you are in if you want a social network at university.
  • Attend Fresher’s Week
  • Organisation and time management is key. If you are travelling to and from university, you need to ensure you use your time efficiently. For example, if you know you have an hour’s travel by train every morning and evening, why not take some revision notes or uni reading to do, saving you the workload later on? If you are driving, why not listen to some podcasts?

So all in all, commuting isn’t as bad as everyone tells you – it is possible to work and deliver a university experience just as well as on-campus students. Most importantly, do not forget that with your university degree, you get out what you put in - so make the most of it. Take your time to decide on your options, stay focused and follow your ambitions. Ignore myths by others – it is a degree for you, not anyone else, so make it yours.

Rebecca Dunne, the author of this blog post, is a second year University of Hertfordshire BA (Hons) Management undergraduate student and works as a freelance writer for following her UH internship with them in summer 2018.