From student to speaker: spreading the word from the other side of the lectern

Choosing a dissertation topic can be the hardest decision of a student’s life. For me, it was one of the easiest.  From my first year at Durham I knew that I wanted to write my dissertation on the Lindisfarne Gospels.

It was a lecture that inspired me to write about the Lindisfarne Gospels.  Before coming to university, the thought of lectures terrified me.  Not only did they sound intimidating, but they also sounded incredibly boring! But the History lectures at Durham defy the traditional stereotype of packed lecture halls filled with bored students, falling asleep or nursing hangovers from the night before.

Don’t get me wrong, Durham History students have their fair share of hangovers.  But the history tutors at Durham certainly know how to keep weary students entertained, none more so than Professor Richard Gameson.

In my first term at Durham, Professor Gameson delivered a lecture on the Lindisfarne Gospels.  I know illuminated manuscripts aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but for art-lovers like me it was a brilliant lecture! The incredible illuminations were so inspiring that I decided to use them as the basis for an essay.

I won’t bore you with the details, but this was no ordinary essay.  Rather than reading countless books from the main library, I delved into the depths of Durham Cathedral Library to find a manuscript facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels, an exact replica of this 1,300 year-old gospel book!

Two years later, I was back in the Cathedral Library, this time studying the facsimile for my dissertation.  Most students dread having to write their dissertation – when you’re faced with a blank page and the prospect of having to write 15,000 words, it can seem like a daunting task.  But if you write about something you love, like I did, it makes the experience much less painful!

Whilst writing my dissertation, I was asked to do a public talk about the Lindisfarne Gospels at Auckland Castle in anticipation of the forthcoming Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition in Durham this summer.

I’d never done a talk before but since it was due to take place at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon I presumed there would be quite a small audience.  Surely everyone would be at work? And surely no one would turn up to hear an obscure 21 year-old witter on about a 1,300 year-old book?

I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Two hours before the talk was due to start, I discovered that over 80 tickets had been sold.  Suddenly I went from being calm and collected to being a nervous wreck!

When we got to Auckland Castle, I waited anxiously for the audience to arrive. The seats soon filled up, the lights went out and the talk began.  Holding the microphone to my mouth I began to repeat the words I had practised over and over again the night before.

The next half hour was a bit of a blur. I can’t really remember what happened but I must have done something right because, much to my relief, everyone really enjoyed it.  The lady organising the talk even rewarded me with a bottle of wine!

Since doing the talk at Auckland Castle I’ve done around 20 talks for the public, one at Bede’s World and the rest in Durham.  I’ve gone from being lectured to being the lecturer and I’ve also gone from being paid in alcohol to being paid in cash, which is infinitely better for my bank balance!

So when I graduated from Durham University this summer, I didn’t just finish with a flimsy piece of paper proving that I’d completed my degree.  I left with a newfound confidence which has enabled me to do things that I would never have dreamt of doing before coming to Uni.

That’s the great thing about being a student at Durham. You’re encouraged to develop new skills, test your abilities and achieve your true potential.  And in the magnificent shadow of Durham Cathedral, who could fail to be inspired?

Catherine graduated from Durham this summer in English Literature and History.

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