Interview with Elton Medeiros on postdoctoral research

So we have a very interesting interview for you here today. These are some questions we asked Elton Medeiros, who has come from the University of Sao Paulo to do postdoctoral research here in Winchester for 2013-2014. As he is returning next week we decided to ask him about his experience and research topic…

Why did you decide to do a post doctoral research? And how different is it to doing a PhD?

I think it was – in some way – a natural choice at the end of my PhD. When I was finishing the writing of my thesis a whole group of new ideas based on the research I was developing came to me, but that would have been impossible to explore properly at that time. Therefore, afterwards, talking with my former PhD supervisor (Professor Nachman Falbel), meant I could organize all these ideas and formalize a project of research.

I would say that in practical terms the main difference between my actual research and my PhD is the fact that I do not have to submit my final work to a group of other scholars. I don’t need to be approved on a viva. The reason for this is that a post-doc is not actually an academic title. E.g., when I have done my research I will not receive a title of “Post-Doctor”. The goal of a post-doctoral research is actually to deepen previous research and/or improve your general expertise in the subjects to which you are dedicated (in my case, Anglo-Saxon England history, especially Late Anglo-Saxon period).

Why did you choose your topic (and explain what is it that you research)?

As I said, my decision to do a post-doctoral research was a sort of a natural choice. Actually, I couldn’t find any reason to not do this. And the reason for this is based on the fact that I realized that in doing this research I would “close a cycle” of researches in my academic career. As an undergraduate student in Brazil we have the possibility to do what could be called a “scientific initiation”. It is a scholarship given to undergraduate students with the purpose of putting them in contact, for the first time, with the environment of the academic world and academic research. This results in the writing of reports every six months for the funding agency involved and a final essay or monograph. In my case, I had gotten this scholarship for one full year and decided to do research on the presence of the Scandinavians in England and the politics during the reign of King Cnut the Great. This research – actually the questions that it brought to me – lead me to my Masters research, concerning the importance of the regal figure in Anglo-Saxon England as represented in its literature. For this I used as the main primary source the poem Beowulf (which eventually I decided to translate to Portuguese), and afterwards this lead to my PhD. In my PhD then I decided to explore with much more attention the representation of the figure of the king in this society but in a broader view, not just limited to the characters of Beowulf. Thinking on the representation of God during the Late Anglo-Saxon period as a “Heavenly Monarch” and particularly as the “Lord of Hosts” and its importance as part of a kind of ideological or political-theological ideal that would be present during the times of King Alfred the Great and king Edward the Elder. This is an ideal which would create a parallel between the Anglo-Saxons of the medieval times and the Hebrews of the Old Testament: both fighting against pagan foes and under the guidance of a “God of Battles”, what would transform them (i.e., the Anglo-Saxons) into a “New Israel”.

All of these are part of the background that brought me to my post-doctoral research here in Winchester. A post-doc which is supplying me with very interesting elements to join with my previous PhD research, and enable the writing of a monograph that will serve for a forthcoming book, which for now I am calling “The Kingdom of Holy Wisdom”.

Very generally speaking, the theme of my research here at the University of Winchester is based on the analysis of the practice and nature of the Christian royal power presented in the texts related with King Alfred and his court (as the Old English versions of the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius and the Pastoral Care of Gregory the Great). The construction of an ideal and a practice of power elaborated and guided by the discourse of the sources and their responsibility within the historical process that will result in the formation and administration of a unified kingdom of England in the mid-tenth century. The main principle of a successful ruler, for the “Alfredian thought”, would be the search for wisdom and due to a “wise government” the kingdom would receive the divine blessings. Such wisdom would be the manifestation of divine Wisdom, responsible for the administration of Creation. Through it would come the power of kings, the fate of nations and people’s lives. Therefore, for example, one of the manifest forms of Wisdom through rulers would be through the laws. The laws of Alfred, thus, were not just forms of social regulation, but representations of his ideal of the practice of power. Within this idea we would have the old codices of the ancient Anglo-Saxon kings linked to those of the Old Testament in order to demonstrate the continuity between the divine laws of Moses and those of his own authorship.

Within this paradigm, we have the identification of the Anglo-Saxon world with the one described in the biblical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, whereas characters like Moses, David and Solomon served to the Alfredian political thought as practical examples of authority, kingship and wisdom. Authority that was also expressed through the image of the earl, the local lord, as a reflection of the royal authority. So, every local lord and bishop was responsible for the men of his land, as the king was responsible for the kingdom and God for Creation. Expressing the idea that the authority, the power to command and administer, was a key element of social order and royal power, and an emanation of divine Wisdom.

Therefore, the main purpose of my research is to show that King Alfred wanted to bring the Anglo-Saxon society back to the divine order in the new kingdom that was arising. Thus, the path to be followed by their leaders should be the search for Wisdom as the only true way to real power. Hence, a new ideal of Christian royal power was also forged in Anglo-Saxon England.

 

What is your historical background, and your experience of doing research back in Brazil and here?

[Hmmm… Here I don’t know exactly what to say. What do you mean by “historical background”?]

I would say that after this time here in Britain doing my research and in contact with other researchers, especially other Anglo-Saxonists, my return to Brazil will be very interesting. Generally speaking, due to a bunch of different reasons, in Brazil there is a tendency for medieval studies to be very “theoretical”. It is very common to see Brazilian researches going deep into the theory. That is good! However, it can produce researches which you feel can lack a certain more empirical approach with the evidence of primary sources. Especially in areas like Early Medieval History and Anglo-Saxon England which are not so “popular” among Brazilian medievalists. In the case of the second, mainly because this is a subject that just a couple of years ago started to call the attention of undergraduate and post-graduate students; actually, surprisingly, the first PhD thesis in Brazil about Anglo-Saxon England is from 2011 (and it was my thesis). Today, at least until before my coming to Britain, I was aware of the existence of three Masters dissertations finished (or close to be finished) and the development of two PhD researches (besides a possible Masters research to begin maybe still this year or at the beginning of 2015 and a PhD research that is going to begin next September). Nevertheless, I can claim to be the first Brazilian Anglo-Saxonist to come to UK and that is now returning after having done research on this subject. I think that my experience here in Britain will be very useful for my own future researches and – I hope so – for other students and researchers interested in this subject that, for example, don’t know where to begin.

 


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