Luiz Fernando Ramos: USP SPECTRESS Fellow in Dublin

I choose to develop my research with the SPECTRESS Project at the Trinity College Dublin, and was kindly received by Jennifer Edmond, who offered me ideal conditions for working on my research on W.B. Yeats’ theatre. I was looking for to find out whether the Easter Rising, as a tremendous historical event, reverberated as a traumatic experience forcing the poet’s option for a more abstract and stylized theatre, mainly expressed in his four “Plays for Dancers”.

The Winding Stair, the best restaurant of Dublin.

The Winding Stair, the best restaurant of Dublin.

Sun set on the Liffey, Dublin.

Sun set on the Liffey, Dublin.


I was blessed by the timing of the trip, from January to March 2016. I could observe in a very comfortable and focused manner, how Irish society and the city of Dublin, a true jewel of the European community, prepared for the centenary of the Easter Rising, touchstone of the independent Irish Republic. The events related to this rebellion from the English domination were concentrated between 24 and 29 of April 1916. One hundred years after, the celebration of this starting point of what is today Ireland began in early January, coinciding with my arrival, and I had the opportunity of reading about that facts in special newspaper editions, watching TV series and films from the Dublin Cinema Festival reconstituting the fights, and attending productions from the Gate and The Abbey Theatre of plays from the main Irish dramatists on the matter, besides having at my disposal in Trinity dozens of lectures and debates about it.
Living in a small nice flat in the charming neighbourhood of Ranelagh, I was in a walking distance from the Trinity College and from the National Library, the two places that I daily visited, but had also much time for leisure, like watching the wonderful low skyline of Dublin from the bridges over the Liffey. It was winter time, which, for a Brazilian tired from the heat, can be very suitable, and was also able to travel a week through the Wild Atlantic Way, from up north to down south of the Island.

Pond in Ranelagh, Dublin

Pond in Ranelagh, Dublin

Sliabh Liag, Donegal

Sliabh Liag, Donegal


My research on Yeats has had a great improvement not just in the explorations of the links between the poet and the National cause, as well on his genuine point of view during the Independence War years, but also in his specific relationship with the British artist Gordon Craig (1782-1966), who had very much influenced the Irish poet in his drives towards the stage designing and to a more physical and material approach to the theatre.
I must thank very much Jennifer, Deirdre and Sarah, who guided me in the Trinity’s Long Room Hub, where I worked mostly, but especially Jane Ohlmeyer, Director of the Hub, whose warm hospitality made the difference in turning the whole experience a lovely one.

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Artur Grabowski: JU SPECTRESS Fellow in Delhi

Researching Cultural Trauma in India

Researching Cultural Trauma in India

Lunch on the JNU campus

Lunch on the JNU campus

 

 

 

 

 

Coming to Delhi I was the first of the SPECTRESS fellows from Poland sent to India; it was also my first visit in that country. Destined to pave the way and to set up a fort I was ready to rely on myself, the more so because the preliminary contacts with our Indian partners proceeded not without difficulties. In effect I had come to the unknown city in the middle of night (fortunately, having a guest house booked by Prof. Mukherjee) and for the first three days I was roaming around the city looking for the accommodation possibilities. Quickly I found out that that it is not easy. First, apartments and their prices offered for foreigners are usually artificially overpriced, second, it is hard to rent a flat for relatively short period, third, the newcomer is absolutely disoriented in which part of the enigmatic city to live, if he does not want to stay in a guarded diplomatic district. Finally, thanks to Prof. Mukherjee, I contacted one of the former participants of our program (Thank you Kosta!) who recommended the flat he had recently left. It was in a pleasant district inhabited by local middleclass families, and close to the JNU campus. It was also to be overpaid but the landlord seemed helpful and the area green and peaceful, which is exceptional in the crowded and dirty city.

JNU Campus Jungle

JNU Campus Jungle

JNU political games

JNU political games

The JNU campus is a beautiful jungle with peaceful spots to stay and cheap bars to eat. Its inhabited by an international society of students and professors who also live at the area. It is strongly divided into departments, so any inter-departmental relations might be difficult and the whole administration is a nightmare. Library collections are mostly casual and chaotic, recommended more for explorers then strict academics; however, searching among the shelves may be an adventure. Walls of the university buildings serve for political battlefield, although extremely one-sided. English is common language of teaching but even for informal conversations students like to use the “universal” code. I met wonderful people there, sensual and emotional, helpful and hard-working.

 

Delhi is heavily polluted, crazy blocked by cars and filled by monumental official buildings. But it is also green, with parks surprisingly well maintained and a huge variety of theatres, galleries and libraries, cheap and often even free. It is also safe, people are friendly and helpful, most of them speaking English, and fortunately there are not to many tourists. One can live there both western and local way. There are districts absolutely modern, relatively expansive, and local communities, also friendly for the foreigners. The city is well connected through metro and buses; the latter are usually not recommended for “civilized” people, which means that most of the upper class does not degrade themselves to use those “dirty and smelly” vehicles, but once you really want to feel local atmosphere it is the best way, and also very cheap. The best food you can find on the street-stands, made by dirty hands and on open air. Local intellectuals would never recommend it to the European taste and American sense of safety, but eating with poor students and workers offers you the unique opportunity to look inside the area of real “difference”.

Spending winter in Delhi one has to be ready for warm days and cold nights. Do not expect tropical weather; you will need some heating in your apartment for at least three months, and a warm jacket will also be necessary. However, many street markets offer a variety of both local and western cloths. Once the city is extremely dirty and dusty, and using people for cleaning is a natural, even required habit, an Indian sense of cleanness and order may surprise you, so be ready for daily homework. You have to bargain everywhere, usually half price of the one offered for the foreigner is a rational decision. It does not pay to exchange cash, except in banks but only some of them (those less popular) can do it; the best way is using card of one of the international chains, like City or HSBC. The price usually depends more from the place you buy goods then their quality, so the best choice for beginners is to ask your local friends. For eating I do recommend cantinas and small shops at the JNU campus.

Mother of India

Mother of India

I was traveling for several weeks through the whole India, by trains (the most amusing and comfortable but time consuming journey, and it’s hard to book a ticket) and busses (faster and easy to catch the connection); also using taxis, especially if you need to visit popular touristic destinations could be a good solution, if you know how to bargain of course. Relatively inexpensive and useful way of traveling is also Uber, popular in most of the regions. One should not expect in India the western sense of “beauty”, even the most famous objects of architecture seem to be neglected. Sticking to the touristic tracks might be disappointing. The best way of exploring the continent is just fallowing local signs… For the vacation I would rather not recommend Goa, it is dirty, food is expensive, and crowded by visitors coming just for drinking and dancing on the beach. If you need to stay on a clean and empty beach and swim in a beautiful sea, go to Kerala or Karnataka seaside, or the far south.

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Christian Wicke: RUB Fellow in Sao Paulo

I was seconded to the University of Sao Paulo from August to October 2015. Laura Izarra has been a wonderful host and I wish to thank her very much for the many inspiring meetings we had together. I admire her enthusiasm for the SPECTRESS project and the effort she puts into her research group at USP.
This collaborative project on ‘cultural trauma’ gave me the opportunity to review my previous research on nationalism and the politics of history in the Federal Republic of Germany from a new angle, and also to process my current work on urban movements, deindustrialisation and industrial heritage from a ‘cultural trauma’ point of view. While I had previously been very sceptical of this concept, I now think it can be a useful tool in social and historical research, that is, if we accept Jeffrey Alexander’s distinction between socially constructed ‘cultural trauma’ and real trauma; a distinction that critics of the concept often do not clearly enough draw.

Shortly after my arrival I was asked to give a lecture on industrial heritage in the Ruhr, Germany’s former industrial heartland. I argued that the extensive construction of industrial heritage sites in the course of the region’s deindustrialisation could be regarded as a form of ‘trauma management’. The great number of postindustrial lieux de memoire scattered across the landscape represent the memory of work that is no longer needed and, at the same time, represent a cohesive image of regional identity.
I gave two further lectures on this theme at Universidade Federal Rural Do Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ), where I spent a fascinating day with Alexandre Fortes, and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in the beautiful old town of Rio with Professor José. Both kindly invited me to spend time with their highly talented colleagues and students. The week in Rio, where I had several opportunities to discuss industrial heritage with Paulo Fontes from the Fundação Getulio Vargas and Larissa Rosa Correa from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, was the highlight of my research trip to Brazil. I am extremely grateful for this wonderful time.

Because of my interest in the relationship between regional identity and representations of industrial heritage I decided to visit a number of towns in the state of Minas Gerais, where gold mining started in the late 17th century. There I discovered representations of industrial heritage in museums, monuments and memorials that refer to a premodern past and yet remain so fundamental to the regional identity.

Towards the end of my secondment I was invited to give a lecture on my recent book ‘Helmut Kohl’s Quest for Normality: His Representation of the German Nation and Himself’. In this lecture I looked at (West) Germany’s former chancellor as a ‘trauma manager’ who sought to represent and promote a more positive image of German history, rehabilitate and westernise German nationalism, and at the same time carefully tested the boundaries of the, by then, relatively established culture of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the Nazi past) in the Federal Republic.

Sao Paulo: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The good: Sao Paulo is a fascinating city, with millions of extremely friendly inhabitants, an incredible cultural diversity and complex cuisine (and street food), a fantastic music and art scene, and more museums than you could ever visit. It took me a few weeks to settle in but towards the end of the secondment I felt very comfortable. The weather in winter, by the way, was sunny and warmer than the German summer.

The bad: To be sure, the urban planning of this city as a whole could be regarded as having failed. The level of pollution of rivers, canals, streets and especially the air are unparalleled in any European city today. And the permanent traffic jams make it difficult to get around. The city also suffers from water shortages partly for reasons of bad planning. I also felt a culture of fear among the Paulistanos due to high crime rates. Middle-class neighbourhoods are extremely securitised and if you ask people for directions they sometimes back off. The class divide in Sao Paulo remains extreme and the country still has a long way to further promote the social equality as envisaged by the previous Lula government, which has had a polarising effect on politics even though it in many ways improved the conditions of the working classes. (In August I witnessed a massive political protest seeking to delegitimise and overthrow the Labour government for corruption.) Sao Paulo also currently has a massive drug problem with crack, especially visible in parts of the city centre around the so-called Cracolandia. I would strongly advise anyone who moves to Sao Paulo to live somewhere near a subway station. That will guarantee for very efficient and relatively safe inner-city travel.

The ugly: Most historic buildings have been demolished. Sao Paulo’s endless horizon is dominated by a monotonous skyline of highrise buildings and there are very few green spaces left in the city. However, Sao Paulo has a tremendous street art scene. The whole city is an art gallery of unexpected quality. Walking around or taking a taxi was therefore highly entertaining for me. I have to come back to see more of it!

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Vitor Blotta:USP SPECTRESS Fellow in Zagreb

Estrangement and familiarity: Notes on my stay in Zagreb – Dec 2015 – Feb 2016

Project: “You Will Never Understand: the monopoly of the place of speech though cultural trauma narratives in Croatia and Brazil”

I went to Zagreb with the intention of verifying if cultural trauma narratives may help me explain the recent worldly phenomena of conservatism and antagonistic approaches to politics, in all sides of the political spectrum.

Because the project involved an immersion into different accounts of traumatic events that speak to the identity individuals and cultures, I gradually began to identify similarities and distinctions amongst groups within the Croatian cultures, who were different from me, but did not seem at first different amongst themselves. I learned that independently from ethnic group, Croatians are warm-blooded, have strong family and friendship bonds, and are responsible and ethically oriented citizens. In this process I also found out similarities between Croatians and Brazilians, such as cheerfulness, and extroversion, communicative abilities, and love for sports.

Sunny day at Bundek Park. Zagreb

Sunny day at Bundek Park. Zagreb

This experience of living in a foreign country can be a good analogy of the ethical or scientific process of being impacted by an otherness that defies our categories of understanding. Firstly there are relations of estrangement, then labelling, distinguishing and in the end relating to the differences. In traumatic events, this estrangement process occurs over and over again, hindering the possibilities of identifying similarities between different sides. All this has made me try to identify commonalities in the antagonistic groups within Brazilian politics, especially in the transitional justice debate, such as general demands for safety, order and the search for a just outcome to all involved.

It was with this spirit that I came to Zagreb between December 2015 and February 2016. After spending this time studying Croatian post-war literature and relating to colleagues and citizens in Zagreb and the surrounding regions, I hope I am not too imprecise when I say that my impression is that Croatians get their importance to freedom, individuality and personality from the Catholic winds of the Mediterranean, the more disciplined and socially oriented values from the Slavic and Orthodox worldviews, and the cultural and artistic effervescence from the ritualism and selflessness of the Muslim faith.

Blotta3

Two views from the city of Split

Two views from the city of Split

The Faculty of Political Science of the University of Zagreb (FPZG) is well equipped with very interesting and collaborative professors, with courses and research groups in the areas of politics and communication. In a school were the students can major in politics or journalism and participate in courses such as Enes Kulenovac’s ‘The Politics of Human Rights’, Marijana Grbesa’s ‘Pop Politics’, and Slatan Krajina’s ‘Media and the City’, with vibrant Student Radio and TV shows, the intellectual and cultural exchanges are mostly enriching. Even though this combination of Political Science and Journalism comes from the Yugoslavian period, in democratic times, much of the discussion on the legitimacy of power comes from bringing about a fair balance between free press and politics. All the more reason to consider FPZG a special Faculty, located in a special region of Europe.

During the end of the year, I travelled from Zagreb through the Dalmatian coast until Dubrovnik and returned through Bosnia and Sarajevo. It was an astounding experience, and it led me to the strongest insights of the research. Watching the lonesome beauty of the changing grey mountains of Dalmatia and Bosnia, and listening to heartfelt testimonies on Croatian history and homeland war from all different sides, made me more aware that the unending challenge of testimony literature and cultural trauma narratives is to keep the representations as alive as possible, in order to enable all sides to ‘step in the other’s shoes’.

playing basketball in Dubrovnik

playing basketball in Dubrovnik

Sunset in Dalmatia

Sunset in Dalmatia


This ethical calling within cultural works could inspire the political attempts of complex conflict resolutions between opposing parties. The SPeCTReSS project responds to this calling by enabling a continuous thread of different scientific ways to interpret and deal with our culturally traumatic events.

Although I did not learn as much as I should have of the Croatian language, I felt that the attempts to understand and practice it have been an important part of becoming more familiar with the cultures of the Balkans. The truly friendly environment amongst the colleagues was what in the end enabled me to feel free not only in the sense of adapting to a different environment, but as being able to identify myself in the others, who are the same time equal and different from me. In the classroom, in the streets, playing Tuesday basketball. Hvala, moji prijatelji, hvala Hrvatska!

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Nebojša Blanuša:FPZG SPECTRESS Fellow in New Haven

It was my pleasure to have an opportunity to spend three beautiful and intense working months at Yale University, cooperating with people at the Center for Cultural Sociology (CCS), Center for Comparative Research (CCR), as well as with other colleagues from Sociology, Psychology and Political Science departments. The whole University with twelve residential campuses is a sort of a heart of New Haven, integrated with the center of the town and colorful in autumn when elms and other trees garnish themselves with golden and red leaves. Neo-gothic architecture of educational institutions gives an impression of a long admiring tradition, combined with monumental modernist buildings such as Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges, Ingalls Rink, Kline Biology Tower, unavoidable Yale University Art Gallery, etc.

Sterling Memorial Library at Yale

Sterling Memorial Library at Yale

Such environment, along with excellent work conditions at the Center for Cultural Sociology – vibrant professional communities with plenty of public lectures, roundtables and conferences – enable fruitful exchange of ideas and stimulate the scholars to intense work.

My office at Yale Center for Cultural Sociology

My office at Yale Center for Cultural Sociology

My regular weekly schedule involved participation at several workshops where visiting scholars had the opportunity to discuss their work-in-progress with Yale graduate students and Yale faculty from Sociology and other disciplines. The first one was the CCR workshop on Tuesdays, held at the premises of Callhoun College in Fellows Lounge, the second one was the Advanced Seminar in Cultural Sociology held on Thursdays at Department of Sociology led by Professor Jeff Alexander. But the peak of the week was every Friday at CCS Workshop. I also presented my paper on this workshop on 20 November 2015, titled “Specters of Conspiratorial Thinking in Populist Reason”.

Audience at my presentation on CCS.

Audience at my presentation on CCS.

The purpose of the paper was not only to resolve problems of defining populism by putting the emphasis on the role of conspiratorial thinking, conceived as a simplified political discourse that relies on ultimate phantasms of the politics of redemption. My aim was also to show, by using ideas of social psychology, cultural sociology, Lacanian and post-Lacanian psychoanalysis, how conspiratorial thinking emerges and expresses those phantasms in conceiving the politics as antagonistic battlefield. As an articulation of political cleavages, conspiracy theories are symptoms that mostly act-out collective traumas. I was very satisfied with the response to my paper. The fruitful discussion helped me to improve and clarify some arguments. Furthermore, through this paper I tried to discuss several aspects of theory of cultural trauma and to improve it mostly by psychoanalytic arguments. Outcomes are more than satisfying.

Arts and Humanities Library at Pen State University

Arts and Humanities Library at Penn State University

During my secondment I also visited Penn State University where I met several scholars and students interested in topic of cultural trauma. The first one was Professor David Baker from the department of Education Policy Studies who was interested to popularize the topic of cultural trauma among his students and colleagues, as well as to bring them to Dubrovnik Summer institute on Cultural Trauma in the following years. The second one was Professor Scott Bennet, who is Associate Director of the project Correlates of War. That project collects the data about the wars from all around the world. We discussed the issues of compatibility of data between SPECTRESS and Correlates of War and possibilities of cooperation. One form of cooperation could be to create a database of cultural trauma narratives before, during and after the wars in different part of the world and to relate them to other, already collected data about those wars. The third colleague I met was Professor of Sociology, Kai Schaft, who worked with Roma people in Europe and investigated their collective identity and traumas through history. Professor Schaft will be our guest this year at the Spectress Summer Institute on Cultural Trauma in Dubrovnik.
Overall, my experience of living and working in USA and cooperating with so many people with different cultural and professional background especially at the CCS is invaluable. I think it changed me profoundly.

What also moved me deeply during my stay in New Haven is a huge contrast between the town center and University on one side and other, more distant neighbourhoods. I lived in a small pretty house by the Quinnipiac river, around two miles from my office at the Science Hill. However, between these two nice places, only few blocks away from them the picture of New Haven is very different. Poor buildings, ruins, and homeless people are common. Family poverty rate in 2012 was 30 % for this part of the town. Only ten minutes by bike from there lies the second richest university in the country. This is just a glimpse that shows how big social differences are here. Sometimes it looks as if Yale security system was built to protect the university from those parts of the town. That is possible only in a city traumatized by itself.

Poor parts of New Haven

Poor parts of New Haven

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Thea Coventry: RUB SPECTRESS Fellows in Sao Paulo

Coventry1

I was seconded to USP over the Brazilian ‘winter’ in 2015 – spending three months in Sao Paulo, where I was warmly welcomed by Professor Laura Izzara a few days after arriving in this enormous city. The SPECTRESS programme gave me the opportunity to develop a comparative project on indigenous recognition in constitutions in (ex)-colonial countries – in this case looking at what Australia could learn from Brazil. Currently, Australia is in the process of moving towards a referendum to change the wording of the Constitution to formally recognise Australia’s indigenous peoples as first peoples, traditional owners of the land and their distinct culture. In contrast, Brazil’s indigenous people have been recognised in the Brazilian constitution, in its current form, since 1988. I presented the first part of the research – entitled “Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Trauma: A positive step or empty legalese in Australia?” – explaining the special role law has played in mediating cultural trauma amongst Australia’s indigenous population – in a lecture to master students at USP, and greatly enjoyed the stimulating discussion with the students following the lecture, particularly hearing their perspectives on the situation of Brazil’s indigenous population.

Impressive architecture on the USP campus

Impressive architecture on the USP campus

Living in Sao Paulo was an amazing experience – although I only began to feel properly at home in the last month. Everyone I spoke to before going to Sao Paulo (and many Brazilians on my arrival) had told me stories of violence and crime – leaving me too scared to venture out after dark at first. However, instead I was struck by the incredible friendliness and openness of the Paulistanos – even in a city of twenty plus million. The city is completely overwhelming at first – coming from a smallish city in the industrial heartland of Germany – in Sao Paulo there are high rise buildings as far as the eye can see. A few days after arriving I ventured into the Downtown area, which was a complete shock: an almost abandoned part of the city full of homeless people, drug addicts and crime. Some lovely old colonial buildings are still slowly crumbling amongst high-rise buildings with smashed in windows framed against the endless blue sky. But I quickly discovered this is only a small part of this vibrant and diverse city…which is full of amazing food, cultural activities and joyful music. While my ability to engage with the political situation was limited by me speaking two words of Portugese (‘Tudo Bem’) I was struck by the level of protest and political activity in the city – and Paulistanos were ever willing to discuss the ails affecting the Rouseff government.

Coventry3

While I was mainly in Sao Paulo for the length of the secondment, I did manage to see some parts of nearby Brazil. One highlight was interviewing members of an indigenous community in Paraty-Mirim – after a day-long bus ride, and hitching a lift with some friendly locals who also translated my questions. I was really surprised at one part of the exchange: I asked several young women – barefoot, sitting with babies in their teenage arms in the dust outside their community hall – if they knew they were recognised in Brazil’s Constitution and that it afforded them special rights. Yes, they replied. Was it important to them? Yes, they replied. Did they think it made a difference in their life quality or living situation? No, was the unhesitating answer from all three.

 Community Hall in Paraty-Mirim Indigenous Community


Community Hall in Paraty-Mirim Indigenous Community

I was incredibly appreciative of the opportunity of undertaking research in Brazil made possible through the SPECTRESS Project and I’d very much like to thank Laura Izzara for making my stay productive and enjoyable.

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Stephen McQuillan: TCD SPECTRESS Fellow in Delhi

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I was seconded to the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for three months between September and December 2015. My purpose for going to New Delhi were primarily to avail of the public and private papers based in the National Archives of India, Nehru Memorial Museum Library (popularly known as ‘Teen Murti’) as well as the PC Joshi archives in JNU all of which contained a diverse array of archival material of great benefit to my research. My research is centred on cross-cultural affiliations and transnational subversive connections between Irish and Indian revolutionaries in the early twentieth century period.

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Living in New Delhi was both a strange and enriching experience. I soon realised that for the purposes of self-preservation it is simply easier to surrender to the invisible logic of chaos and madness which characterises the hustle and bustle of daily life in India. Crossing the road is a typical example. The traffic in Delhi is like a self-balancing eco-system which one must both respect and fear. The archives were a frustrating exercise in bureaucratic red tape. Getting an overnight train is an experience I will never forget. But somehow everything manages to work. Often it is better to resign and just let it happen. A 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan in late October recorded tremors and witnessed buildings shake in Delhi which resulted in an electricity outage in the archives. However, since black outs were not an unusual occurrence it was rather amusing when the PhD students and researchers continued to work away for a while in the darkness typing up notes diligently until the head archivist entered and informed us we must evacuate the building immediately.

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Studying at JNU was a really interesting experience. Home to a beautiful lush campus on the outskirts of Delhi I was fortunate to observe a profoundly politically active and academically engaging student populous. Professor Aditya Mukherjee’s postgraduate research group were very welcoming and helpful. It was not long after arriving that I became invited to numerous discussions, seminars and conferences. One of the highlights of my time in India was being given the opportunity to present my research at one of the postgraduate meetings in the Centre for Historical Studies. This for me encapsulated the advantages and benefits from participating in the SPECTRESS secondment as I was able to present my work to an audience that otherwise would not have been possible and receive feedback accordingly.

 

 

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