Jobwatch: middle earth works

December 19, 2003

Oxford University is looking to fill its Tolkien chair, while in New Zealand, where Lord of the Rings was made, enthusiastic film scholars are being hired by the University of Otago. Pat Leon reports

The name J. R. R. Tolkien strikes more resonance than usual this week with the general UK release of the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King.

This is lucky for Oxford University, which is looking to fill the Tolkien chair of medieval English literature and language. The chair was established in 1979 in honour of the famous author and academic who was Rawlinson and Bosworth professor of Anglo-Saxon in the English faculty from 1925 to 1945 and Merton professor of English language from 1945 to 1959.

Malcolm Godden, current Rawlinson and Bosworth professor, says: "Tolkien was an important and influential member of the faculty. He was brilliant at teaching and writing about literature and language. To have someone who has both strengths would be great."

An 11-member electoral board will make the appointment to replace Paul Strohm, the second chairholder to have left the post for Columbia University in the US. Godden says: "Oxford's English faculty is the biggest in the country, with a great research reputation. We have always been strong in medieval English and we want a professor who will keep this up."

One complication is that a non-stipendiary fellowship at St Hilda's College or Lady Margaret Hall is attached to the professorship. St Hilda's remains all-female after a controversial referendum earlier this month, so if a man is appointed, the fellowship will be held at Lady Margaret.

New Zealand's spectacular scenery provides the backdrop for the films of Tolkien's masterpiece and New Zealand scholars have always made a great contribution to medieval and language studies, Godden says. "The first chairholder, Douglas Gray, was a New Zealander, as was the first of Tolkien's successors at Merton College. His rival for the chair of Anglo-Saxon, Kenneth Sizer, was also from New Zealand."

Tolkein's trilogy has also provided a fillip for the University of Otago, Dunedin, which wants to raise its profile in the field of Australasian and New Zealand cinema and is advertising tenure-track vacancies for lecturers and senior lecturers in film studies.

Geoff Kearsley, dean of the school of social science, says: " The Lord of the Rings has highlighted the wealth of filmmaking talent in this country.

Film studies, as a part of the department of communication studies, is one of our fastest-growing programmes.

"The department is relatively new and offers three degree majors - film and media, communication and visual culture. With rapid student growth, especially in film studies, we are able to expand the academic staff. They are mostly young and enthusiastic scholars who have mainly adopted a critical theory or cultural studies perspective, but that is being paralleled by new appointments in mass communication from a more traditional social science perspective."

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