After completing her MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture and then her PhD at the Warburg, Maite Chicote went on to secure a role as a postdoctoral researcher on the Leverhulme research project "Risk and Resilience: Exploring Historical Responses to Earthquakes in Europe (1200-1755)" at Durham University.
Could you tell us a little bit about the Leverhulme research project you are currently working on?
I had my VIVA in January 2020 and the following day I started working with Durham University. This was an enormous change, but it was a great opportunity for an early-career scholar like me, as I had the chance to work closely with various colleagues who were specialised in different fields and in a completely new academic setting. I joined Durham University as a postdoctoral researcher in the Leverhulme project “Risk and Resilience: Exploring Historical Responses to Earthquakes in Europe (1200-1755)” directed by Professor Christopher Gerrard (Archaeology Department).
Many studies on historical seismicity investigate the dates of past earthquakes and the damage they caused, but they fail to address other fundamental issues such as: how did people react to these natural hazards? Were past societies able to cope with risk or did they simply cling to their religious beliefs? Is it possible to identify steps which suggest there was a process of learning review or even prevention?
Our project starts from a very basic, but fundamental premise: earthquakes, as any other natural hazard, are not only the result of natural causes, they are shaped by human actions and decisions. This is why our project investigates the reactions to earthquakes in an attempt to shed light on how past societies prepared for and, especially, prevented future calamities.
What key things have you learnt from doing this research project?
During these last two years, I had the opportunity to work with colleagues who were specialised in Archaeology, Geography, Landscape Studies and Seismology. Interdisciplinarity is often mentioned in academic environments as an ideal working model, but we rarely have the chance to work with such a variety of people and learn from them on a day-to-day basis.
For instance, one of the most thrilling things for me was to carry out fieldwork with my colleagues from the Archaeology Department at Durham University. We visited numerous different locations, recording earthquake damage in medieval and early modern edifices, and the identifying protective measures master masons and architects employed to make their buildings more resistant to future earthquakes. At the same time, I dedicated great efforts to archival research as one of the fundamental aspects of our project was to unveil new historical data on past earthquakes.
What did you study during your time at the Warburg Institute?
After completing my BA in Art History at the Complutense University of Madrid I moved to London to study the MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Studies offered jointly by the Warburg Institute and the National Gallery. After that, I started a PhD at the Warburg Institute entitled “Patronage and Historical Memories in Castile: The Marquises of Villena at the Dawn of the Early Modern Period (1445-1529)”. The aim of my thesis was to understand how acts of patronage were used to create or destroy historical memories in the Early Modern Period. In order to do so, I focused on the Marquises of Villena, a famous aristocratic family heavily criticised in past and modern times.
Did your experience at the Warburg Institute help to equip you for the role?
My studies at the Warburg Institute have been great training for the work I am carrying out now. First of all, when I was studying there I was constantly faced with new materials, methodologies, points of view, etc. This helped me to develop many academic and interpersonal skills that have led me to the position I now have. For example, before arriving at the Institute, I had mainly worked on art-historical subjects, but when I was there I started working on other topics and this put me in contact with many researchers that visited the Warburg Institute and its library during those years, enrichening my knowledge and widening my views. Secondly, while I was studying my PhD, my supervisors gave me permission to teach a few modules in the Art History Department at UCL and this has given me the tools to prepare the module I am now teaching in the doctoral programme in medieval studies offered jointly by the Universidade Aberta and Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal).
What did you enjoy most about studying at the Warburg Institute?
Everybody always says that the library of the Warburg Institute is one of its best assets and I could not agree more with this statement. Nevertheless, the truly enriching aspect is not only the large amount of books, manuscripts and journals stored within its walls. The most interesting thing is the great variety of scholars who visit it regularly or occasionally, people who often spend time talking with you about their research projects and are even able to give you feedback and important pieces of advice. Another thing I really enjoyed while studying at the Warburg Institute was the constant collaboration with the other MAs and PhDs (we organised a conference, various seminars and even a small exhibition). My colleagues were open-minded, helpful and always ready to give me a hand. This is an invaluable thing as I believe scholarship can only advance when people collaborate and share expertise, knowledge and ideas.
What was the most valuable thing you learned during your PhD?
When I was at the Warburg Institute doing my PhD, I had the chance to collaborate daily with people who studied many different subjects. It might not be straightforward, but this greatly benefited my research skills. Thanks to this daily interaction with people who worked on different fields, I started questioning sources in a different way and formulated questions I had not previously thought about. But even more importantly, I started asking for feedback as I knew that the best advice often came from those who knew they could speak openly about a piece of work or an idea.
Would you recommend the Warburg Institute as a place of study and why?
I believe the Warburg Institute is a unique place where students and scholars can carry out great research projects. Another aspect that should not be underestimated is the capacity the Institute has to make you question your ideas and, therefore, enable you to open up new paths of research. Sometimes, a quick conversation at the entrance or a particularly interesting book mark the beginning of a new and exciting project.
What’s the best piece of advice you have received?
I spent quite a lot of time at the Warburg Institute when I was doing my PhD. I often went there not because I really needed a book, but because I wanted to sit in the library and work there. This library is a peaceful place that always inspires me. The best piece of advice I received at the Warburg was probably this one: work where you feel at ease. Research might sometimes be tiring and frustrating, but if you really believe in what you are doing and carry out your research in a place that makes you grow, the results will be good and all the effort will be rewarded.
What are your future plans?
It is always difficult to plan what will happen in the next years, but my objective is to continue with both my research and teaching. My contract with Durham University will soon come to an end, but I will continue teaching in the doctoral programme offered jointly by the Universidade Aberta and Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal). At the same time, I will keep working for the British Academy project “Crafting Medieval Spain: The Torrijos Ceilings in the Global Museum” (Victoria and Albert Museum).
In 2022, I will join the Art History Department at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (Spain) as I have been awarded a 4-year postdoctoral position under the supervision of Professor Antonio Urquízar Herrera. During the next year, I will also dedicate my efforts to a new research project financed by the Programme for Cultural Heritage of the Region of Aragon (Spain) which focuses on the late medieval legacy of the County of Ribagorza.