The UCU is currently running a questionnaire on casualisation and precarious contracts in the university sector.  I filled in my return over lunch on the first day.  Although it is meant to be anonymous, I decided that I would share some (although not all) of my responses.  In places these have been edited in order to make sense to a non-academic audience, or to remove information which I daren’t put in the public domain.

How many academic jobs have you held in the last 12 months?

7 (each course that I teach on at one institution has a different contract…!)

How many jobs have you held in total in last 12 months?


Use this space to tell us more about how working on an insecure contract affects your work, whether positively or negatively:

I am unable to turn down work that comes up at short notice, making it difficult to plan my own research days – it plays second fiddle to finding paid employment.

I am unable to supervise MA and PhD students working in a field directly related to my own because my contracts do not allow for it – this is not detrimental to the students’ work because I feel it is morally wrong to deny them my support – so I do the work for nothing.

I am unable to reschedule teaching to enable me to go to relevant academic conferences, nor am I able to access the departmental research fund to support my own career development.  Likewise, I can’t afford to spend money on expensive conference travel as I have to save, because I don’t know whether I will have any income at all in 6 months.

A substantial proportion of the time I should spend on my own research in fact goes on unrelated work to pay the bills, or trying to create unrelated work which will pay the bills.

The stress is almost unbearable, particularly during the summer when there is no money coming in and no guarantee of any future work.  This has a negative impact on my ability to concentrate on my own work.  Furthermore, the stress is in itself tiring, and has a negative impact on my sleep patterns, which in turn means I have less energy to teach.

Use this box to tell us more about your employer’s support for your career development:

My institution, as a whole, has no interest in my professional development because I cannot contribute to the outcomes on which they are rated – the REF and TEF.  When I was an honorary, unpaid member of the department, I had my own page on the research portal.  Once I was employed on casual contracts, this was archived and I can no longer keep it up to date.

That said, individuals within the department have been very supportive of my professional development and independent research, suggesting appropriate sources of research funding and helping me with applications.

I do, however, have access to internal training courses.

Please use this box to give details of how your mental health has been affected:

Severe periods of stress and anxiety, especially over the summer when there is no guarantee of any work in the autumn or after Christmas, and while having to set up and prepare courses that I haven’t taught before, which takes a significant amount of time over and above what is paid for.  As I am unable to take anti-depressants, dealing with this can be very difficult.

I had a breakdown after a year of being unemployed post PhD, and although it was not  entirely related to the work/financial situation, it was certainly a contributory factor.

Please tell us more about how your contractual status affects long-term planning

I have children and own my house outright – I did not take the conventional route into academia – but I simply cannot think about how we are going to put 3 children through university, pay for driving lessons and car insurance for them…

As for my own long-term financial future, I have no pension to speak of and no prospect of attaining one.

Would you prefer a contract that guaranteed you more hours at the cost of less flexibility?


I could quite happily combine an admin role with teaching/research if it meant stability and a secure income.

Likewise, I don’t crave flexibility – I just want to be able to teach and research without worrying about where the next pay packet is coming from.


One of the pleasures of working at Lancaster has been putting together a new MA module on the early modern world. It is a small group of students who are very interested and engaged. After discussing what makes the early modern early modern (rather than medieval or modern) during our first session, our second seminar was on print culture. We talked about print, orality, reading aloud, audiences, news, transmission of information, networks… It was a really enjoyable session.

Other topics still to come include religion, patriarchy, trade, colonisation… And I’m looking forward to them.

I do a lot of talks for Sovereign Education, speaking to groups of 6th form students on A level study days. But a couple of weeks ago I agreed to step in and speak for Lancaster Royal Grammar School’s History Society. They meet at lunchtime and there are members from the whole school community from year 7 to 13, which meant thinking on my feet a bit in order to make sure it was accessible to everyone. I even managed to get them to sing.

I gave an updated version of my Singing the News talk. I’ve separated out the Pilgrimage of Grace section so that I can use that as a different talk in its own right, and instead I’ve incorporated some of the material I put together on news ballads for the Turku EDPOP workshop last year. It means that I can talk more about ballads in the context of other news media, and some cases where there is significant overlap between ballads and pamphlets.

A busy start to the new year has meant that I haven’t had time to write any posts for the blog. I’ve been preparing my MA course for Lancaster, as well as the seminars for the Civil War course on which I’m teaching. Then there’s the marking – having finished one pile last week, another landed on Monday. I was planning to do it this week, but I accidentally left it on my office desk on Monday afternoon. So that will have to be work for next week.

But there’s also plenty of news. I managed, finally, to send off the draft of an article over Christmas. Today I’ve finished the draft of another article, based on a paper that I will be giving in February in Glasgow – there will be more on that later, I’m sure. I’ve got to come up with the abstract now – a job which I really dislike. So my next job is to finish writing up my paper from the Turku/Utrecht EDPOP conference – the plan is to create a journal special issue with the 6 papers from the workshop.

The reading pile gets ever-larger. I’m still working my way through Steve Roud’s book on Folk Song in England and Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book on Thomas Cromwell – in the case of the latter, I’ve just reached 1537 and the period after the Pilgrimage of Grace. Still waiting for my attention are Tess Knighton’s edited collection on early modern urban soundscapes and David Atkinson’s book on The Ballad and its Pasts.

I’ve been asked to speak at a conference in Spain in the summer, and today I’ve been asked to a workshop in Oxford in April. I’m still not used to being asked along to things like this – I’m extremely flattered! I’ll keep you posted about it all.

Oh, and we had snow on Tuesday. It doesn’t happen often here!

You might have noticed that there hasn’t been a post for a couple of weeks. Normally, I write a bunch of posts and then schedule them to come out over a few weeks. It’s easier that way, because I can set aside a chunk of time and write posts in bulk rather than having to fit it in each week. In the last few weeks, though, time slipped away from me. I knew there were a few posts ready to go, but I couldn’t remember when they were due to finish and I didn’t have time to look.

I’ve been up to my eyeballs. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying teaching a couple of days a week at Lancaster, and of course that brings with it its own marking and preparation as well as the teaching. I’ve got 2 new courses to teach there after Christmas too, so that’s going to be fun. One is a masters course, and the other a second year course on the civil wars. I’m looking forward to them, but I’m going to have quite a bit of preparation to do over the next few weeks.

I have also got a lot of reading to do, a conference paper to prepare, an article to finish off and a huge stack of marking. I’m also working on some more podcast scripts. All I all, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

But, before that, chocolate. Well, it is Christmas…

At the beginning of October, I took part in Lancashire County Library Service’s Fun Palaces event at Longridge Library, singing Tudor ballads for an hour to anyone and everyone.  It was good fun, as I hope you can see from the videos below.

I sang several songs, or at least, edited highlights of them.  There were a couple of reasons for editing them down.  One was the fact that some of them are very long.  The other was that some of them are rather gruesome, and it was a little bit difficult to guarantee that innocent ears wouldn’t be offended.

One of the best known Tudor ballads is Martin Said To His Man, and it’s a great one for singing because it has a refrain that allows everyone to join in.  I also sang extracts from a song about the aftermath of the Babbington Plot.  This was one of the Catholic plots to kill Elizabeth I and install her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, as queen of England in order to facilitate a Catholic counter-reformation.  The words describe the dates and place of execution of various Catholic priests and other traitors:

At Tyburn dyed the thirtieth day,

Flewert and Shelley, truth to say,

And Leigh a priest who did deny,

to aid the good Queen of England:

Martin and Roche that present died,

At Tyburn being Traitors tried:

For like the rest they had denied,

to aid the good Queen of England.


A warning to all false Traitors by example of 14. Whereof 6 were executed in divers places near about London, and 2 near Brentford the 28 day of August, 1588. Also at Tyburn were executed the 30 day 6, namely 5 Men and one Woman.  To the tune of Greensleeves.

Interestingly, this song is set to the tune of Greensleeves, probably the most famous Tudor melody of all.

Two of the ballads date from the Armada period.  The Queenes visiting of the Campe at Tilsburie with her entertainment there, To the Tune of Wilsons wilde recounts in great detail Elizabeth’s famous morale-boosting trip.   This was the occasion on which Elizabeth was reputed to have told her troops that although she was a weak and feeble woman, she had the heart and stomach of a man.  The ballad doesn’t corroborate this belief but it does make reference to stomachs:

And then bespake our noble Queen,
“my loving friends and countrymen:
I hope this day the worst is seen,
that in our wars ye shall sustain.
But if our enemies do assail you,
never let your stomachs fail you.
For in the midst of all your troupe,
we ourselves will be in place:
To be your joy, your guide and comfort,
even before our enemies’ face”

A second ballad on the Armada describes the taking of the Great Galleazo by the brave English sailors.  This song contrasts a detailed description of the ship’s provisions (such as wine, meat and 2 hundredth of oats) with gruesome speculation on the Spaniards’ intentions should they manage to invade England:

Our pleasant country,
so fruitful and so faire:
They do intend by deadly war
to make both poor and bare.
Our towns and cities,
to rack and sack likewise:
To kill and murder man and wife,
as malice doth arise.
And to deflower
our virgins in our sight:
And in the cradle cruelly
the tender babe to smite.
Gods holy truth,
they mean for to cast down:
And to deprive our noble Queen,
both of her life and crown.

Our wealth and riches,
which we enjoyed long:
They do appoint their pray and spoil,
by cruelty and wrong.
To set our houses
a fire on our heads:
And cursedly to cut our throats,
as we lye in our beds.
Our children’s brains,
to dash against the ground:
And from the earth our memory,
for ever to confound.
To charge our joy,
to grief and mourning sad:
And never more to see the days,
of pleasure we have had.

A joyful new Ballad, declaring the happy obtaining of the great Galleazzo, Wherein Don Pietro de Valdez Was the chief, through the mighty power and providence of God, being a special token of his gracious and fatherly goodness towards vs, to the great encouragement of all those that willingly fight in the defence of his gospel and our good Queen of England.

To the Tune of Mounseurs Almaigne.

A new Ballade, declaring the dangerous shooting of the Gun at the Courte, To the tune of Sick and sick is one of the very long ones – the edited highlights I sang lasted 12 minutes. This song tells the story of a serving man by the name of Thomas Appleyard, who was larking about with a borrowed gun on the Thames while, unbeknown to him, the queen was afloat on the river in a barge nearby.    One of his shots narrowly missed the queen and the French ambassador, hitting the riverman in the arm.  The queen, as a woman in a man’s role, stepped up to the riverman unabashed by the blood and gore and ‘bade him take it well’.  Meanwhile, her counsellors were dispatched to bring the miscreant to justice.  Appleyard was sentenced to death – after all, if he had accidentally assassinated her highness, there was no obvious heir to the throne and a civil or even international war could have ensued.  The queen, however, being merciful, was moved to pity and, relaising that the shot was accidental rather than deliberate, pardoned Appleyard at the last minute. One of the interesting things about this song is that the description of the accident, and even the words used by the Captain of the Guard to stay the execution, are corroborated by pamphlets from the period.

This is the same song that I sang at the EDPOP conference dinner – I like it because it lends itself to a very dramatic performance, as well as having a really good chorus for the audience to join in with.  The impact of this was probably stronger in Utrecht, where I wasn’t hampered either by a frog in my throat or by a very long skirt.  The skirt was a problem because I hadn’t practised in it.  I rarely wear skirts of any description, let alone ones that reach the floor.  I am in the habit of acting out the section where the prisoner’s master throws himself upon his knees to ask for mercy for his servant man.  Getting down was fine.  Getting up was more of a problem!

Just before the summer holidays, my son took part in his school summer concert.  One of his contributions was a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’, which he accompanied on the piano.  He taught himself to play in just a couple of months, so here is a ‘proud mum’ moment.  Quite an achievement.