July 2012

Well, finally I have a date for my second panel, the progression panel, the one which I have been trying hard to think of as just another hoop that needs to be jumped through. 14th August. I have produced an abstract, bibliography and a draft chapter plan, and a rough plan of what I intend to do over the next twelve months. I’ve also produced a training log, and a couple of lines about what training I may need next year. The chapter on queenship in the ballads needs a bit of a re-write, but I’m trying to have a break from it for a bit longer so that I can come back to it reasonably fresh to look at it with a bit of detachment.

But there are a couple of major obstacles facing me. In the same few days as I have my panel, I will be moving house, so I spent this morning trying to do some packing. My poor, beloved books are being ruthlessly sorted through to get rid of things that I won’t have room for. It’s a deeply distressing experience. It’s not as if I’ve ever read some of them, or indeed am ever likely to, but the fact that I knew where they were IF I ever needed to consult them was very comforting. At the moment there are 5 carrier bags sitting in my hall waiting to go to the charity shop on Monday morning.

The other obstacle comes in the form of my children, who are all now at home for the summer holidays. One problem is that I like working in the garden when the weather is nice; they also like to play in the garden making as much noise as humanly possible (which I can assure you is a LOT). They are lovely, and I love them to bits, but let’s face it, a panel meeting in the middle of August is not the most family-friendly of occurences. I agreed to it simply because I was hoping to get it out of the way before the house move… but it also had the advantage of allowing my main (temporary) supervisor to be there. She starts maternity leave in September, and as yet there is no news of what happens to me when she leaves.

Standing stones, Kilmartin

This week I’ve had a week off.  I’ve been in Scotland camping, and reading Judith Richards’ ‘Mary Tudor’.  So it’s been a quiet week, and I deliberately didn’t take my chapter with me so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes in a week or two.  I’m seeing my supervisor again next week to discuss the chapter plan and I’m hoping to have an abstract sorted in a couple of weeks, as I’m approaching my second panel in August.


Glengorm Castle, Mull

I’ve just spent three days at the Society for Renaissance Studies Conference in Manchester, and very stimulating it was too. It was nice to meet some new people and hear about their work, and a few people I’ve spoken to have been interested in my work and offered to keep in touch. There were some interesting papers on execution ballads, psalm culture, the life of Carafa, Spanish Renaissance music and epitaphs, among many, many others.

Rubens – Justice

I found the art history plenary on ‘Gender and Genre in Renaissance Representations of Women’ by Bette Talvacchia of Connecticut University to be suprisingly stimulating, particularly as I know nothing about art – it’s really made me think that when I get a few minutes (oh wishful thinking if ever there was any) it’s something I’d be interested in learning about. She took issue with the received view that anonymous women in Renaissance art are usually courtesans, pointing out that portraits of unidentified men are classified as just that – unidentified men. It was absolutely fascinating.

Titian’s Isabella d’Este, Duchess of Mantua

When Titian painted this portrait of the Duchess of Mantua, Isabella d’Este, in 1536, apparently she hadn’t sat for a portrait in the flesh, so to speak, for twenty years because she didn’t want her image to age.

The conference was a brilliant experience. I’d never been to an academic conference before and although there was an element of wondering where I fit in, feeling out of my depth and wondering if I will ever know as much about my subject as other people seem to know about theirs, it’s left me buzzing and wondering what I’ve got that I could present a paper on, and where I could do it.

Melzi – Flora

It hasn’t been a particularly good week for research and writing, I must say. The persistent, rainy weather hasn’t helped, and neither has the extra stress caused by the impending house move, but I really lost my way this week. After the writing group, I tried to implement some of the more useful changes they suggested. The biggest problem I’ve had has been with the structure, as I’ve been attempting to deal with the ballads thematically rather than chronologically. But the themes are rather vague, and I knew that as my chapter had been cobbled together from previous bits of work and the results of my post-Easter splurge, it had got a bit muddled. I wrote some aims for the chapter into the introduction, and then realised that I hadn’t specifically addressed them. I wrote a conclusion, too, but I’ve spent a lot of time this week staring at my sources and the computer screen wondering what to do.

Then I let another friend read my work, who made some really helpful points about the structure. As I said, much of the research had got muddled up over time, and it didn’t flow as well as it should have. My friend suggested that I start with the evidence dating each ballad before turning to the analysis, as this would help to give each ballad a similar treatment. Then I can prioritise what else I wanted to work on before my panel during the summer.

Friends are so useful in helping to give you a kick start when you’re going through a rough patch. I am a very lucky woman.

Avoiding The Bears

In my most recent meeting with my supervisor, he made an observation that I think I’m going to come to regard as fateful.

‘There comes a time in a PhD’, he said, ‘when you have to stop lying’.

It wasn’t quite as devastating as that appears. My supervisor has a knack of couching criticism in the nicest and most enthusiastic of terms – so that quite often I come out of meetings feeling suspiciously buoyant about my work, only to be brought down to earth abruptly by the notes written on the hard copy (though said notes are very useful, and far nicer than the notes I write to myself, which are mostly swearing and occasional odd cultural references that I put in to make Future Kirsty smile, even as I heartlessly give her lots more work to do). But he did let that line hang for a moment, before…

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I’ve not posted for a couple of weeks because I’ve been incredibly busy with life, the universe and everything. We are in the process of moving house, in as much as someone is buying ours and we are buying another, but as there is no chain at either end we need to be ready to go. As the house we plan to move to has less storage space than this one, we’re trying to get rid of things. In the process, there is an awful lot of stuff everywhere.

This week it took me a bit to get going. We had the first meeting of our PhD cohort writing group on Monday morning, and I was being the guinea pig. I had sent the draft of my chapter to the group at the end of the previous week, and they were really supportive. As the rest are all modernists, they were able to look at things from a slightly different perspective. They made some really useful comments on the structure, which was something that had been bothering me, and things which I could explain better. There were also some very useful comments on where to look for material on the methodology of oral sources in history.

Then I had a slow couple of days where I couldn’t really get started, but on Friday I could happily have worked for 24 hours, knocking some of the rough edges off the chapter and improving its flow.

I have another busy week ahead of me with children’s appointments and work, and I’m looking forward to the Society of Renaissance Studies Conference in Manchester. That will be my first conference, so I’m a bit nervous.