June 2013

Two kings and two queens from the Uig, or Lewi...

Two kings and two queens from the Uig, or Lewis chessmen at the British Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I’ve been to London and back for a meeting of the branches and members committee of the Historical Association.  We finished earlier than expected so I spent an hour and a half in the British Museum.  I had a look round the Mexican gallery, as always, as I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the transmission of culture in Aztec Mexico and the impact of the Spanish Conquest.  I could spend hours looking at the turquoise mosaic pieces.  I looked at the Sutton Hoo exhibition, wandered through the Enlightenment gallery and found the ‘Cradle to Grave’ piece very moving.  Then I went to the Egyptian gallery, as my eldest son is doing a school project on the ancient Egyptians at the moment.  I bought him a few postcards.  Finally, I went to say hello to Noggin the Nog.  Sorry, the Lewis chessmen.  I love them.  I can’t play chess, but one day I will have a replica Lewis chessmen chess set.

This week I’ve been working from home again.  I’ve redrafted my chapter on ballad music ready for my panel meeting and redrafted my article, although I’m not certain where I’m going to send it to.  Between them, they have taken me all week.  I’m going to proofread them tomorrow, as I think it’s more or less down to the fiddly stuff now, like sorting out the formatting and  checking the detail of the footnotes.

Having finished the chapter yesterday and the article at lunchtime today, I was left feeling a bit peculiar this afternoon. Considering that I doubted I would get the chapter finished in time for the panel, having it more or less complete over a week in advance wa something of a surprise.  What to do?  I spent an hour or so looking at my training log and research plan for my panel meeting and tinkering with them.  I sent an application in for the graduate travel fund.  I sent a few emails.  I looked at a few Stuart ballads, just for a change of scenery.  I printed out several articles and a chapter of a book to read on the train to London tomorrow.  I’m off to the HA Branches and Members Committee meeting in the morning.

I think my next job is to get stuck in to defining ‘ballad’, so the chapter I’ve printed out is one by John Milsom on Tudor music.  Most people seem to have limited their studies of ballads to printed broadside ballads.  I can only assume that this is because it makes it easier to decide what is, or isn’t, a ballad.  Because I’m not confining myself to printed sheets,  I have to make an attempt to define what makes a ballad a ballad, or at least acknowledge that it throws up some interesting questions.  It’s on my list of summer goals, so I might as well get stuck in now!



I think I said I wasn’t going to turn this into a blog about my health, but because I have just had a comment on my blog post ‘ The Lady with the Headache‘, I thought I’d give you a quick update.

Reversible Cerebral Vasoconstriction Syndrome, being reversible, has reversed.  There is a slight feeling of panic whenever I get a headache, but having stopped my SSRI antidepressants there is no reason why it should come back.  HAving gone cold turkey from the citalopramm I had been taking, I think I have now adjusted as best I can to life in all its glory, without having the extreme highs and extreme lows cut out.  It’s taken a bit of getting used to.  I am very, very emotional…  Talking of which, just in case anyone reads this and decides to stop their anti-depressants dead, DON’T DO IT.  It’s not how it should be done.  Discuss it with your doctor before you do anything.

I saw the nuerosurgeon (who was, I might add, lovely) during April, having gone on a cancellation.  He sent my brain scans to Sheffield, who declined to carry out radiotherapy because of the location of the cavernoma – it’s too close to my skull.  I am lucky, in that I have only one cavernoma and some people have lots.  I know I am lucky, and yet I don’t particularly feel lucky.  I would probably have gone through my life never knowing I had a cavernoma, had it not been for the RCVS.  But now I do know, I rather wish I could get rid of it.  Of course I don’t want brain surgery and to consider it would be ridiculous on something so small with such a low risk.  But nevertheless, I am now aware that there is a risk.  Ignorance is bliss, as they say.   If it bleeds, I will have stroke like symptoms down the left side of my body – let’s be honest, if I have any symptoms which might be a bleed, I will go straight to casualty.  I’m told that the symptoms would go away when the bleeding stopped and the blood was reabsorbed, but it’s not a nice thought.

To end on a positive note: for a couple of months after I came out of hospital, I thought of the cavernoma as my own, personal, ticking time bomb which I carried around in my brain.  It was the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing I thought about at night.     It isn’t anymore, which means that I am learning to live with it.

John Rylands Library, Manchester, England.

John Rylands Library, Manchester, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost.  Not quite.  Well, perhaps sometimes.  It comes over me in waves, usually on a Saturday or Sunday.  This weekend it was Sunday, today, that the enormity of trying to perfect my chapter before my panel meeting.  Now, if I only had to perfect my chapter in time for my panel meeting, things might be a bit more manageable but I have several Historical Association deadlines too, an article to finish and several other bits and bobs, as well as things going on at the children’s school that will cause interruptions…  I’m looking forward to getting it all over with and heading off to London for the Psalm Culture conference in July.

The panic set in because, after doing a 12 hour day yesterday, I realised that all my musical examples need re-writing.  Every single one of them.  This is incredibly tedious, because they are created in Sibelius on a different laptop and have to be exported as graphics files and then moved across to my work laptop to be inserted into the the chapter itself as images.  Any mistake means the whole sequence has to start again.  There is also quite a lot of work that needs doing on the text itself, to improve the clarity of the writing and to explain some of the more complex ideas about memory and music.

On Friday I went to the ‘Printing Cities‘ symposium at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, organised by my co-supervisor Sasha Handley.  There were six very interesting talks, but the one that stood out for me was given by Massimo Rospocher on Venetian ballad singers and politcal ballads, as it connected closely with what I’ve been saying myself.   The John Rylands is a beautiful building, so  it was very atmospheric.

Historical Association Bolton Branch

Historical Association Fellows 2013, with Medlicott Medal winner Professor Sir David Cannadine, H.A.President Professor Jackie Eales and H.A. Chief Executive Rebecca Sullivan.

Bolton Branch Vice President Dr Glyn Redworth receives his Honorary Fellowship from Association President Prof. Jackie Eales.



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My summer goals
• Definition of ‘ballad’ for introduction

• Transcription of digital copies of ballads from MSS in the British Library, consulted last autumn.

• Archive visits during summer 2013: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire County Record Office, National Archives etc

• Completion of article on ballad epitaph

• Revise ballad flyting chapter.
These goals are not entirely realistic, as the summer holidays are not a time when I have more time, but less, because the children are at home and need entertaining. But at least now I have some things that I know I want to get on with.

The panel date has been set for July 10, so I have been frantically trying to write a chapter this week.  Well, not the entire chapter in a week, but I have managed to get a first draft finished in the last ten days, which is good.  It still needs a lot of work, because I would like to present my supervisors with something that’s really well polished this time.  I’m going to put in some more musical examples, because a lot of the chapter is about fitting words to music and how more than one ballad used the same tune.  It also needs grounding in a bit more theory, because at the moment it’s rather speculative in places.

I’ve also been trying to put together all the paperwork that goes with the panel meeting.  I’ve updated my training log and made a list of all the seminar papers and public talks I’ve given.  I spent some time over lunch today trying to come up with a plan of research over the next twelve months.   It’s rather difficult when you don’t know how long it will take to get things done, but I’ve given it a go.  I’ve also come up with a list of goals for summer, which I’ll put in another post.  I made a list of all the bits of my thesis that I’ve done and everything else that I’ve done over the last year, which was quite eye-opening since it turned out I’ve done rather a lot, actually!

But it’s been a particularly busy week because I’m also working on two other projects alongside the chapter for the panel.  The first is another draft of my epitaph ballad article, which I’m really enjoying working on.  The other is a piece for the introduction, which defines ‘ballad’.  That may sound easy, but I suspect that it might be the most difficult part of the entire thesis.


Histfest programme

Histfest programme

I was very pleased to attend Lancaster University‘s postgraduate history conference yesterday, where I spoke about my work on knowingness in Tudor ballads and the links between sacred and secular music.   I think they had a bit of a shock when I started singing ‘Down in Yon Forest‘ to demonstrate the simplicity of melody and ‘call and response form’, both of which help to make it a memorable  tune.  The rest of the musical examples I had recorded my husband singing, because I didn’t feel confident that I would have time to learn them before the seminar, but I think having the musical examples really helped because it brought home how the melody can make links between the songs.  There were some very interesting questions and the paper seemed to go down well.  I was also very interested in the papers presented by my fellow panelists, James Mawdesley and Sarah Ann Robins, both early modernists too.  I would have liked to attend Geoffrey Humble’s paper during the morning, but I accidentally ended up in the wrong room!

I had a really interesting supervision meeting this week where we shared our ideas about early modern attitudes to death and looked at the epitaph ballad that I’ve been studying.  I’ve put that to one side for a bit though, in an attempt to get a chapter finished before my next panel meeting in a month’s time.  So today I’ve gone back to working on the ballad contrafacta, in particular pulling together my table of ballads with more than one set of words to the same tune.  I spent several days on it before we went on holiday and I’ve spent another 4 hours on it today.  It’s still not finished, but I needed a break, so I decided I’d catch up on my blog before I tried to do any more on the table.

On Friday I went to the Pathways postgraduate careers event at the university, but I’m no clearer about what I’m going to do when I finish my PhD.

Elizabeth I of England, the Armada Portrait, W...

Elizabeth I of England, the Armada Portrait, Woburn Abbey (George Gower, ca 1588). Other versions of the Armada portrait are by different artists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it’s fair to say that we had the best of the weather.  On several days last week I got messages from friends in Manchester saying that it was raining, while I was sitting on the beach watching the children playing. Where was I?  The Med?  The States?  No.  IrelandDonegal to be specific…  7 hours on a beach one day!

I carried on working on that one ballad for a day or two, finally managing to make the first paragraph of the article into something vaguely suitable and finding a brilliant primary document that gave me a lovely juicy quote.  Unfortunataly, my efforts to transcribe the said document were something like the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back –  I gave up trying to combine work and holiday and decided that I was as entitled to a break as the next person!  On the ferry on the way home I read through my paper for Histfest, which I am looking forward to presenting this weekend.

While I was away I read Caroline Dodds Pennock‘s ‘Bonds of Blood‘, which I very much enjoyed.  Something of a blast from the past, it reminded me why I found the Aztecs and the Spanish conquest so fascinating as an undergraduate.  Perhaps I’ll turn my attentions back to them for my post-doc…  Perhaps not.  I also started on Anna Whitelock‘s new book, Elizabeth’s Bedfellows, which I haven’t quite finished.

Priorities for this week include practising my seminar paper,  finishing off my article, going to a careers fair and catching up on some Historical Association paperwork.  Oh, and finally applying for a young person’s railcard… possibly rather belatedly given that I’m no longer a young person in anyone’s vocabulary!