August 2013

10 truths a PhD supervisor will never tell you | Features | Times Higher Education.


Interesting article.  I’m not sure I agree with them all, but certainly they are food for thought.

Elizabeth I, the Pelican Portrait

Elizabeth I, the Pelican Portrait (Photo credit: lisby1)

Help Us To Curate the World’s Biggest Art Show – Art Everywhere.

What a brilliant idea.  I am SO impressed and I really hope I see some of these around.  Lovely, of course, to see the Pelican Portrait of Queen Elizabeth and the Ambassadors in there, but I’m quite taken with Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View which I didn’t know at all, so I must look into that.  Mr and Mrs Andrews was on the front cover of my GCSE history text book!

English: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire

English: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought I’d give you a quick update on my progress towards my summer goals:
• Definition of ‘ballad’ for introduction.  I’m part way through this, although it needs a LOT more work.  I’m discussing it with friends that I met at the Psalm Culture conference in London in July and I’ve given it a lot of thought, but so far, there’s only a little bit on paper.  This is my priority when the children go back to school before the university semester restarts.  However, I did produce a short piece on the nature of the ballad for my panel meeting, so I can count that too.

• Transcription of digital copies of ballads from MSS in the British Library, consulted last autumn.  Again, I’m part way through this.  I’ve checked the whole of one manuscript and I’m about to start work on another.  However, so that I can get my head round what I’ve completed and what I haven’t, I need to make some proper records.

• Archive visits during summer 2013: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire County Record Office, National Archives etc.  This hasn’t quite gone according to plan.  Stonyhurst College assure me that they won’t have anything of interest.  I haven’t yet made it to the county record office in Preston this summer, although I have been before.  I need to go to the British Library again, but I’m not sure how I’m going to fit that in.  I’m booked in to the Bodleian in Oxford and I’ve been to the University Archives in Cambridge and the Parker Library.  I’d like to go to Keswick and Stratford too, but again, I’m not sure how I’m going to fit it in before the end of the summer.

• Completion of article on ballad epitaph.  Yippee – something I can say I’ve completed!  This was sent off to a journal several weeks ago.

• Revise ballad flyting chapter.  Bigger yippee – something else I can say I’ve completed, at least in its first draft.

•  Knowingness, Implicitness and the Early Modern Audience.  This is a new addition to the list, and what held up work on the transcriptions.  I’m doing some background reading on the audience of cheap print in the period, which feeds in to a heavy-going (at least to write and for me to think about) piece on the use of knowingness in the sixteenth century.  This will, eventually, form part of my introduction.

•  Rewrite of chapter plan – This piece of work was set at my panel meeting, as my chapter plan still reads as if I’m just starting my research.  My supervisors suggested that I might find it helpful to rewrite my chapter plan to reflect the findings of the chapters I’ve completed.  Actually, I found it a rather soul destroying business.   I find writing abstracts extremely difficult at the best of times so writing several of them in one go was like torture.  I have to admit that I gave up.  I ought to come back to it, I suppose!

• Submission of proposals for talks – I’ve submitted an abstract for the History Lab North West interdisciplinary conference ‘Beyond History’ in November looking at music as historical evidence – the links between psalms, ballads and politics and especially melodic knowingness.  This conference was perfect for me, considering that my work is so interdisciplinary.   I was asked to take part in the Material Histories seminar series at the John Rylands University Library next academic year, so I’ve submitted a paper on ‘William Elderton and the Ghost of the Ladie Marques’.  That should be fun.  I hope that both these papers will provide an opportunity to sing some of the ballads, since that is what they were written for!

I think that covers most of what I’ve done.  When I’ve been to the Bodleian, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off so that I can spend some time with my children before they go back to school.  I haven’t had any proper time off since my interruption in February/March, which I don’t count because I was ill.  Even when we went on holiday to Donegal I worked every day because I had a deadline coming up.  I think we all deserve a break.

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell. New York, Frick C...

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell. New York, Frick Collection. Oak panel, 76 x 61 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have spent a lot of time this week re-writing the chapter I blitzed in January on the Thomas Cromwell ballad flyting. I was never very happy with it, mainly because all I did was throw all my thoughts about each ballad down on paper before trying to chop it into themes, which was rather unsuccessful. I handed it over to my supervisors at the beginning of February under duress, without even having time to read through it after the scissors and sellotape exercise. So I decided it was about time I tried to make it into a proper first draft.

I found it a rather difficult task, because it is so incredibly dense. As a case study, it presents a detailed examination of the ballads in the flyting and their authors, looking at how the ballads reacted to the sudden downfall of Henry VIII’s chief minister and reflected the attitudes of members of the court to his execution.  The big problem was remembering which ballad was which, so I gave them all a code number and that helped a bit.  Eventually I got so fed up with it my friend Rosy offered to read it (all 13,000 words!)  so, gratefully, I sent it off to her.  The following day it came back to me with a pile of really useful comments and advice.  I think I’ve used most of it, including moving some of the work from the end of the chapter to the beginning.  I’m not sure if it might now be a bit top heavy, but it’s certainly much improved.  It’s now gone off to my supervisor to be checked over.

The Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Sit...

The Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Cusco in Peru, at twilight Français : Le Machu Picchu, site du Patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO près de Cuzco au Pérou, au coucher du soleil Türkçe: Dünya Mirasları Listesi’nde bulunan Peru’daki Macchu Picchu’nun alaca karanlıktaki görüntüsü. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s possible that some of you will be aware that my undergraduate dissertation was about the Aztecs and rooted in a course that I took on ‘The First Hundred Years of the Spanish in America‘.  I’ve never quite managed to shake my interest in all things Aztec, Inca and Conquistador, so this article in the Observer newspaper yesterday rather caught my eye:

“The Incas were an ethnic group of superlatives: although never numbering more than 100,000 individuals, they nevertheless created the largest native empire in the New World, 2,500 miles long, from what is now southern Colombia to central Chile and across some of the world’s most mountainous and difficult terrain.

The Incas’ breathtaking mastery of their natural environment was acutely brought home to me this weekend as I climbed 2,000ft up a cloud forest trail in south-eastern Peru to Machu Picchu, a royal retreat built for an Inca emperor that clings to a mountain spur 8,000ft up in the Andes. As I wandered about the cloud-wreathed city of gurgling fountains, sacrificial altars, celestial observatories and exquisitely fashioned buildings of white granite blocks – some of which weigh more than 50 tons – I couldn’t help but reflect on the sheer genius the Incas obviously possessed.

Although their empire existed for a scant 100 years before being cut short in 1533 by the arrival of the Spaniards, the Incas managed to create 26,000 miles of roads, ruled an empire of 10 million people and imposed their language and culture from one end of the Andes to the other. In a very real sense, the Incas were the “Romans” of the New World and, like the Romans, they were excellent administrators and empire builders. Like the Romans, however, they borrowed many aspects of their culture – from metallurgy and warfare and architecture to agriculture and animal husbandry and astronomy – from other, previous cultures.

They also appropriated, transformed and incorporated elements of many other South American religions, including animal and human sacrifices. Last week the photograph of a 15-year-old Inca girl appeared in the press, a beautiful and unblemished teenager who was sacrificed more than 500 years ago on top of a 22,000ft volcano in northern Argentina. Her mummified body was found by archaeologists in 1999 and is now on display for the first time in a museum in Argentina. Drugged with coca leaves and plied with alcohol, the girl was left to freeze to death high in the Andes, a seemingly senseless death to modern readers. The revelation of the girl’s untimely death raises an obvious question: why did the Incas, despite being one of the most powerful, sophisticated and accomplished cultures in the New World, feel the need to sacrifice their children on mountain tops?”

continued here:   Why the Incas offered up child sacrifices | Science | The Observer.

By far the most exciting visit we made on our trip to Cambridge was to Wicken Fen Nature Reserve.  Apparently it’s the fifth oldest National Trust property and it was absolutely brilliant.  I’ve liked dragonflies ever since I was a child, possibly because I see less of them than other insects, and Wicken Fen is dragonfly heaven.  I have never seen so many dragonflies in one place at one time, although unfortunately they tend not to sit still for the photographer in the way that butterflies do.

grasshopper grasshopper
Brimstone butterfly Brimstone butterfly
Gatekeeper butterfly Gatekeeper butterfly
Darter dragonfly Darter dragonfly
Skipper Skipper
Highland cattle at Wicken Fen Highland cattle at Wicken Fen
mating dragonflies mating dragonflies
Konik ponies, Wicken Fen Konik ponies, Wicken Fen
Injured brown hawker dragonfly Injured brown hawker dragonfly


I spent this week in Cambridge.


I’ve not been back to Cambridge since I went to the folk festival in 1994, where I got showered in (someone else’s) beer when the Saw Doctors came on stage and everyone cheered.  That was before I got my A-level results.  At eighteen, I was offered a place at Selwyn College to read Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic with a Choral Scholarship, but I didn’t get the A-level grades that I needed so I ended up at Manchester instead.  I can honestly say that after the initial disappointment, I have never felt a moment’s regret about not getting there.  But I do have to admit that this week was a bit strange.  Life would have been very, very different if I’d gone there and not to Manchester.  For one thing, I’d have ended up as a medievalist, not an early modernist!



But I didn’t, and I was back in Cambridge to visit some archives.  I spent a happy hour or two in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College looking at Archbishop Parker‘s corrections to his Whole Psalter, and a day in the University Library Manuscript Room looking at some bits and pieces.  I didn’t find anything earth-shattering, I don’t think, but there were one or two useful bits and bobs.






The trip was combined with a family holiday, so after my day and a half of work I was able to join my family doing a few, more touristy, things.  The weather was very, very warm, so we went swimming in the lido on Jesus Green, which was very pleasant indeed.  We went out to Wandlebury Hill Fort, Houghton Mill and Wimpole Hall, although bad planning on my part meant that the hall itself was closed on the day that we visited! The Botanic Gardens were beautiful and the children thoroughly enjoyed the activities in the explorer backpacks that they borrowed.  I think we all wished we’d had longer to spend there.



« Previous PageNext Page »