March 2014

A week of cataloguing ballads, redrafting bits of writing about news, transcribing, trying to define news, staring out the window looking at the birds, thinking and making birthday cakes. Not necessarily in that order. Some progress made, but not a great deal. As yet, I’ve not located a satisfactory definition of sixteenth century news, so I’m in the process of coming up with my own.

I also had my reservations about this programme and although I managed not to shout at the television, I was heard to mutter darkly at the section on the Marian persecution of Protestants… such as it was.

bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

I am not in the habit of shouting at the television.  In part, that is because I am not much of a TV-watcher: until my then partner, now wife, moved in, there was no box in the house. When I do sit in front of it, the programmes on offer are usually not the sort to arouse violent reactions: I find it hard to get angry with Inspector Montablano. But a documentary has had me not just emitting expletives in a raised voice but also searching for suitable objects or pets to throw at the screen (lucky, then, that there are no animals in the house). The programme was the BBC’s ‘flag-ship’ arts phenomenon, ‘A Very British Renaissance’, presented by James Fox – not the actor but brother of Edward Fox, but ‘Dr James Fox’ (nowadays those who have written a dissertation can only appear on TV accompanied…

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Another really interesting article from Pat Thomson.


When I go on the road – as I have just done – I always try to take with me a couple of slim volumes that I can dip in and out of. These are not the academic equivalent of airport novels. Rather, they are often books with quite serious philosophical intent. However, I look for books that aren’t a dense read. The ones I carry with me are those that I think I can read a bit and then stop and think about as I move around.

On this last trip I carried Gerald Raunig’s most recent book ”Factories of Knowledge: Industries of Creativity” (2013) in which he analyses contemporary global politics and sources of opposition to them. One section early in the book examines twenty-eight tendencies of the contemporary knowledge economy ‘edu-factory’, the university. Four of Raunig’s twenty-eight ‘tendencies’ concern academic writing, and they did give…

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If you’re out there somewhere, Christina, I hope all is going well!

Rylands Blog

This Curious Find comes to us from Christina Brindley who is researching images of female piety and the development of post-reformation Catholicism in the Diocese of Chester 1558-1630.

Christina discovered an amusing poem written by an unknown English nun in Louvain.

The poem is regarding English nuns who decide that they would rather join an English monastery than a Dutch one, and so erect one in the same town, though as the surrounding text indicated “…they knew not of the temporal means to compass so great a business.”


The nuns were promised £500 out of England to begin the cloister, however “hereupon began crosses and troubles to arise”, as many were not so keen to assist in the enterprise and several of their friends turned quite contrary to them.

A house was found to begin the monastery and the nuns sent money to the Abbot that it belonged to. However…

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My research would have been impossible without the internet, not just because the digitisation of so many archives allows me to research from home while bringing up my family but also because of the connexions that I manage to make with friends and fellow scholars all over the world. Some of my best friends never seem to be in the same place for more than a week at a time; we keep in touch by skype, apple’s instant messaging service, text messages and email so following a single conversation can require several different platforms! I have seen my PhD colleagues at Manchester less and less over the course of the two and a half years of my study, but we keep in touch via facebook. So I was very pleased to get an email from the US this week, from another PhD student who has similar research interests to my own.

This week I have written and re-written a draft of my final chapter but I’m still working through the ideas, so I’m not happy with it yet. It’s already been through two paper copies that have been cut up and stuck back together, but there’s going to be a lot more cutting and pasting before anyone else gets to see it. The biggest problem has been to define the word ‘news’, which even specialists in the development of early modern news don’t seem to have done. There is a problem in that there are two different types of news: one is the abstract idea of news new information, the other is the way in which this news is presented – the ‘material’ item, if you like. It’s been a heavy week of thinking, with more to come.

So much of this is so true and relevant to those of us juggling a family with a full time PhD workload.

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Susan Stewart Loane, who is a PhD student at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.  Susan left a career as a management consultant when her first child was born and now juggles family life with research and a little adjunct teaching. 

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 5.37.36 PMPhD study while also parenting can’t be described as easy.  Of course I never really expected it to be, but it’s difficult in ways I never anticipated.

As my youngest child approached primary school age I realised that I was going to be bored when he went to school. Already I was spending far too much time at the gym and obsessing about things that shouldn’t really matter, like keeping windows clean and bedrooms tidy. If I was going to be obsessive about something perhaps it should be something that would benefit future generations, like the creation of some new knowledge.

I carefully thought…

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As I write this, I’m speeding through the countryside on the train to London again for another Historical Association committee meeting. I’m armed with an enormous cup of tea, a book about sound in the early modern world, some paper and my ipod. If the meeting finishes early, I will pop into the British Museum to visit Noggin the Nog and his friends the Lewis chess men, or maybe walk through a bit of the National Gallery. All being well, I will be home before the children go to bed.

This week, I have spent a lot of time considering something which has, so far, been conspicuous by its absence from this blog: the future. Consequently, I haven’t done as much work as I hoped to when on Monday evening I was looking forward to a completely clear four days. I had intended to break the back of the last chapter of my thesis, but I haven’t. Instead I did some reading, a lot of worrying, catalogued a few ballads and made a complete mess of the page of writing that I did attempt. It will probably take me as long to undo the damage I’ve done as it would just to start again. The current working title of the chapter, ‘I Never Felt More Like Singing the News’, has never felt more apt.

When I spend time in Manchester, I am reminded constantly that I did not go into my doctorate for the reasons that most of my colleagues did. Coming back to Manchester 17 years after my first freshers’ week, I applied to do my PhD because I wanted to see whether I could do it, to give me some personal satisfaction, not because I wanted to work in a university. In fact, in an early, exploratory discussion with a Fiend before I even applied, he uttered the unforgettable words “As for a career in academe, I’d say forget it”. Rather than a damning comment on my abilities, this was, I think, intended to remind me that jobs in universities are hard to get at the best of times, and especially so for people like me who are not prepared to commute long distances or uproot their family and move them half-way across the country. Not that I have a problem with anyone else doing that. If it works for you, great. My family are settled in Longridge, we all love it, and that’s where we want to stay.

Two weeks ago, I was surprised to hear one of the students who started with me in 2011 comment that I was the only person she’d ever heard who said that they didn’t want to finish their thesis. My response? “Of course I don’t, I’m having too much fun.” That made her laugh in amazement. That, she said, was almost unbelievable, considering the troubled gestation of my thesis. ‘Mid-Tudor Ballads: Music, Words and Context’ is thesis number 3, and I’ve seen off more supervisors than most people have hot dinners (and one of them twice!). But prior to starting my PhD, I’d been at home for 8 years looking after my children. As my Fiend said earlier this week, without the thesis I’d have gone round the twist. Let me repeat what I said earlier: I’M HAVING TOO MUCH FUN.

And so to the future. I want the thesis to go on forever, but come September, I will start to share the burden of financial responsibility for our family. The thesis will be submitted and I have to find some form of work. I was surprised to discover that I had this level of passion for my subject. The obvious solution is to apply for a research grant to continue my project, so a little corner of my brain is constantly mulling over possible ways to extend the scope of my research. Research grants are’t easy to get, but they are impossible to get if you don’t apply, so it has to be worth a shot. Part time university teaching is another possibility that I’m looking into. I suspect that I will end up doing a combination of several jobs, but if that’s what pays the way, then so be it. As for the more immediate future, none of that will be possible if I don’t get this final chapter written!

Another of my PhD colleagues is a Researcher in Residence, so here is a piece by the lovely Rosy Rickett.

After last week’s musical musings, I had great fun on Thursday discussing the terminology of sixteenth century music with my music supervisor. I freely admit to butterflies before the meeting, but in a change of insect metaphor, I came out buzzing. I think we have come up with a solution concerning how to talk about the music. English musicians in the sixteenth-century (well, trained ones at least) would have talked in terms of hexachords, but I think the modern audience for that terminology is far too limited to make it practical for me! I’m still puzzled by the notion that the church led the way in moving to a major and minor tonality, given that the ballad tunes are mainly in the major and minor modes and never in any of the more, shall we say, obscure modes. I accept that there is an argument that those modes may only be obscure to modern ears because we are accustomed to hearing music in major and minor keys – sixteenth-century ears may have found the modes that we consider obscure to be much more familiar. But if that were the case, why are there so few (or even ‘no’) ballad tunes in those modes? The sources are mainly late sixteenth-century or seventeenth-century… not so far removed from the date of the ballads themselves?  I still think that the ballad tunes foreshadow the changes in art music that were to come later, My supervisor thinks that it’s a chicken and egg situation and that there is no way of knowing;  I’m not sure how to go about trying to prove it, or even if it is possible to prove it.  Or, for that matter, if anyone else has already suggested it so I’d be happy to hear from anyone who has any thoughts on this matter.

cranachI’ve spent a lot of time in the company of Luther in the last few days, courtesy of Professor Lyndal Roper and Manchester’s Dr Jenny Spinks.  Prof Roper’s seminar on Thursday evening described Luther’s polemical writing as an expression of his masculinity, but surprised many of the audience with his scatology and lewdness.  On Friday morning I was lucky enough to take part in a workshop with Jenny and Prof Roper about the Wagon engraving by Karlstadt and Cranach.   The format on Friday morning was rather different, with us all sharing our ideas round a table as well as listening to the experts speak.  I know a lot more about Luther now than I did 48 hours ago.

I started writing my final chapter on Wednesday.  It is quite heavily planned, which is unusual for me and not really the way I normally work.  Of course, there are a couple of sections that I’ve already written that I will incorporate in due course but I’m enjoying writing again.  It has reaassured me that the problems I had with my commonwealth chapter were exactly that:  problems with a chapter rather than problems with writing in general.    I have opened the chapter with an extract from a letter I found on one of my archive visits last summer and its very nice to be able to use a different sort of manuscript evidence from the ballads themselves.  There is some wonderful evidence from the state papers to include later.  I’m fascinated by the way the final chapter on news draws together so much of what has gone before – the music, words and context.