April 2014


 

 

By Maitre des Heures de Françoise de Dinan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Maitre des Heures de Françoise de Dinan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“And what are your conclusions so far?”
I was asked that a couple of weeks ago, and I was slightly taken off guard. It was because I couldn’t immediately come up with an answer that I decided I needed to take stock! I am convinced that the ballad music has more links with the church and art music than has been brought out in the past, so that’s one of them.  Another is that, generally, we underestimate their value as evidence and as documents that were intended for performance within an oral culture.

However, if I’m honest, my main conclusion so far has to be that people in the early modern period were absolutely obsessed with death.  I suppose it’s not all that surprising.  Peter Marshall and Bruce Gordon reminded us that ‘relative to our own society, throughout their lives people [in early modern Europe] typically experienced the deaths of far greater numbers of children, kin or acquaintance’ and that ‘the dead were a significant social ‘presence’’.¹  One particularly morbid theme will be familiar to fans of Schubert string quartets and folk musicians alike:  the danse macabre.  There are several ballads which provide variations on the story, one of which can be found in manuscript in the British Library:

O death, behold ; I am but younge
and of a pleasaunt age :
Take thou some old and croked wight,
and spare me in thy rage.²

There are an awful lot more songs that refer to death as a social leveller.  When you broaden out the search to look for the references to God and death, there are hundreds.  Then, of course, there are ballads about the metaphorical death of doomed love affairs:

Show loue therfore for loue againe.
Or els for loue I dye.³

All in all, it can make sixteenth century ballads a gloomy set of sources to work with!  Not so bad when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, but not so great when the skies are grey and the rain pours down.  And yet I still enjoy them.

 

 

 

¹Bruce Gordon and Peter Marshall, The Place of the Dead in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p.2.

² British Library Sloane MS 1896, ff. 6v-8.

³M. Osborne, A newe ballade of a louer/ extolling his ladye. To the tune of Damon and Pithias, (London: 1568).

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What a coincidence that this turned up in my wordpress reader this evening, when it was something on which I have been musing today. I have had a PhD experience that was far less than perfect. I’ve said before that I was prepared for everything to go pear shaped, but not in the first few days. I’ve also commented that my thesis has seen off more supervisors than most people have had hot dinners. Then there was the writer’s block, depression, and of course, the ‘headache’ that landed me in hospital. But I was never close to giving up.

The reason I stuck it out through the bad times was simple: despite all the rubbish (and believe me, there’s been a lot more of that than ever appeared in this blog), I’m doing something I love.

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We hear a lot these days about people quitting the PhD – they have institutional difficulties, experience appalling discrimination, have serious supervision troubles, struggle with funding. These are dreadful experiences and we do need to hear about them. We also hear quite a lot about how hard the PhD is and the struggles to get finished. I don’t want to dismiss any of this discussion. It’s all important, right and necessary. However, I worry that the narratives about the awful sometimes outweigh the more optimistic. I do think that maybe we need to hear more about what makes people hang in and what helps them finish.

Now I need to say here and now that I don’t think that starting a PhD and not finishing is necessarily a problem. I’ve seen people who didn’t need the PhD for their careers, and in the end couldn’t justify the amount of time…

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DSCF3258  With the children on their Easter break, work over the last couple of weeks has been rather hit and miss.  Mainly miss, to be honest.  But I have spent some time working on a short historiographical piece about the relationship between ballads and news, which I’m happy to say is nearly finished.  In the end it will form part of the final chapter of my thesis, although not the very beginning of it as I’ve found a nice piece from the State Papers to open the chapter.  The historiographical essay runs from Shaaber and Rollins through to much more recent work by Joad Raymond, Angela McShane and Adam Fox.  It looks at popular song in France, Italy and Spain as well as England.  Earlier this week I bought Andrew Pettegree’s latest book, The Invention of News, so I’ve included some of his comments too.

Last week I was lucky enough to attend two workshops in the space of two days.  DSCF3242Both held in Manchester, the first was the ‘Music, Circulation and the Public Sphere’ workshop at which I presented my first paper to an audience of musicologists, ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in Sixteenth Century England’.  It was scary but fun, and the paper seemed to go down quite well.  On the strength of it I was invited to attend another workshop on ‘Voices and Books, 1500-1800’.  That was a very interesting day and a half, at which I found myself sitting next to a professor from Harvard!  It really brought home to me the importance of the ballads as songs.  Of course, one of the aims of my thesis is to investigate the ballads as song rather than text where it is possible, but it’s easy to forget the oral culture in which they played a part when you are working with just the words.  The workshop gave me a lot of things to think about, especially with the chapter on which I’m currently working – topical ballads performed in public spaces provoking debate about the news of the day.

Apart from the two days in Manchester, the rest of the work has been crammed in between days out to Dunham Massey, Rufford Old Hall, Fountains Abbey and Stainforth.  Lots of walking in the spring sunshine!

DSCF3271 We have been enjoying the Easter sunshine with a day out at Fountains  Abbey.  For the first time (I’ve been there many times before) I walked along the one of the top paths to Anne Boleyn’s view, which is apparently so called because a headless statue once stood there!DSCF3270  It was a beautiful day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Very amusing!

Research Fundermentals: Peer Review & Changing a Lightbulb: a Historian’s View.

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This week is the first week of my children’s Easter holiday, so I am juggling childcare with work. Cramming little bits of work into wherever it will fit isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t allow for extended research or writing, for example. But there are little things that I can do. I went through a conference paper in the bath this afternoon, without the paper notes I will use on Friday. At least now I know exactly where I need to rely on my notes more heavily and where I can afford to abandon them altogether! On Sunday afternoon I recorded a few more ballads. I’m considering an introduction and conclusion to a short piece I’m writing on the historiography of ballads and the news. In the end it will be part of my chapter on ballads as a form of news media. There is a significant majority of historians who agree that ballads could provide news as well as entertainment before the development of newspapers, but little detail on what actually constituted ‘news’ in the sixteenth century. That’s a question I’ve been trying to answer myself in the last few weeks, but one interesting theory came from a rather unexpected source. Discussing the issue of what makes something ‘news’ with my two elder children during a car journey over the weekend (and they raised it, not me!), my elder son pointed out that news DID include opinion or editorial commentary, because if we were all clones, we wouldn’t need any news because we would all think the same way about everything. Only if we were all clones who thought the same way, could news be objective. Profound, I thought, especially coming from a primary school pupil.

Last week I tried to cram in as much writing as I could because I knew I would have less time for it in the next few weeks, but the pattern was broken by a trip into Manchester to record a short video interview about my PhD for the department website. When one of my colleagues had asked me a few questions about my work, I then got to ask the questions of another friend. I found that considerably more difficult. I can talk endlessly about my work, but semi-improvised questioning was really hard.

On Friday, I go to my first music conference: Music, Circulation and the Public Sphere. It’s perfect for my research and it will be interesting, if rather nerve-wracking to talk to an audience of musicians rather than historians. I’m very much looking forward to it, as I’m hoping that I’ll get some feedback to help me answer some of the questions I raised in a previous post on Musical Musings. I’m going to talk about ballads and news, how they provoked debate among their audience, before raising some questions about the development of popular and sacred music in the Renaissance period.