February 2016


Yesterday, I picked up my first payslip for many years.  It’s one of the reasons that the blog has been so quiet over the last few months.  I started teaching a few hours a week at Liverpool Hope University at the end of January and now I’m into the swing of it, I’m really enjoying being back in the classroom.  I teach two classes on the first year Foundations in History Course, one on the graveyard slot on a Friday afternoon at Hope Park, and the other an evening class at their partner site, Holy Cross College in Bury.  They are very different groups, with different needs and different methods of delivery.  The Hope Park group is a standard undergraduate seminar class, whereas the Holy Cross group have other responsibilities such as jobs and children and what’s more, their course is one of ‘blended learning’.  It means that although one week is an epic three hour face-to-face session, the following week we can all work from home, conducting our discussions via an online forum.  It’s certainly an interesting way of doing things.  It has benefits, not least of which is the reduction in commuting time to get to my desk in my study, but also, the forum means that you get to see what everyone thinks without them changing what they say to fit in with everyone else.  All the students can speak at once, without the cacophony that it would make in a classroom situation.  The big drawback to the online sessions is the length of time that it takes the students to respond to any extra questions you might ask.  But on the whole, it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been investigating the publication of ballads in mid-Tudor England, looking at the Stationers’ Registers  in detail. It’s been really interesting to look at which publishers specialised in ballads. It’s also shown that there were some printers who only printed occasionally, and when they did, they printed ballads.  I went throught the Stationer’s Registers line by line, making a note of how the items registered were described and who printed them.  I was  then able to use this information to create some statistics about the numbers of ballads and other items that each printer produced.  Next, I compared the lists of registered ballads to the extant ballads, using Rollins’s ‘Analytical Index’.   Of course, there are problems with the Stationers’ Registers, not least of which is the fact that we can see from the extant ballads that by no means all of them were registered in the first place!  But it gives a useful starting point to discuss those issues.

On the authorship side, I’ve tried to identify some of the more obscure balladeers and look into their backgrounds where possible.  It’s true that it can be very difficult to find out about the people who wrote ballads in the mid-Tudor period, and that in itself tells us something – if we can’t find out much about them, it suggests that these people tended to be of low social status.  Nevertheless, I was surprised just how many of the balladeers I could find out about.

The purpose of this work was to provide the basis of a new chapter that I am writing, so that I can turn the thesis into a book.  The idea is that it will set the rest of the book in context, talking about the way ballads were actually produced.  I am, however, acutely aware of the fact that ballads were sung, and that spending a lot of time talking about how printed ballads were published might suggest that this was the most important format.  I am looking forward to writing about oral transmission, where ballads were passed on by learning by ear, especially because this remains the way that most of us learn songs even now.