October 2020


I’ve spent pretty much all week copying and pasting. I’ve been collating the words to hundreds of broadside ballads into a single document, so that I can find them when I need them. It’s the first step towards beginning my new research projects – whichever one I go for first, I needed to expand my ballad collection beyond the 1530-70 remit of my PhD. It’s been a tedious week, in some ways, but at least I know now that I’m ready to start on some research proper.

I’ve not put the many, many ballads from manuscripts into the same file, partly because it would become unmanageably enormous and partly because they are a bit more difficult to deal with – it’s more rare for them to have titles, which means filing them by their first line… Which in turn makes things a bit more complicated.

After a week of copying and pasting, by mid-morning on Friday I had all the words, but I had to check that I hadn’t ended up with lots of random blank pages, and I also wanted to make sure that it was all in the same font, not lots of different ones. Finally, I finished up with a document that was 3245 pages long.

My next step was to copy this document and remove any of the non-topical ballads, because most of the work I want to do over the next few months is, one way or another, based on topical ballads. Anything that stayed in the topical ballad file was also copied into one or more of a variety of smaller files on different subjects – monarchy, crime, rebellion, military news etc. Next week, I’m ready to get going looking for pamphlets on the same topics – something I’ve been waiting to do for more than a year!

And so I begin what might well be my final year of working in the academy. The main focus of my teaching this time will be two seminar groups on Hist100, the first year core course, which are taking place face to face (well, at least to begin with…. we’ll see how long it lasts…!). I gave a couple of online sessions in welcome week, I’m teaching a single session on the MA course and I’ve got a lecture and two seminars (that’s two single seminars, not two seminar groups) on the second year core course. Not a lot.

I might also be mentoring on the MOOC again and I’ve got a few hours left over working on the Lancashire Heritage project that had to be put on hold in March when we went into lockdown, but even with these extras, it won’t pay many bills…

On the plus side, the extra time I’ve got will allow me to do some more of my own research. My plan, first of all, is to put together a funding application for a completely new project on popular conceptions of good health. Then I’m going to get stuck in to some of the things that I’ve been planning to do for several years but simply haven’t had time.

It’s been a strange summer. There have been no holidays with historical aspects to blog about, and only a couple of conferences that I attended to write about. I’ve hardly left the house since March…

I’ve done a lot of home schooling, and this has carried on in September despite my children returning to school – covid outbreaks have meant that one or another or all of us have had to be at home several times since the start of the school term.

I’ve managed to finish the manuscript of John Balshaw’s Jigg, and of course I’ve taught on the EAP for the last few weeks. But my overwhelming feeling is one of being, well, rather overwhelmed.

At the beginning of the summer, I commented on the unexpected bonuses of lockdown – all the events that I’ve never been able to go to that were now online, all the people who set up networking and reading groups to help everyone keep in touch – and I’ve hardly managed to take part in any. I made it to two conferences, a few sessions of the Tudor music coffee break (not that I drink coffee), a couple of sessions of Lancaster’s Digital Humanities Hangout and one meeting of an early modern reading group. There were so many things that I would have liked to have done, but I just didn’t have the time or the energy, especially as summer progressed and I needed to prioritise paid work and my family.

And I’m coming into the autumn knowing that, even though I’m hardly teaching at all this year, I’m not actually going to have any more time!

I’m really pleased that this week, my monograph Singing the News: Ballads in Mid-Tudor England comes out in paperback. I first got an inkling of this a couple of months ago, when I came across the pre-order button on the Routledge website by accident. At the time, I hadn’t been contacted by the publishers so I wasn’t entirely sure how reliable it was….. even though there did appear to be a link on the Amazon website too.

I did eventually get an email from Routledge telling me that they had decided to produce a paperback, and then a week ago I arrived home from a walk to find a parcel containing two copies of the book – it’s real!

So if you’re interested in reading the book, it is now rather more affordable than it was!