My fiend hasn’t featured much lately in the blog (so if you’ve only arrived here recently, you can be forgiven for wondering what I’m on about), but a few weeks ago, when I was completely snowed under with work that meant I was working 14 hour days, he sent me Mary Lindemann’s presidential address to the American Historical Association, ‘Slow History’, with the instruction that I should read it when I had time to take a break and savour it.[1]  It was a good call.  He knew I needed to take things a bit easier, and he knew that the sentiments in the address bore that out.  What he probably didn’t realise was how it would help to set my mind slightly more at ease over some of the anxieties that have been brewing for the last few weeks.

In her article, Lindemann calls for us to recognise that the best history is not only serendiptous, but also the product of painstaking research and considerable thought – things which are instrinsically slow.  For a research culture in which ‘publish or perish’ has become the order of the day, Lindemann’s is a timely reminder that we do our best work when we give it time.

So why was this so resonant for me just at the moment? Well for one thing, the two projects I really want to work on are my big ones – the ‘Fake News?’ project looking at the overlap between ballads and pamphlets, and, even more importantly, the Pilgrimage of Grace project.  And the one thing I haven’t got is time.  I am grappling with the difficulties I face in the constant stop-start (and if I’m honest, it’s far more stop than start) of my research time.  Even when I think I have a few days set aside to work on my research, something invariably comes up and puts an unexpected stop to it.  Then when I come back to it, often months later, I have to spend a lot of time going over what I’ve already done in order to get my head back to where it was when I took the forced break. I get a bit of work done, and then I have to stop again.  Honestly, this is not a problem I’ve solved, so if anyone has any tips for handling it, I’d love to hear them.  But, as Lindemann pointed out, this time, even when I’m not engaging directly with my research, is giving me time for my ideas to mature and for me to take in more knowledge from other sources – it’s giving me even more background on which to draw.

The other reason that I’m so interested in this at the moment is because of the Special Subject that I will soon have to prepare for my 3rd years.  Lindemann’s article really gave me the confidence that my teaching instinct was right – I will take the time to teach my students some skills, not just hope they pick them up by example. Moreover, I’m going to concentrate on quality not quantity.  I was a little concerned as to how I was going to fill the 23 weeks, but actually, that shouldn’t be an issue – I would rather do more with less than cram too much in and have the students only scratch the surface.  It’s going to be a slow news year.

[1]  Mary Lindemann, ‘Slow History’, American Historical Review, 126:1, (2021), pp 1–18.