Historical research


Since my children returned to school the push has been on to complete the final stages of my book manuscript.  It’s due to go to the publisher at the end of September, so I’ve been doing all the tedious things that come with completion.  Things like making sure all the images that I am using were sorted out.  Unfortunately, I my application for a grant to pay for several broadside images was declined, so I’ve had to think very carefully about what I was going to use as illustrations.  I couldn’t afford to self-fund as many broadside images as I would have used if I’d been given a grant, because as well as the cost of paying for high quality digital images, there is the payment of permissions to consider.  So I’ve settled on two high quality images of broadsides from the British Library, one of which illustrates my first major case study about the production of broadside ballads and the other is the first English broadside ballad to appear with music. On the plus side, the fact that there won’t be so many bought-in images means that I can concentrate on scores. I’ve always wanted to include as many musical examples as possible, so I’ve been able to use those extra images to provide settings of several more ballads, including a couple of conjectural settings.  These show that some of the broadsides which look like ballads but don’t include a tune direction could easily have been sung.

There are other tedious things that I’ve been doing.  I’ve had to check that all the entries in the footnotes and bibliography are consistent; that spellings which aren’t uniform in the period are nevertheless uniform in the book text; that the spacing between paragraphs and quotations is correct; and even things as simple as renaminng image files with their figure numbers.

Then I reached a bit of a dead end.  I could continue to tinker with the text, because it’s there and it’s easy to do.  But I’m not convinced that it’s getting any better!  I can’t send it off to the publisher yet, because I’m waiting for a friend to read through the whole text and get back to me with any howlers, typos, repetition, ugly prose, confusing bits – all the sorts of things that when you’ve been working on the same text for several years, you can no longer see!  So I’ve put it to one side and I’m looking at a couple of other things, and there will be more on those later.

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Back at the beginning of July, I chatted via Skype to Colin Greenstreet of the Marine Lives project about how I do my research.  It was one of a number of interviews that Colin carried out so that the project leaders could tweak the functionality of their database in order to make it as useful as possible for the end users.  It struck me at the time that this is something, in my experience at least, we rarely talk about: how we actually go about doing the research that leads to those papers and publications.

I’ve only ever done what felt natural to me.  Generally speaking, I Google things first, then I read a lot and make notes, usually in the form of direct quotations from the author with page numbers.  When I actually come to use them in my work, I often paraphrase, of course, but when I’m making notes I prefer to write down what the author actually said so that I know I’ve got it right.  As for primary sources, I tend to collect them in folders, both digitally and often physically as well – I scrawl all over the physical copies. I use a lot of online databases, especially Early English Books Online, and boy do I miss access to the State Papers Online

I collect my notes on a project in a single working document, then start another one for the end product – be it paper, article or chapter – so that I can swap easily from one to another.  When I think I’ve finished what I’m working on, I copy them into my (now rather enormous) ‘research file’.  It might be unwieldy, but at least it makes searching fairly straightforward – there’s only one place to look.

Colin posted the results of the interviews, including mine, on the Marine Lives project website (and you can keep up to date with Marine Lives developments via the project blog). I thought it might be interesting to have a look at how other people conduct their research.  I developed my methods by trial and error over time, and I wonder whether it would benefit us to chat a bit more about the methods we use – I’m sure that there are ideas that other people have that would work for me too, or even be more efficient.  Up to now, I’d never thought to ask.

As we have seen, William Elderton’s emphasis on the exemplary feminine virtues of his heroine in A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant is line with the norms of the Renaissance epitaph.  But in Elizabeth Parr’s case it is especially interesting. It reflects the way in which epitaphs idealised their subjects. William and Elizabeth Parr’s union had had an uncertain start, despite the fact that the Parr family were known to be supporters of the reformed faith and had connexions at the highest level of government. As a pre-eminent evangelical at court, William’s sister, Queen Katherine Parr, had been responsible for appointing the Protestant John Cheke as tutor to the young prince Edward in 1544. Having published her own Prayers and Meditations in 1545, her possession of proscribed, heretical books left the queen open to accusations of treason as Henry VIII’s health declined. William Parr was one of the Protestants whose support enabled Edward Seymour to become duke of Somerset and lord protector on Henry’s death in 1547. But as the political and religious upheavals of the mid-sixteenth century unfolded, the Parrs’ marriage felt the dramatic vicissitudes of fortune.

Elizabeth was not William Parr’s first wife. Remarriage in Tudor England was common, but only when the partnership had been broken by death. Even in the newly-Protestant England of Edward VI, remarriage was difficult and extremely unusual while a first spouse still lived. William Parr was first married to Anne Bouchier, who eloped with a man by the name of Hunt or Huntley in 1541 and later gave birth to her lover’s child. Although Parr was granted a legal separation the following year, he was unable to secure the divorce which would allow him to remarry during Anne’s lifetime. Nevertheless, Parr began his relationship with Elizabeth Brooke in 1543 and undertook a clandestine and bigamous marriage in 1544. Parr petitioned the king, Edward VI, for a divorce in 1547 on the basis of Anne ‘conceiving and bearing of one bastard child begotten by a base vile unworthy adulterer’, but the commission appointed to investigate his case was slow in its deliberations.[1] Although he had been a close supporter of the duke of Somerset, Parr’s secret marriage offended the protector.  Even though the commission agreed to the divorce, Somerset ejected Parr from the Privy Council in 1548 and ordered that he separate from Elizabeth. William and Elizabeth’s union was finally legalised in 1551, during the duke of Northumberland’s lord presidency of the Privy Council, at the same time that William was at last granted a divorce from his first wife.

But the Parrs’ fortunes fell again with the accession of the Catholic Mary I. William Parr’s divorce was invalidated and his titles rescinded. Anne Bouchier was promoted to Mary’s lady-in-waiting and had to beg pardon for her husband’s part in the plot to bring Lady Jane Grey to the throne. Mary was succeeded by Elizabeth I in 1558. Another dramatic turn of events saw William and Anne’s divorce reinstated and, with it, Parr’s second marriage.

Perhaps Elderton alludes to this chequered history with his comment that ‘…she be dead and gone / Whose courting need not be to tolde’, but generally, A proper new balad seems to gloss over the unlikely amorous history of its subject. As Nigel Llewellyn commented, ‘The social body as represented in commemorative art was generally idealized’ and the epitaph ballad was, after all, another form of commemorative art.[2]  Nevertheless, William and Elizabeth’s troubled marital history perhaps provides one reason why it was easier to leave out the marchioness’s name: those that were in the know would understand anyway, and everyone else could identify with the more general themes of the song.

So instead of dwelling on Parr’s relationship with her husband and position as a wife, Elderton emphasises above all the lady marques’s feminine virtues of modesty, cheerfulness and piety:

Me thinkes I see her modeste mood,

Her comlie clothing plainlie clad,

Her face so sweete, her cheere so good,

The courtlie countenance that shee had;

But, chefe of all, mee thinkes I see,

Her vertues deutie daie by daie,

Homblie kneeling one her knee,

As her desire was still to praie.

Parr’s black clothing may have been a symbol of her piety, or simply an acknowledgement that she was a servant of the queen, because according to May-Shine Lin, ‘The combination of black and white gradually became the personal colors of Elizabeth as her reign progressed, and men wore black and white garments at court masques, tiltyard and her progresses, in tribute to the queen’.[3] Similarly, Alison Weir claimed that Elizabeth’s ladies were all ordered to wear black in order to make the queen’s clothing more prominent.[4]  Certainly, Elizabeth Parr wears black in the Cobham family memorial portrait painted in 1567 and now held in the collection of Longleat House.[5]

WilliamBrookeCobham

[1] Petition from William Parr, marquess of Northampton to the king, [January x April] 1547, in State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Edward VI, 1547-1553,vol. 10/2 fol.106, (State Papers Online, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2013), accessed June 27, 2013,

http://go.galegroup.com/mss/i.do?id=GALE|MC4300180080&v=2.1&u=jrycal5&it=r

&p=SPOL&sw=w&viewtype=Manuscript.

[2] Llewellyn, The Art of Death (Reaktion Books, 1991), 55.

[3] May-Shine Lin, “Queen Elizabeth’s Language of Clothing and the Contradictions in Her Construction of Images,” (2010), accessed June 27, 2013, http://www.his.ncku.edu.tw/chinese/uploadeds/383.pdf.

[4] Alison Weir, Elizabeth the Queen (London: Jonathan Cape, 1998), 259.

[5] Master of the Countess of Warwick, Cobham Family Memorial Portrait, 1567.

Today I started a new phase of my life: I am officially an independent researcher.  It’s not a role I’d have chosen, if I’m honest, and, so far at least, it’s not one I’m particularly enjoying.  In fact, after one day on the job, I’m finding it incredibly frustrating. My institutional access ran out last week, while I was away on holiday, so I’ve got no database access, but that isn’t the main problem at the moment. All I’ve been trying to do is access Jstor via my alumni access.  After several attempts at logging in via the alumni portal on the Manchester Unviersity website, I managed to carry out a search that didn’t instantly return to the ‘you are not logged in’ screen.  I downloaded a few articles, none of which told me what I wanted to know, then I did a bit of writing on my epitaph ballad article.  Then I logged back in to Jstor, tried to carry out another search and again, as soon as I hit ‘search’, the results screen told me I’m no longer logged in.  I have repeated the process, repeatedly, but to no avail.  This evening, Jstor isn’t having any of it.  It’s tedious, time consuming and trying, and I’m not happy.

The good news is that Notes and Queries have taken my short piece identifying William Elderton’s Ladie Marques, and it should appear in the December 2015 issue.  That makes me very happy indeed.

 Looking down, and south, from the A685.   © Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Looking down, and south, from the A685.
© Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I seem to have been doing a lot of travelling lately, whizzing up and down the country on the pendolino and tootling across country on local trains.  I am, in the words of Doctor Seuss, a north going zax so frankly the journey through the valley in the Lakes where the west coast mainline and the M6 run alongside each other was infinitely preferable to the more familiar journey south towards London, although passing a trainload of mummified cars wrapped in bandages on a siding outside Oxford was a novelty.  The reason for all this travelling was academic, for once.  Early summer is conference season.  My twitter feed has been full of conference tweets for several weeks, which can be really interesting.  Several twitter hashtags have looked interesting enough to cause me to find out what the conference was that I was missing, and some of them I’ve really wished I could attend.   It’s a while since I gave a paper at an academic conference, so it was good to get back into the swing of things with trips to Reading and Newcastle.

Reading’s Early Modern Studies Conference was great fun. 410px-Codex_Mendoza_folio_2r Last time I went to Reading University I was on a two week accountancy training course and I hated every minute of it.  Reading was nothing like as unpleasant as I remembered it being, which just goes to show how much your experience colours your memories of a place.  The accommodation was lovely, although the lack of full wifi coverage if you couldn’t (like me and several other people) log into Eduroam was a distinct drawback. Because of my graduation, I wasn’t able to attend the whole conference, but on the Monday afternoon I very much enjoyed Maria de Jesus Crespo Candeias Velez Relvas‘s paper on ‘The Perception of the World in the Sixteenth Century’, as it took me back to undergraduate days of studying The First Hundred Years of the Spanish in the Americas and writing my dissertation.  I still find the impact of the Spanish conquest on the mainly oral tradition of the Aztecs and Inca’s fascinating and I recently downloaded the digital Codex Mendoza app!

The parallel sessions on Monday afternoon were all in seminar rooms, so I was somewhat surprised to find myself delivering my paper on Tuesday morning in a large lecture theatre.  My panel consisted of Richard Hoyle talking about ‘The King and the Poor Northern Man’, myself on ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in Sixteenth Century England’ and Jonathan Arnold on ‘Music, Morality and Meaning: Humanist Critiqus of Musical Performance in Early Modern Europe’.  It seemed to go very well. I had to leave Reading mid-afternoon on the Tuesday in order to get home for my graduation, so unfortunately I missed Jennifer Richards’ plenary that evening.

One of the interesting things about delivering a paper to most conferences and seminar series is that people seem surprised when I sing a verse or two of a ballad. Not so at the Voices and Books conference, where breaking into song mid-paper is normal!  I have really enjoyed all the Voices and Books meetings that I’ve attended, and they helped to cement the idea that I had early on in my ballad studies that we need to think of ballads as songs that were sung and read aloud.  It is a truly interdisciplinary network, with supportive scholars from music, history, drama, literature and language all sharing ther ideas and bringing their expertise to the table.  I can honestly say that I’ve come away from the conference with more ideas than I could possibly carry out in the rest of my working life, so I want to say a big thank you to the ever-smiling network organisers Jennifer Richards and Richard Wistreich for all their hard work and their inspiring example!

Voices and Books his was a really busy conference with parallel sessions and plenaries filling the days, leaving little space for tea and the wonderful food that was provided.  Having started the second day of the conference at 9.30am, I left the conference dinner the moment that I finished my main course through sheer exhaustion (in a good way) at 9.30pm, and, disappointingly, before the chewy strawberry pavlova.  My family would testify to how tired I must have been to walk away from a meringue!  And, by the way, the conference also had far and away the best food of any that I’ve ever been to, what with Thai beef salad; wild rice with currants, chickpeas and herbs; mini Yorkshire puddings with beef and horseradish; lemon posset; and dipped strawberries.

There wasn’t a single session that didn’t include fascinating papers, but the plenaries were particularly excellent. Heidi Brayman Hackel spoke on the relationship between hearing and speaking and the the role of the dumb-show in early modern drama.  Anne Karpf was truly inspiring when she talked about restoring the voice, pointing out that even oral history tends to priviledge the recorded or transcribed voice over the act of speaking itself, making me wonder again how to weave in to my  studies the ballads collected from the oral tradition.  I was struck by her comment that the first voice we hear is the maternal voice which we hear in the womb and can even feel its vibration – it made me wonder if the maternal lullaby works in a similar way to skin-to-skin contact for babies? Perry Mills, talking about performing early modern drama with a company of boys, reminded me of everything I miss about teaching.  And then, of course, there was Christopher Marsh and the Carnival Band demonstrating how to write a hit song in the seventeenth century – the first plenary session any of us had been to with a beer break in the middle!  Apparently the Carnival Band had been given free reign to interpret the songs  as they saw fit, and I noticed that they had chosen to accompany them using major and minor keys rather than modal harmony.  Apologies also for the state of my photographs of them, as my camera didn’t cope well with the limited light!

On Friday I talked about ‘Reinterpreting  the Sixteenth Century English Ballad’, giving a brief airing to my theories about tonality and knowingness, but my main point was that ballads were good for spreading news because they were passed from person to person and used tunes that were easy to pick up and remember.   I decided to demonstrate this by having my very own Gareth Malone moment and getting the conference delegates to sing!  I had been having kittens prior to the conference – as a teacher I used to get children to sing all the time but I’ve never tried it with adults, and if they didn’t go for it and join in I would end up looking rather daft.  Fortunately, they almost all joined in with varying amounts of enthusiasm and learned the first verse of ‘The Hunt is Up’ very  quickly.

At the conference dinner on Friday evening, Jonathan Gibson asked if I might be able to sing a verse of a ballad during his paper the following morning, which I was pleased to do.  So  after retreating from the dinner I went back to my hotel, where I attempted to learn the tune of Wilson’s Wild, while feeling the bass and vocals of ‘I-I-I-I-I’m not your stepping sto-one‘ vibrate through the floor.   On the final day I particularly enjoyed Jonathan’s paper, Naomi Barker on traces of orality in Italian keyboard music and John Gallagher‘s paper on the teaching of foreign languages.  I’m very interested  in the idea of learning a language through singing its songs, so that’s something we’re both going to look out for.

So I’m home, brimming over with ideas, just as my institutional login is about to run out.  Ho hum.

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This afternoon I had my mock viva, which was an interesting experience. It was reassuring, in that I survived and there was only one question that I felt I completely flunked. That said, there were several others that brought home to me the need to be certain of my own position, which of course is only possible if you’re completely in command of your material and of what others have said about it.

So I’ve come home armed with two bag-loads of books and a lot on my mind – which is not to say that it’s all bad. The first job when I got in was to have a brew (this thesis was definitely fuelled by tea and chocolate, in a way that perhaps Huw and Tony Williams would have appreciated), the second to have a chat with my Fiend to take my mind off things and the third, to write my ‘to do’ list. You can see it above. I have another Fiend (yes, I manage to have more than one Fiend despite the fact that I spend a lot of time in the company of dead people and their preoccupation with death) who is the Queen of Lists. She would approve, I’m sure. That was once the wall on which my huge list of 16th century ballads used to hang. Now it holds all the things I need to do in the next ten days. I think I’ve got my work cut out. I have to admit that they aren’t all viva-related – there’s a section on research proposals, on articles and on the lecture I’m preparing for A level students on Henry VIII’s break with Rome, as well as for the Bolton Historical Association work that I need to get on with and for family matters. Happily, the conference proposal for Reading is nearly ready and the one for Voices and Books has gone (thanks, Una!).  But I’ve certainly got plenty to keep me occupied. Which is good.

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