PhD life


After last week’s musical musings, I had great fun on Thursday discussing the terminology of sixteenth century music with my music supervisor. I freely admit to butterflies before the meeting, but in a change of insect metaphor, I came out buzzing. I think we have come up with a solution concerning how to talk about the music. English musicians in the sixteenth-century (well, trained ones at least) would have talked in terms of hexachords, but I think the modern audience for that terminology is far too limited to make it practical for me! I’m still puzzled by the notion that the church led the way in moving to a major and minor tonality, given that the ballad tunes are mainly in the major and minor modes and never in any of the more, shall we say, obscure modes. I accept that there is an argument that those modes may only be obscure to modern ears because we are accustomed to hearing music in major and minor keys – sixteenth-century ears may have found the modes that we consider obscure to be much more familiar. But if that were the case, why are there so few (or even ‘no’) ballad tunes in those modes? The sources are mainly late sixteenth-century or seventeenth-century… not so far removed from the date of the ballads themselves?  I still think that the ballad tunes foreshadow the changes in art music that were to come later, My supervisor thinks that it’s a chicken and egg situation and that there is no way of knowing;  I’m not sure how to go about trying to prove it, or even if it is possible to prove it.  Or, for that matter, if anyone else has already suggested it so I’d be happy to hear from anyone who has any thoughts on this matter.

earlymodernballads@aol.com

cranachI’ve spent a lot of time in the company of Luther in the last few days, courtesy of Professor Lyndal Roper and Manchester’s Dr Jenny Spinks.  Prof Roper’s seminar on Thursday evening described Luther’s polemical writing as an expression of his masculinity, but surprised many of the audience with his scatology and lewdness.  On Friday morning I was lucky enough to take part in a workshop with Jenny and Prof Roper about the Wagon engraving by Karlstadt and Cranach.   The format on Friday morning was rather different, with us all sharing our ideas round a table as well as listening to the experts speak.  I know a lot more about Luther now than I did 48 hours ago.

I started writing my final chapter on Wednesday.  It is quite heavily planned, which is unusual for me and not really the way I normally work.  Of course, there are a couple of sections that I’ve already written that I will incorporate in due course but I’m enjoying writing again.  It has reaassured me that the problems I had with my commonwealth chapter were exactly that:  problems with a chapter rather than problems with writing in general.    I have opened the chapter with an extract from a letter I found on one of my archive visits last summer and its very nice to be able to use a different sort of manuscript evidence from the ballads themselves.  There is some wonderful evidence from the state papers to include later.  I’m fascinated by the way the final chapter on news draws together so much of what has gone before – the music, words and context.

Blog post by my friend and Manchester PhD colleague, Bethan Foulkes, on her work with the Researchers in Residence Project.

Bethan Foulkes @ the People’s History Museum | Researchers in Residence.

DSCF3139  This week has been half term, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing with my children.  We’ve been on a couple of walks, one round Tarn Hows in the Lake District and one from Wrea Green on the Fylde, close to where I grew up.  But this has also been the week of my winter panel meeting and a seminar at the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

The panel meeting went well.  My supervisors commented on how much my writing has improved; it is now clear and precise, which is good to hear.  We discussed the commonwealth chapter I submitted, talked about the choice of technical language for describing my musical examples and then conversation turned to the submission process.  We discussed possible examiners and I told them that I plan to submit in September.   The meeting was over in 40 minutes.

That afternoon I took part in the Print and Materiality Seminar Series at the John Rylands Library, talking about ‘William Elerton and the Ghost of the Lady Marques’.  The topic was chosen to fit in with the seminar series’ focus on the supernatural, but it was a particularly nice subject because it allowed me to sing one of my ballads.  The other paper of the afternoon was given by my Manchester PhD candidate colleague, Sarah Fox.  Her fascinating paper was entitled ‘”Let the superstitious wife, Neer the child’s heart lay a knife”: Superstition and the domestic object in eighteenth-century England’, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her.

I’m looking forward to getting properly stuck in to my final chapter on ballads and the news over the next few weeks.  I’ve started doing the secondary reading for it already and I’ve even made some little notes on halved index cards for paragraph topics.  I decided that on this occasion I really needed to plan the chapter before I wrote it, which is not how I usually work.  The chapter will look at the role of sixteenth century ballads in spreading news, a role that has been contested recently.  I need to look into the differences between ‘news’, ‘newspapers’ and ‘journalism’.  I’m going to investigate the role of newspapers in later periods to see how the ballad compares, as well as looking at the evidence provided by State Papers.  I’m very much looking forward to it, after the trouble I had with the commonwealth chapter.  It’s not going to be easy, but I think it should be much more fun!

This afternoon’s job is to re-read a couple of articles by Ethan Shagan, because I suddenly realised that I have my 1549 rebels all mixed up together in my chapter and I don’t know which ones are which.  This opening up of the ground under my commonwealth chapter’s feet occurred yesterday afternoon and left me feeling rather grumpy, as I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it all sorted out before I need to submit my the chapter to my panel later next week.

On a brighter note, this week saw me getting stuck into reading about early modern news networks.  All very interesting.  What has been astounding all week is that most things I read at the moment are generating ideas not just for the chapter that I’m working on (be that the commonwealth or the final chapter on news) but for some of the earlier ones too.  This leaves me itching to go back and look at the other chapters again, but if I were to do that I’d be hopelessly distracted from the task in hand so I’m having to be very careful.  I have a notebook for each chapter, so I write my ideas and thoughts in them, but I also have a diagram of the thesis pinned to my study wall so I put little post-it notes on it to remind me of what needs doing to each chapter when I come to re-write it.  I must say it feels rather strange to be only one chapter away from a first, very rough, complete draft.  There have been several moments along the way when I thought I wouldn’t get this far, let alone to submission!  Apart from reading, I’ve spent a lot of time going through State Papers and re-writing bits of my commonwealth chapter yet again.  It was nice to get started on writing the news chapter, though, because the commonwealth chapter has been bogging me down.

I went into Manchester earlier this week to raid the library, then I met up with Sarah Fox (www.thehistoryfox.wordpress.com) for a brew and we had a lovely, long chat, something I haven’t done with any of my PhD colleagues at Manchester for a very long time.  Too long.  Nice to remember that I’m not alone in this mess we call research!

After a couple of dodgy days at the beginning, the week has definitely ended on a high.  I spent quite a lot of time at the beginning of the week consolidating the ideas that my trip to the British Library generated and I wrote a thousand words in a couple of hours, bringing together my thoughts .  It was very satisfying, especially in the light of the 6 months I’ve been struggling with the 7000 words of the commonwealth chapter.  In a sense, it made the chapter all the more frustrating.  Although the chapter had improved, I was still really struggling  to make it flow.  Everything was there, in vaguely the right order, but with no grace and no flow.  Cue accusations that the naughty child in me didn’t want it to flow yet.   My response was along the lines of ‘get lost’.  There is nothing fun about spending six months messing with the same set of words.  But at least writing about London proved to me that I hadn’t lost it (whatever ‘it’ is) completely.

On Wednesday night I did something a bit different.  I read the chapter aloud.  Perhaps I should have done it a long time ago, because it was so obvious when I thought about it, but it simply hadn’t occurred to me.  I printed the chapter out and attacked it with a red pen and scissors.  And it worked.  Bashing it out line by line, aloud, showed exactly where the  problems were and what didn’t make sense, what needed more explanation and what would be better broken down into more sentences.   Thursday I spent typing up all the changes that I had made and by 2.30 that afternoon, I was a very happy girl.  It’s not ready, by any stretch of the imagination, but it will do as a first draft.  What’s more, it has lost its hold on my nightmares and no longer causes me feelings of guilt and insecurity.  Maybe it won’t be the best chapter in the thesis (who knows, maybe it will), but at least I’ve now got something down that I’m confident about.

I celebrated by unpacking a box-load of books.  I’ve inherited another library, he second in three months, so my brand new shelves are now groaning under the weight of scholarship I could never have afforded to buy.

Today I checked through the results of some searches that I ran on State Papers Online and found a perfect little nugget to help with one of my arguments, so I am very happy indeed.

Finally, I’d like to pass on my very best wishes to Glyn Redworth who retires from the University of Manchester this week after more years than either of us probably cares to think about.  Time to start a new chapter, in more ways than one.

I spent this week working in the British Library, looking at lots of old manuscripts and some printed music.  I’ve been looking for ballads in commonplace books and found some really interesting stuff.  Yesterday I looked at the two oldest known pieces of English sheet music, which was amazing.  Highlight of the week, though, had to be studying the Shirburn ballads, an early 17th century collection of ballads, some with music, which had been taken off display in the Ritblat gallery so that I could work on it.  Absolutely fascinating.

I’ve written before about how much I love the British Library building.  I just wish it were further north and there was a bit more natural light – I’ve hardly seen daylight all week.  I made some very useful discoveries while I was there and the  amount of resources that I was able to look at because I was there all week instead of just a couple of days really helped me to gain an understanding of the bigger picture.  I’m now able to see the manuscript miscellanies that concentrate on ballads within their wider cultural framework.  Having the time to look at so many different manuscripts helped me to develop my ideas.

Every evening I wrote myself a long email describing what I’d been working on and how it fitted into or helped to develop my ideas about early modern ballads.  As well as the excitement, there was a lot of frustration too.  I started to suffer manuscript envy when I looked round to see lots of people typing away on their laptops, transcribing manuscripts in beautiful, legible, italic hands while I struggled with minute, rushed, secretary hands.  But I’ve always loved the early modern period; it’s always seemed to me to have the right balance between too few resources and too many, so envy didn’t last long.  What was really noticeable, though, was how tiring it was.   It’s a special sort of concentrated effort, sometimes a bit like code-breaking, trying to read through all those manuscripts.  There’s no one to talk to and not enough tea breaks, especially for someone whose PhD is fuelled by tea.

You may remember that last week I was dreading going.  Well, as I suspected, I thoroughly enjoyed myself when I got there.  Now all I need to do is to weave all my findings into my research.

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