By the time you read this, I’ll be part-way through teaching my very own course for the first time (Edge Hill summer school excepted).  It’s exciting, but also a bit nerve-wracking, especially since I didn’t have very long to pull it together.

It’s an 8 week module on The Making of Modern Britain for an undergraduate foundation year, and as well as introducing students to the period in question, it’s designed to give them a thorough grounding in the skills needed to study history at university.  I’ve included lots of different types of source material, including various types of secondary sources (books, journal articles, popular history magazines and radio/television programmes) as well as primary evidence from newspapers, censuses, official documents and and cartoons.

I’m really looking forward to teaching it, as it’s something so different to what I normally do, and I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes.


I have spent much of the summer wrestling with a conundrum, which I still haven’t solved.  As regular readers will know, I have been working on the Pilgrimage of Grace.  I submitted my article to a peer-reviewed journal and at the beginning of summer, I got word back that they had decided not to publish it.  Of course, this was disappointing news and I read the feedback from the peer-reviewers with interest.  Thankfully, it was by turns enthusiastic and constructive in its criticism.

But therein lay something of a problem.  Both reviewers identified different aspects which they thought would benefit from further expansion.  Now, not only does that mean more work (which of course goes with the territory and is, to some extent, expected) but also, it will take the article well over any journal’s word limit.  It was already long.  If I do what the reveiwers suggest, it will get even longer. Unpublishably long.

I mentioned this to my fiend, whose response was along the lines of ‘well, it’s not worth worrying about until you’ve done the revisions’.  But I honestly don’t think I can just prune 3000 words without it having a serious impact on the overall piece.  And in fact, it would mean more pruning than that, because it would have to go much shorter in order to accommodate all the new aspects too.

I’m left with a dilemma.  Do I do lots of extra work, and then try to shoehorn it in, taking a pair of shears to the article in order to make the new stuff fit? (It will take several months more work to get through all this.)  Do I leave it as it is and try to find a home for it elsewhere – and even then it will require quite a bit of editing?  Or is this trying to tell me that it wants to be something longer?

The problem with the last option is that there is little, if anything, between the journal article (c8-10 thousand words, depended on where you go) and the full length book…  I’m not really into book territory with it at the moment – it would need widening well beyond the Pilgrimage of Grace – and a book would take years.  Which, frankly, I don’t have if I want to get a job.  I need more publications on my CV, and I need them sooner rather than later.

A couple of weeks ago I went down to London for a few days, killing several birds with one stone.  The main purpose of the visit was to go to a meeting of the Historical Association Branches and Members Committee, but I went down two days early so that I could get some work done too.

I spent the first afternoon of my trip at King’s College Library, where I read Fiona Kisby’s MA thesis.  The second day I spent in the British Library, looking at sixteenth and seventeenth-century manuscripts.  It was really interesting, and good to get back in the archive, since I don’t do much research from anywhere but home.

By happy serendipity, my visit coincided with the Royal Historical Society lecture at which my name was announced as a new Fellow.  The lecture itself wasn’t related to anything that I work on – in fact, it wasn’t even on a subject I knew anything much about – but it was certainly thought-provoking. Prof Naomi Standen spoke on global history in “Colouring outside the Lines: Eastern Eurasia without Borders”.

I’m going to make a confession:

I’m not particularly good at role play.

I was never very good at taking part in them, and experience of trying to use them in the classroom has usually left me slightly disappointed.

There have been two exceptions to this.  The mock trial of Charles I with the summer residential students at Edge Hill was a resounding success, if a counterfactual resounding success.  And the first time I tried my early modern ‘world turned upside down’ role plays with the graveyard shift on the Friday afternoon at Hope, they worked really well.  But they never have since.  They’ve always gone okay, but they’ve never quite managed to produce the results I hope for since that first time.

I even asked the Twitter hive mind for advice, to no avail – absolutely no-one responded! So I took the opportunity, while I was at Edge Hill over the summer, to pick up some books on teaching through role play.  If you teach in a college with a high number of education students, you might as well take advantage of the pedagogical advice that’s available…

One of the books I picked up was ‘The Classes They Remember’ by David Sherrin.  Although it is aimed at teachers working with high school students, I am a high-school-trained teacher myself, and I still think that teaching is teaching – you just adapt it to suit your students.  It’s a fascinating read, and frankly, it turns out that there’s a lot more to role playing than I’d ever realised.  Sherrin advocates using role play as the basis for entire courses, and although I don’t think I’d ever go that far, there is actually a US-based version for university history courses: Reacting to the Past.  At any rate, I’d never really associated ‘role play’ with the old (?) Dungeons and Dragons style immersive role play, which is where Sherrin was coming from.  What I really liked, though, was the way that the sessions were based on page-long extracts from primary sources and academic secondary sources, not the individual paragraphs taken out of context in the English school text books and revision guides that I’ve seen lately.

ancient animal antique architecture

Photo by Pixabay on

In Sherrin’s scheme, the teacher is the ‘game master’, and there to prevent anything historically inaccurate occurring.  He breaks the scheme down into steps:

  • Create characters – Significant individuals in the story or archetypal ordinary people. Provide background information about each on.
  • Determine the scenes – Decide on 1-3 scenes for each lesson in which the characters make key decisions or actions, including enough scenes to tell a fleshed-out version of the story.
  • Write the background narrative (context for the scene). When is this taking place? Where is it taking place? What details explain the events that are about to happen? What typical emotions and thoughts of the population at the time? What happened between the previous scene and this one?  You need to check they have understood this before you start the role play.
  • Choice moments –include at least 3 key decisions that will drive subsequent acting in each role play. These decisions derive from conflict ( eg negotiation, strategic planning, intrafamilial conflict, ethical dilemmas, individual physical or verbal conflict, battles) and are given as simple questions. The outcomes are up to the students but you can question them to point them in a particular direction.
  • Action and Speaking Cards – to strike the balance between giving freedom of choice to the students and guiding them towards the specific conflicts and actions that actually happened. They are used to provoke choice moments and should use the actual language from a primary source if at all possible.
  • Gather props (optional). Real food for banquets (even if it’s indicative rather than accurate), pictures of animals, items to be bargained for, robes, crowns, plastic swords…
  • Pivotal Decision Debates – where a large number of characters in a community assemble to debate a question which will have a significant impact on all their futures. For a full scale unit, there should be 2 or 3 of these.

Like I said, I don’t think I’d ever go the whole way and teach a whole course through role play, but I can see that this is far more involved than what I’ve been doing up to now.  I think that there is probably a happy medium somewhere between what I’ve been doing and Sherrin’s immersive technique – a pared back version, perhaps – and I’m going to revisit the role plays in my teaching for Liverpool Hope to see if I can develop them into something more substantial and meaningful, to see if that improves the outcomes.

I’m going to keep looking into it, and consider other ways I can incorporate different sorts of role play in my teaching, too.

by Gerrit van Honthorst, oil on canvas, 1628

It was great fun to teach on the Edge Hill Summer Residential this year.  It’s aimed at students between years 12 and 13 who are thinking of applying to do history at university (it’s one strand of a wider programme of summer residdentials for different subjects). There were two and half days of academic input, all from me apart from a 15 minute talk on student life by a student helper and a few minutes on the Monday afternoon when the head of department, Professor Paul Ward, popped in to say hello to the students.  For the rest of their time, the students received advice on useful topics such as applying for university, and there were social acitivities for the students to enjoy.

It was also a really great opportunity for me, as I was responsible for planning the whole thing.  The only proviso was that it must include an independent research project which the students had to present back to the whole group.  I chose to focus on the long-term changes which led eventually to the execution of Charles I.    I was able to try out all sorts of teaching activities that I’ve never attempted before.  Not all of them went entirely to plan, but it was interesting to see what worked and what can be improved.  Often, it was the technology that caused the problems – video linked in a powerpoint wouldn’t run in Edge, which is where it opens automatically, although it worked perfectly in Chrome…  And I’d booked a room with a visualiser especially so that I could show students each others’ castle designs.  I went in to check how it worked on the Monday afternoon so that I was ready on the Tuesday, and then on the Tuesday it failed miserably to show anything at all on the screen other than a bright light.  Note to self: must undergo some proper training on document cameras as soon as I can!

I had far more material than I could get through, mainly because the students really got stuck in to the tasks they were set.  It meant I could tailor the sessions to where they seemed interested, and that I got some meaningful responses to the activities we did complete.  One of the students was even prepared to make up a tune and sing the chorus and verse of a ballad that his group had made up about Prince Charles’s visit to Spain to woo the Infanta Maria.  They could have done with a lot more time for that activity, but I had been worried that they might not take up the challenge at all, so I had other things planned as a safety net.

There was one activity I had planned that I was disappointed not to get to.  I had put together an activity to look at how historians use their sources.  The idea was that the students would read an extract from a journal article by Nicholas Canny and some short extracts from one of  the primary sources that he used to write the article – in this case, Edmund Spenser’s description of the Irish.  I’d still like to use it, so if I get asked to take the summer school again next year, I might have to re-jig the timetable a bit in order to make sure I fit that one in.

But the crowning glory of the summer school was the mock-trial of Charles I, which we held at the end of the 2 days.  It worked like this:

  • I gave them the outline of their independent research project: Charles I was being tried for treason. This document outlined what they were expected to do, and suggested the elements which needed to be covered by each group, for example ‘absolutism’ and ‘the role of Ireland’.
  • I also gave them a copy of John Morrill’s Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to the Writing of the English Revolution, with instructions to try to read through it that evening.
  • I divided the class in half.  One group had to prepare the case for the prosecution and the other the case for the defence.
  • The students divided up the various topics between them, according to their interests.
  • Students completed individual research and wrote a short speech on their chosen topic.  They were given an hour and a half hour during the teaching sessions, as well as the opportunity to do further research during the evenings of the residential stay.
  • On Tuesday afternoon, following their lecture on Charles I, we rearranged the tables into a horseshoe and sat the defence team on one side and the prosecution on the other.
  • The students on the prosecution team made the case for Charles being guilty of treason.
  • The defence team gave their speeches.
  • We held a vote on whether Charles was guilty.

I was really proud of the students, who had put an awful lot of work into their speeches, not only in terms of the subject matter but also in the way they expressed themselves.  One student, for example, went to great lengths to explain why she thought parliament’s claim that Charles was an absolutist monarch (or at least aiming towards it) was self-defeating because if he were absolute, parliament would not be sitting.  Others had managed to find out all sorts of details that I had not covered during the two days’ teaching. In the end, they voted to find him not guilty (thus changing history, of course, and that did make me wonder about unintended consequences and counterfactual history – although I stand by the fact that the outcome of the trial was less important in this case than that they had thought about the evidence for each side of the argument.  I might have a bit of a rethink about how to handle this another time).

What made the proceedings particularly interesting was that I’d invited Paul Ward along to hear the students give their presentations, and as he arrived I realised that he could take on the role of Charles I!  It could, of course, have been a bit hairy if the students had decided that he was guilty, because then I would have had to behead the head of department…



I’m writing this in late August, while Twitter is alive with posts on what people have accomplished, or not, over the summer, and the guilt they feel or don’t. It’s got me thinking.

summer steps

summer steps (copyright Jenni Hyde)

There were so many things I planned to do this summer:

  1. Rewrite and resubmit my Pilgrimage of Grace article.
  2. Write and submit my music article.
  3. Start work on some new music research
  4. Chase up a book chapter that was supposed to be being submitted for publication but I’ve heard nothing about.
  5. Prepare my teaching for Lancaster after Christmas (yes, I know I’m a precrastinator, but something always seems to crop up).
  6. Immerse myself in some reading.
  7. Have a holiday.

Well, I managed 2, 3 and 7.

So what have I done?

  • presented at 2 international academic conferences (total time away – 1 week, but then there’s all the preparation on top of that).
  • taught on the summer schools at Edge Hill and Liverpool Hope (again, the teaching time was about a week, but there was plenty of extra preparation time).
  • spent a week trying to work on my music research, but without it really going anywhere – ultimately a quite depressing experience because I’m not sure it’s going to work.
  • spent a couple of days reading up on pedagogy.
  • had a week’s holiday in a trailer tent in the Isle of Wight, where I did Absolutely No Work Whatsoever.
  • spent a day in Birmingham talking to the Open University History Society.
  • spent a day at Alder Hey Hospital for a follow up appointment with my daughter.
  • had a meeting with the manager of my local library about an event in October and then spent half a day working on a proposal (more on that later).
  • binge watched Midnight Caller on YouTube by myself.
  • watched several episodes of Fake or Fortune with my daughter.
  • had breakfast with a friend (one morning).
  • visited the Other Academic In The Village (one morning).
  • did a week’s work on the Pilgrimage of Grace article, before abandoning it because it’s already too long and the reviewers’ revisions would make it longer still.
  • trawled the State Papers Online looking for further hits on ballads and suchlike for two days.  This is work that is unfinished.
  • spent a day preparing the season’s materials for the Bolton Historical Association annual mailout.
  • applied for two non-academic jobs, for which I didn’t get interviews (two days).
  • marked the exam scripts from Edge Hill (two days).
  • climbed Parlick (one day).
  • had a day shopping (this is only remarkable if you know me!).
  • booked a trip to London (half a day).

These are the most significant things that spring to mind.

So, time flies, and actually, I’ve achieved a lot.  It just wasn’t what I set out to do, which is why I am having a hard time not feeling like I’ve wasted the summer (a feeling which is completely ridiculous – even more so because at the moment, I don’t owe anything to anyone except myself).


This is the final post in a short series about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.


The final day of the conference dawned bright and clear (again!), so once I’d packed up and checked out of my accommodation, I headed over to the south campus for the roundtable on ‘Researching Renaissance Soundscapes’.   The participants talked about the authenticity problem facing researchers, and how putting music into its spatial context makes it easier to understand how the relationship between power and sound worked.  Tim Shephard pointed out that one approach starts with sounds and works up, the other starts with power and works down.  There is, however, a tension between which is the most useful.  He asked if we should we see composed music as an effort to impose control upon sound in a spatial way?  

Vincenzo Borghetti suggested that power tries to control everything – what sounds you are allowed to make, when and where.  But rules are often disregarded and what is written on paper and what people actually do are different things. This is true, but the historian in me might suggest that rules are only put in place when there is a reason to do so, and a governing regime doesn’t usually try to control things that are not happening or that they didn’t perceive as a threat.  In which case, you read back from the rules to see what people might have been doing in the first place, as well as whether they are actually prosecuted.  As the panelists pointed out, Le Febvre makes a distinction between top down and bottom up spatial control, which is why historians like legal records – they show where the two collide.  Nevertheless, many things happen which are never recorded, especially in music.  Things are done and used in ways that were not the way that the composer or choirmaster intended.

The discussion was then opened to the floor.  There were questions about how the materiality and visuality of objects can help us to understand the spatiality of sound too.  Objects imply the spatial dimension of the users too, giving us a level of meaning beyond the sound.  Tess Knighton commmented that although we can’t reconstruct and hear with 15th century ears, other factors such as placement and materiality help us to understand the conditions of an object’s use.  Moreover, discussion centred on the ways in which we have to integrate the object into its social practices, with several layers coming together.  Music isn’t just an abstract idea, but its the social practices that make it meaningful in everyday life.  We can begin to understand how different areas of the city sounded.   Tess provided the example of ephemeral, cheaply-printed song: as soon as you think about the way that the text was used, heard, and valued, it becomes a portal.

The use of music to keep people under control is more complex than it at first appears.  Who is controlling whom if a churchgoer pays a blind singer to sing a prayer for him? Especially given that this was a state-controlled service (or should that be enterprise?).  People also believed that if they gave money to orphans and the poor it gave them a spiritual advantage, so spiritual and urban perceptions of life and the afterlife meshed with social welfare because the blind were given a role in society which didn’t make them dependent or criminalise them.


As I know from my own work, it is the music about which we have least information  (and is least studied) which is the most pervasive and as much the part of the soundscape as the footfall.  Polyphony was exceptional and denoted particular things, including power and the celestial, but there are more pervasive musics, right down to the firecrackers.  Recreating and understanding street sounds is difficult because it was everyday sound, and those are the sounds that were least worthy of contemporary comment even if, for me at least, they are perhaps the most interesting because they were so widely experienced.

Vincenzo also reflected on how quickly things have changed in recent years. Now we can project music beyond its physical spatial limits with amplifiers.  People just used to sing, even during his lifetime.  Of course, as a folk musician as well, I would probably argue that people still do.  My own children can be heard singing as they go about their daily lives, sometimes with each other.

We can think about music through the objects we can exhibit – finding ways to make it meaningful for people who know nothing about it – not having any actual music can make it easier for people to engage – we have to think about the musicality of it, starting from the visual.

The discussion also reflected on the problem musicologists have with positivism – that is, accepting suggestions that cannot be proved and allowing the resultant contingencies.  This has an impact on their ability to take interpretative risks, and also allowing them to work with academics from other backgrounds.  This was a really interesting comment to hear coming from musicologists themselves, given that it’s something I have struggled with for a long time as my work is interdisciplinary! 

Michael Noone noted that music is often an added extra and, sadly,  misrepresented in otherwise glorious exhibitions.  Music breathes life back into parchment, which was itself once alive.  He commented that this made it  a fragile but terribly important thing.  The transmission of musical texts was an aural thing and even the parchment music books in Toledo cathedral were not exclusively (maybe not even mainly) about transmitting the parts: these large, highly decorative books made a statement, especially glittering in candlelight.  Maybe new technology can help us bring life back into these objects.

Tim noted the risk that sound in an exhibition becomes a soundtrack. The V&A are working on avoiding this by asking how is the sound linked to other objects in the exhibition, as this is often where a weakness lies.  Instead, each object is a way in to much more than just itself, because it is indicative of broader issues.  Although I was a little alarmed by the comment that historians and art historians are too quick to claim they have no responsibility for music because they “can’t read music” or “can’t play the lute”.  Almost no-one doesn’t engage with music, as the vast majority of the music making public are not professional musicians.

Unfortunately I missed the launch of the exhibits in the Museum of Renaissance Music, but of course that is the nature of a big conference such as this – you simply can’t be in two places at once, so there are things that you would like to see but don’t.

Instead, after the coffee break, my final panel was on Song and Singing.  First up was Elizabeth Lyon on ‘Jesus Christ Superstar: Medieval Tales of a Singing Saviour’.  She pointed out that the Gospels do not present the main characters in the New Testament as musicians or singers, unlike the sacred works of other religious traditions.  There is a reference to Christ and the apostles saying a hymn in gospels of Matthew and Mark, and while this could have been speak or chant, either way this was understood as musical.  But the Gospel writers don’t refer to Christ as a singer. 

It is, then, quite unexpected to find that Tinctoris portrays Mary and Jesus as singers.  But the ordinals of Christ suggest that he was a psalmist.  If the ordinals provide a way to see Christ as the original cantor, it is the Magnificat that makes Mary a singer, even if she only ‘said’ it.   The Bible doesn’t provide any evidence that Christ or Mary studied singing which is why medieval thinkers didn’t really include them in their histories of music.  Late medieval authors characterised the Magnificat as the outward overflowing of spiritual contemplation, while there is a variety of opinion among theologians about whether there was music in the Garden of Eden.  Tinctoris was different because he drew on scholasticism, but also more humanist spheres of knowledge, such as lived experience.

Tinctoris starts his history of music with the infusion of music in Adam’s spirit – this was different to all others.  If Adam was perfectly made with all knowledge of things that were knowable and important for man, he must have known music.  This knowledge gave Adam the ability to sing.  Tinctoris draws this down through the Old and New Testaments, making an effort to show that musicians had a lineage back to Adam and can model themselves on the Godhead.  Finally, Tinctoris makes the extraordinary claim that eternal life is given out to all the faithful but most exaltedly to the musicians.  

The next paper was given by Uri Jacob on ‘Love, Crusade and Distance in Songs by Jaufre Rodel‘.  Jaufre Rodel was an early troubadour in the Occitan tradition.  Love and Crusading are commonly juxtaposed in the songs but not in obvious ways.  Instead, it was based on ‘caritas’ (Christian love), which was understood as a heightened state.  

6 Jaufre poems survive in manuscript, of which 4 have melodies.  Uri hopes that the songs will help us to understand representations of the Crusade in medieval music.  He argued that physical and mental distances are reflected in the music and his first example was a strophic song.  The motto – a refrain unit – is the word ‘loing’, meaning distance.  In a typical courtly love song, distance is a metaphorical distance, such as different social background of the lovers.  In this case it’s physical distance as the beloved is in the Holy Land.  Uri argued that the poetic context of the song plays into the sonority of the verses.  The pes ends on a destabilising C cadence, while the mid point is on the stable d cadence.  These coincide with the word ‘loing’.

The final paper that I heard at the conference was ‘Doctors, Dowries and Funerals: negotiations between the singers of the Cappella Pontificia and the  oman Arciconfraternita del SS. Crocifisso in the late sixteenth century’. Noel O’Regan shared with us a unique document in which the papal singers confidently attempted to negotiate terms with the confraternity SS. Crocifisso for membership, medical insurance, death rites, the right to vet those girls who were nominated for dowries etc.  The demands relating to the dowries were rejected.  There was no more discussion, and the papal singers continued to be involved with the confraternity, so it seems they accepted the decision.  The confraternity pointed out that they always gave preference to the female relatives of members, which is what it seems that the papal singers actually wanted.  There were benefits for both sides in the arrangement between the two.

The confraternity controlled access to a miraculous holy cross, supported a house of nuns and gave dowries to poor girls.  The papal singers sang Mass twice a year, and there were spiritual and material benefits to joining the confraternity, even if their status as singers who had been through a rigorous audition process meant that they believed themselves to be a cut above the rest.  There is little evidence that the members of the Tredici, the representatives of the papal singers in the confraternity, had any hand in organising their music.

The conference was friendly, supportive and, all in all, a pleasure to attend.  I don’t think I’ll be back every year, but I’m sure they’ll see me again sometime in the future!