I was2017-09-20 19.31.33

 

I was fascinated by this series of posts on Twitter by Bradley Irish…  It’s true, I think.  I was reminded of some interviews done by the Marine Lives project last year which looked at the way historians carry out research using electronic databases.  I wrote a short blog post at the time, which made much the same point that Bradley did – we rarely talk about the ways in which we carry out the research that leads to our outputs, be they books, articles, websites, even blog posts…  Okay, we might (and probably do) mention our methodology in the output itself, but not in the level of detail that Bradley and I both meant.  There are students out there who might find this sort of openness helpful.  Heavens, I might find it helpful.  The way that I work as an academic morphed out of the way I worked as an undergraduate 20 odd years ago.  There was nothing planned, and certainly nothing taught, about it. I can only remember one single conversation about how to sit down and do the research I do, and it consisted of something like this:

‘Prof. X keeps all their research notes in a single, huge file – it makes it really easy to search for a key term or a person…’

And that was it.  Thinking about it, it wasn’t really a conversation at all.

As I embark on finding something new to work on over the next few months (plenty of ideas, by the way, just nothing concrete yet), I’m going to write a few posts about what I’m doing along the way, subtitled ‘the way I work’.  If anyone felt moved to join me, or to respond, that would be great.  I’m absolutely sure that I’ve got plenty to learn.

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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’ve been rather unpredictable in my blog posts lately, mainly because I used to write them on Friday evenings as a review of what I’d done during the ‘normal working week’ (Show me a scholar who works a normal working week?  No? No, me neither…), but since the summer the whole family has been going to choir practice on a Friday evening.  That has thrown out my blogging routine completely and it has yet to settle in to a new one.  My child-free time (the school day) is so precious for work that I’m loathe to use it to write the blog.

Anyway, the other reason that I haven’t given many reports on what I’ve been doing lately is because I haven’t been doing all that much work.  It doesn’t seem all that interesting to report that I’ve read a few books.  I finally finished Steve Hindle’s The State and Social Change in Early Modern England.  I started on it before I had my nasty infection, which finally forced me to take a day or two off to recover, then I finished off and submitted the article I’d been writing.  When I went back to work I started reading Ethan Shagan on Popular Politics and the English Reformation.  My supervisor asked me what I thought about the Hindle monograph, I confidently gave a reply, he asked if I’d finished reading it, I said ‘yes’ and then as the conversation progressed I began to doubt myself…  When I hung up the phone, I went and picked the book up and, sure enough, I was only half way through.   So that put the wind up me.  I genuinely thought I’d finished it.  I had finished it by the end of the next day!

I catalogued 50 more ballads.

I organised another research trip to the British Library for January.

I had yet another telephone conversation about the abandoned common weal chapter, another ‘wobble’.   It was a conversation with my husband that gave me the starting point that sent me running to my study to grab a notebook and start scribbling ideas.  He unwittingly found me the angle I’ve been missing for the last 2 months and I filled a couple of pages with scribblings about how to turn the disparate ideas into something resembling a chapter.  I then had only a few days before the children finished school for Christmas in which to get started.  I decided to write a plan for the chapter and develop it from there.  So at the moment I have a file on my computer called ‘Developed Chapter Plan’ which lists in order all the points I want to make.  It includes a chunk of writing I’d already done on some manuscript miscellanies and several useful primary and secondary quotations that I’d already come across.  My intention is for the chapter to grow from the plan.

So then the break for Christmas.  Father Christmas brought me a large stack of books.  Alexandra Walsham on Church Papists, Hiram Morgan on Tyrone’s Rebellion, Landlords and Tenants in Britain, a book on the Aztecs and one on Mindfulness.  Plenty of reading material there for the new year.

The British Library, London

The British Library, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week has been rather different to normal.  Foolishly, at 8am on Monday morning I was at Preston station in the hope of travelling to London, but the storm rather got  in the way.  Instead of arriving in London at 10, it was lunchtime when I got there, so I missed a few hours’ work in the British Library.  It was an interesting few days, anyway, looking at commonplace books and music manuscripts for my work.   I was back up north on Wednesday evening with a keen awareness of how much more time I need to spend in the BL.  Then on Friday I spoke at the History Lab North West workshop on interdisciplinarity, Beyond History.   I talked about the overlap of musicology and history in my work, especially about how sometimes the music of the ballads adds a whole extra layer of meaning to the texts.  It was nice to talk and sing  to a mixed audience rather than just historians.

My plan is to spend some time next week revitalising my journal article, then with a bit of look when I go back to the commonweal chapter after a couple of weeks’ break, it might be a bit easier to face.

Yesterday I met my supervisors to Discuss the Chapter.  I took
a list of questions and comments, a piece of work on some
manuscript miscellanies that I’ve been studying and some examples of
ballads that fitted some of the categories I’d been working on.  Between
us, I think we’ve managed to find an approach that might suit the
material.  It involves a bit of a change from my chapter plan, but
that’s not a problem for me if it’s not a problem for them.  I feel
quite a lot better about it today than I did this time last week.

Broadleaved woods in Macclesfield Forest

Broadleaved woods in Macclesfield Forest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next week I’m spending quite a bit of time in the archives, doing some more research, then on Friday I’m speaking at Beyond History, a History Lab North West event at Manchester University.  I wrote my paper this morning and I’m looking forward to hearing some of my friends, especially being on a panel with the lovely Rosy Rickett.  So next week should be a bit of a change.

You may  have noticed that there wasn’t a blog post on Friday evening.  Nor was there one the Friday before.  There reason was that I didn’t feel like it; I didn’t want to acknowledge in public that I’m still stuck in the bog, probably waist rather than ankle-deep now.  In fact, if truth be told, I just didn’t want to think about my work any more than I absolutely had to.  Not that it worked – I was thinking about it constantly anyway.

 

English: Looking over the bog

English: Looking over the bog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The chapter is not going well.  I’d go so far as to say that the chapter is doing something quite unusual:  it’s going backwards.  Having eventually managed to churn out around 6500 words, I then decided that what I’d done was a load of rubbish.  I haven’t hit the delete button, but you can be quite sure that no-one is ever going to see those 6500 words ever again.  I’m not at all happy with the way I approached the material, but I can’t see another way of attacking it.  I know it’s not right, but I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve spent this entire week wondering how to improve things and trying to think of an angle to take that will let me approach the common weal ballads, but I can’t come up with a solution.  As I have a supervision meeting this week, I have concentrated on writing about four manuscript miscellanies I’ve studied, really just to practice writing with clarity and simplicity rather than because I think it will be particularly useful for the thesis. Oh, and because I needed something to hand in to my supervisors on Monday.

English: Snowed trees Polski: Ośnieżone drzewa...

English: Snowed trees Polski: Ośnieżone drzewa w Dąbrówkach Breńskich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I distracted myself by working ridiculously long hours on the ballad database last weekend.  It’s going quite well, except that moving information from the spreadsheet to the database proved to be more of a challenge than I expected and has proved to be rather time consuming.  But it is considerably easier, already, to find the information I need.  There are long hours ahead of me working on that, I fear.  I am in the process of planning a trip to the British Library too.  So I think the main problem with my work is stress – I’m just snowed under.  The problem with the chapter was exacerbated by a realisation of just how much work I have to do in the next few weeks.  So there’s plenty to discuss at my next supervision meeting, not least of which is strategies to cope.

This is the first time since I started back at work that I’ve really felt like I’m back at work.  I’ve begun work on my fifth chapter, ballads and the common weal.  But it’s been a funny sort of week.  I spent Monday with my head stuck in my source material, trying to find the links, sorting them into groups and writing a time line.  On Tuesday I went into the library in Manchester to read a book about John Payne Collier.  He’s turned out to be something of a pain in the neck, if I’m honest.  Not only did he have a habit of leaving out the provenance of the ballads he published in the mid-nineteenth century, he also had an irritating compulsion to forge things.  Even the transcriptions that aren’t of his own invention are, apparently, full of errors.  So at the moment, I am faced with a choice:  ignore everything he ever went near, or go back to the  original sources themselves if I can find them or get at them.  Not a particularly easy decision to make.  What’s more, the man was all over Victorian literary scholarship and those who were caught unawares innocently passed on his errors, so I have to be very careful indeed.

On Wednesday afternoon I went in to the university to pick up an inter-library loan.  I stayed for the history department’s public event, a conversation between Prof. Michael Wood and Tristram Hunt, MP.  It  was very interesting, but I’m not really sure it could be billed as Prof. Wood’s inaugural lecture, as it wasn’t my idea of a lecture.  Very enjoyable, though, and I’m very, very glad I went.

Yesterday and today I have spent working on my chapter.  I’ve got about 1200 words down on paper, although some of that is just notes of ideas, but I’m still quite pleased.  At least I have got a few ideas to work on this week, which I hadn’t last weekend.  I’m in a familiar, if rather uncomfortable, position where I have got several things rattling round in brain that I’d like to work on, but it’s Friday afternoon and now I’m on childcare duty so everything else has to wait until Monday.

I’ve also offered to present a paper at the North West Early Modern Seminar Series at Lancaster University in November, so I have to fit writing that into the next few weeks as well.