On the second day of the Glorious Sounds conference, the plenary was a fascinating paper given by John Craig (Simon Fraser University) on ‘Sounding Godly: from Bilney to Bunyan’. He starting by raising a number of questions including how godly sounds affected the way people related to one another.  He went on to acknowledge the difference between urban and rural parishes, and describe his attempts to investigate lost sounds in the Elizabethan church.  He first discussed the popular demand for metrical psalters and how this allowed female voices to sing alongside male in the congregations. But he suggested that the singing of psalms in metre wasn’t wholly accepted by the church – metrical psalters were never required as purchases for clergy by the bishops. Sternhold and Hopkins’ metrical psalms were rarely bought by parishes – they might have prose psalters, but not ones intended for singing. Instead, parish clerks led singing, but in rural parishes it might well only have been the priest who spoke during the service because they had no clerk to lead congregations in participation. This might explain why they tried to encourage participation through lining out, however unpopular it might have been.  His second point was about the ways in which prayers were accompanied by sighs and groans, and he also considered how people listened to sermons. He suggested that when we study sounds, we should also think about how different groups listened to these sounds.

The afternoon’s panel began with Matthew Stanton of Queen’s University, Belfast talking about ‘Charisma and Controversy: Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) and the Debate About Congregational Song’. He described how Keach’s introduction of hymns into the service was unique and displaced the congregation singing psalms.  Keach was involved in a controversy over whether hymn-singing should be encouraged. Stanton demonstrated the spread of hymn singing in London Baptist congregations, showing that congregational hymn singing was enthusiastically supported by this branch of non-conformity.

Next was Rosamund Paice (Northumbria University) giving a paper on ‘Sound Theology: Serious Punning in Paradise Lost’. She highlighted the anxieties about puns in high culture, although they were in fact very popular and even expected. For Milton, puns were really important and since they were part of the way God speaks through Scripture, they were sanctioned by Him.

Finally, we heard from Vera J. Camden of Kent State University, Ohio on ‘The Sounds of Sermons and Hymns in Hannah Burton’s London Diary (1782)’. She described the sermon gadding of the Hannah Burton, the daughter of an ejected non-conformist preacher. Hannah used a family heirloom notebook to describe the sermons that she heard, comparing them to commentaries and making notes of her own thoughts on the subject, and it is clear from her writings that she plans to come back to them because she leaves blank pages after her notes. She quotes portions of hymns too, which fit with what she is thinking about at the time.

It was a really interesting couple of days.

Last week, I was really pleased to be able to attend the second day of the Sound Affects II workshop, organised by Rachel Willie and Emilie Murphy for their Soundscapes in the Early Modern World research network.

The first paper was given by Wayne Weaver, a PhD student at Cambridge. His ‘Musical Performance Commentaries and the Creation of “Race”: Hearing and Listening in Early Modern Kingston, Jamaica’ was a fascinating work in progress paper based on his current doctoral research. Much is known about the costs of musical activities in colonial Jamaica from history writing and even from rare musical criticism from 1788.  These can tell us a lot about how musical discourses fed into the understanding of race in the context of governorship.  He noted that not all of the black community were enslaved, and that the use of sound was related to race and social place.

He outlined the musical culture of Jamaica at the end of the eighteenth century. African and biracial African European people were involved in European art music, while there were a lot of imported musical productions and cultural materials.  Yet the commentators from the period tend to talk more about Jamaican musical customs, as outsiders, rather than the European imports.  These commentaries tend to use derogatory language and negative opinions. Bryan Edwards, who writes very derogatively about the Jamaican musical ability, shows himself to be completely out of step with the London music scene.  In London, the Caribbean African and African Europeans were described as passive and submissive, but in fact there were many uprisings. The colonial writers chose to call their monographs ‘History’ – this promoted a national specificity, and they were trying to categorise.  This is the period when the concept of race began to solidify – it is now understood to be a social construct, and at the time it was based around ‘othering’ which was a way of subordinating other peoples to colonial power.  He argued that they were figured as having a subordinate musical culture because they were seen as subordinate. 

The second paper was given by my friend Una McIlvenna on ‘Hearing the News Being Sung in the Early Modern Urban Environment’. Una outlined the way that ballads were sold on the streets – although her argument was that in some places, the ballad singer had an oil painting that they used to illustrate the texts.  She described how hearing the news being sung in the early modern environment was a multi-media, multi-sensory, highly emotional experience.  She sees a link between the German song-sheets with several bespoke woodcuts at the top and the multiple image oil paintings.  By tracing images of ballad sellers backwards, she is hoping to work out when the oil paintings start to appear. The don’t seem to appear in the 16th and 17th centuries, but they are there by the early 18th century.  Because they last into the twentieth century, there are fascinating accounts of the theatrical performances of these songs and the crowds they drew, and these crowds are always shown in the paintings of ballad singers.

After lunch it was time for the second Future of Soundscape Studies Roundtable, made up of 6 lightning talks. The first, entitled ‘”If you desire quietude, you should not wind it up”: Experimenting with the soundscape of the Qing Court’ was given by Josefine Baark (Warwick). She described how Chinese collectors of clockwork disregarded European clocks as markers of time of day, but they saw the spectacular performances they made as musical items as markers of status and wealth. Next came Deyasini Dasgupta (Syracuse) on ‘Sonic Acoustemology: Identifying Alterity in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene’, in which she investigated sounds that are threatening.  In the Faerie Queen, non-verbal sounds are usually associated with “monstrous” bodies while those who cannot hear, speak or understand speech sounds are depicted as monsters because they depict non-conformity – they cannot hear or speak the true faith (whether that be Protestant or Catholic).  But some monstrous bodies use sound to create affect. The third lightning paper was from Elisabeth Lutteman (Uppsala) who spoke on ‘Stage Songs, Action and Interaction’. It was based on her thesis on Singing, Acting and Interacting from the 1590s-1620s, which investigated who sings what, why and to what effect.  She outlined how in one play, singing allows one character to shape their relationship with another person and affect that person’s actions – it allows the character agency to avoid seduction.

I gave the fourth paper, entitled ‘Music for Queen Mary’s Wedding Ballad?’, based on some work I’ve done recently on John Heywood’s ballad for Mary’s wedding to Philip of Spain. There will be more on this in another post, but basically I outlined why I think I’ve stumbled across the right tune for the song. Next was Stephanie Shirilan (Syracuse), giving a paper called ‘Paronomasia, Linguistic Echo and Affective “Surround Sound” in Shakespeare’, describing how she explores the ways that words sound and resound in plays. The final paper in the roundtable was given by Ellie Sutton (Birmingham) on ‘”The Wiving Age”: Sex and Satire in Seventeenth-century English Broadside Ballads’. She focussed on the representation of women in ballads in the context of wider popular literature, rather than the out of the ordinary women such as murderesses.  The maids, wives and widows in Martin Parker’s The Wiving Age are a potential threat to the gender order. Ballads satirised women who inverted the idea of what women should be. They thereby fit in with other prescriptive and proscriptive works which reflected concern over the gender order.

The workshop closed with an excellent paper by Tess Knighton (ICREA-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) entitled ‘How processions moved: emotional discourses in civic ceremony in early-modern Europe’.

This is the second of two posts about my attendance at the first day of MEMSFest2020.

After lunch, I chose to go to Patronage, Community, and Civic Participation, chaired by Cassandra Harrington. Chris Hopkins was the first speaker on the panel, talking about One Day in Canterbury: The Story of an Anglo-Saxon Charter.  Chris used the much-studied manuscript, Cotton Augustus II 91, to explore several questions.  The first of these was, why did Anglo Saxon kings give such valuable land to the church? The answer would appear to be that it was part of a programme of extravagant display.  He suggested four possible locations for where the charter was enacted at Canterbury, partly based on how charters were publicly ‘performed’ in that the charter was read aloud. It was interesting to hear about how a couple of the witnesses’ names were added beforehand, but others were added at the ceremony, which suggests that the scribes were able to predict the presence of some but not all of the witnesses to the event.

Next up was Noah Smith, on Bakers, Fishmongers, and Militant Brotherhoods: Reassessing the Guild Iconography of the Leugemeete Chapel in Ghent circa 1334. He argued that Flemish guild art was instructive in how they saw themselves.  He noted that the location of the paintings in the layout of the Leugemeete Chapel meant that you would process towards the altar flanked by the images of the militant brotherhoods.  Like Francesca’s, this paper was interested in the physical location and space of the building and how this affected the people who used it.

Ella Ditri’s Women and Landed Society in Conquest England looked at the changes to female landowning and the distribution of females’ landed wealth before and after the conquest.  Very few women retained control of their land after the Norman conquest.  This was felt more by secular women than religious women.  Much of the land went to William the Conqueror, with much of the rest going to his men.  There were a few new female landowners, but not enough to replace the number of women who were completely dispossessed.  The conquest brought about changes to inheritance patterns which reduced women’s opportunities to inherit. 

Finally, Eilish Gregory’s paper was entitled We Bless the Queen, and we Invoke the Saint’: Literary Dedications to Catherine of Braganza, Queen Dowager of England, 1685-1689.  Eilish started by discussing Aphra Behn’s support for Catherine after her husband’s death.  She then talked about Catherine’s lasting role as a patron during her time as queen dowager, suggesting that she had a significant impact on Catholic religious culture. Soon after Charles II’s death, several poems presented her as the grieving widow and appeared to share her woe.  In the final section, she looked at the sermons which were preached in front of Catherine.  The sermons preached at her private chapel at Somerset House caused the Privy Council alarm, because so many Catholics were attending and they could not control the messages they would hear in the preaching. Moreover, some of these sermons were printed by royal command.

In the last session of Friday afternoon, I started by attending the Literary Tradition and Criticism panel chaired by Michael Powell-Davies.  Grace Murray’s paper was Thomas Tusser’s “Mnemonic Jingles”:  Reading and Remembering the Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandry. Tusser was music master to Paget.  His Five Hundred Points of Husbandry was reprinted many times.  Originally printed as an almanac written in verse throughout.  It’s a genre-bending publication.  CS Lewis was particularly scathing about it.  Tusser was writing in verse because it was easy for reading aloud and remembering if your audience was semi-literate tenant farmers, but we know from annotated copies that readers from higher social ranks. Some read it as poetry, others as a manual.  She suggested that although it is a bit of a mish-mash (my words, not hers!), it is Tusser’s own authorial voice that makes the whole thing hang together.

Faith Acker talked about her work on manuscript collections of epitaphs in Beer, Sex and Life After Death in Early Modern Epitaphs.  The writer of Folger MS V.a.103 differentiated between laudatory and merry epitaphs.  She concentrated on the ‘merry and satirical epitaphs’, pointing out that food and drink featured prominently in the epitaphs, which themselves centred on men at Oxford colleges.  The examples she gave told us less about the individuals who had died than their role in providing food!  The butlers’ individual traits are forgotten when the food they had access to is supplied form elsewhere.

I then skipped across to Intellectual Networks and Early Modern Knowledge Communities, chaired by Anna Hegland, to catch Challenges of the Social Network Analysis in History: The Case of the Marquis of Santa Cruz de Marcenado by Pelayo Fernández García.  Almost forgotten now, the Marquis was one of the foremost military writers of his age.  Pelayo described his research into the Marquis’s social networks, but he pointed out that even when you have almost complete epistolary records, you still can’t recreate the networks of face to face contacts.  By analysing the content of the letters, you can find out qualitative information about contacts. Finally, Emily Rowe’s Whetstones of Wit: Iron Wits and Cutting Words in Early Modern English Prose explored the ways in which the various metaphors of iron were employed to describe the workings of people’s minds.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has caused some considerable problems with research and the sudden reorganisation of teaching, it has also opened up some opportunities that I wouldn’t ordinarily have had to network, attend conferences and hear about other people’s research.  As an early modernist working in a department where there aren’t all that many of us, this has been really very useful – if I’m honest, I haven’t taken as much advantage of this as I should, but it’s hard work working and homeschooling through lockdown. So a few weeks ago, fresh from PE with Joe on YouTube, I went to MEMSFest, hosted by the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.  This is the first of a pair of posts about the conference.

In the opening remarks the organisers drew attention to MEMS Library Lockdown – a list of resources that we still have access to even though we’re in lockdown – and we were invited to their online seminar series. The first panel I attended was on Emotion and Embodiment and was chaired by Róisín Astell. First, Francesca Saward-Read talked about the early stages of her research into Audience Culpability in Early Modern Drama, exploring the differences between modern audiences – how do you gauge audience reactions when they’ve been dead 400 years – perhaps by accepting that it wasn’t If they felt something but What they felt.  Examples were taken from The Spanish Tragedy (Kyd, 1585), Hamlet (Shakespeare, 1601), and The Revenger’s Tragedy (Middleton, 1606).  Soliloquies and asides are direct connections to the audience.  Hamlet is well known for soliloquies, of course, charting his descent into madness but dramatic features such as this allow the audience to connect with the performer.  She explored how asides and soliloquy heighten the emotion of the scene, and make the audience part of the play, speculating on whether this made them partly culpable in the crimes of revenge tragedies. She suggested that we also need think about physical performance space and how it affects the original audience. She pointed out that the physical space created cohesion between audience and action – lighting, for example, was the same for both so they could be seen.  There was very little separation to limit the setting to the stage.

Anna-Nadine Pike then presented a paper called “Spekyngly silent”: Moments of Irrationality in The Cloud of Unknowing. She talked about how the Cloud author dealt with the fact that apophatic theology believed that God was unknowable and could not be described by language.  It was a way of attempting to quiet the mind and attain a state of contemplation.  The Cloud of Unknowing recommends its readers should approach the text with love rather than intellect, allowing them a ‘nakid entente directe unto God’.  Once this is attained the rest of the text aims to prevent the reader thinking logically and interrogating the text with its rational mind.  It makes it clear that they should be grappling with something unimaginable.  The text invites the reader to choose a word to contemplate – the language is use performatively by its readers.

The next paper was from Lydia McCutcheon on Familial Relationships in the Miracle Collections for St Thomas Becket and the ‘Miracle Windows’ of Canterbury Cathedral.  On the 800th anniversary of Becket’s death, she argued that familial relations in the miracle stories are central to the way that the monks helped to shape the monk’s veneration.  The Miracle Windows have different shapes and numbers of panels, and each sequence is recorded in one of the miracle story collections.  Lydia’s research has sought to identify familial relations in the Miracle Windows, then looked at the nature of the relationship. They are mostly loving, but they are not all simple, stock characters.  This raises questions about their function and the way that the artists used the families to create Becket’s cult.  Even in the stained glass, she argued, we are more invested in the characters because of their familial relationships. The final paper in the panel was given by Jordan Cook, who talked about Embodying the “Earthly” in Early Netherlandish Painting.  Art historians face a challenge in deciding whether a setting is meant to embody an earthly or a celestial space.  Her first example was The Virgin and Child by Jan van Eyck.  It’s a very natural painting, but many scholars have used clues such as fantastical architecture show that it’s not a real, earthly space.  Jordan looked at the imperfections in the Netherlandish spaces suggest a more earthly reading.  She pointed out that, from a divine point of view, time happened simultaneously.  This means heavenly spaces cannot be changed by the passage of time, while earthly spaces withered and decayed over time.  Why would a heavenly setting include things like cobwebs or chips in stone, such as those that are seen in the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck?  The inclusion of these worldly imperfections are useful details for artists concerned with naturalism.  These principles are still used today by digital artists and architects.

Following a short break in posts, caused by a problem with internet access, this is the first in a short series of posts about the Historical Association Conference 2019, held in Chester in May.

Becky Sullivan welcoming people to the conference

On Friday morning, the proceedings opened with a welcome from Rebecca Sullivan, the HA chief executive, who was very pleased to note that this was the biggest HA conference since 2015 in Bristol.  She then introduced the first keynote speaker, Professor Tony Badger, the HA President, who was once described by the Wall Street journal as a man with an instinctive understanding of American politics.  Prof Badger’s talk was on ‘The Kennedys and the Gores’.  He described how families became good friends, lasting 50 years through 2 generations of politics, to the point where Ted Kennedy’s support was vital to Al Gore’s nomination in 2000.  He pointed out that you can use the Kennedys and the Gores to chart the changing fortunes of American liberalism. 

Albert Gore grew up in a rural small town – a very different wold to that of the global superpower, space race and nuclear arms.  In 1938 he had to make his mark not just through speaking on hustings, but by playing fiddle in a country band to draw a crowd at political meetings. John Kennedy, on the other hand, came from a very wealthy background and was a genuine war hero.  He was of Irish Catholic while Gore was a southern Baptist, but at the time public religiosity was not the order of the day. Both had strong wives: Pauline Gore was one of the first women to graduate in law; Jackie Kennedy a style icon.

Professor Tony Badger, HA President

Both Kennedy and Gore were interested in foreign policy, but by the 50s had already differed on South East Asia. Neither was an intellectual, but Kennedy drew academics into his advisors.  Both made the effort to learn, though different ways.  Neither was a member of the Senate Club, which critics thought stymied reform, but members respected its hardworking ministers. Likewise, both found themselves at odds with Lyndon Johnson.  Gore tried very hard to get on with him, but they hated each other. He admired Johnson’s legislative skills but thought he was a cruel bully, and resented his exclusion from administration.  Meanwhile, Johnson didn’t take Kennedy seriously as a senator.  But Kennedy understood Johnson’s power as majority leader, which is why he made him vice president. 

Another similarity between Gore and Kennedy was that both were targets of Hoover. Kennedy was put under watch because of his sexual liaisons, while Gore was put on a list ‘not to be contacted’ as long as Hoover in charge of FBI.  Both also supported civil rights, at least to an extent; they were not hugely active but made the right noises.  Gore felt that the race issue divided his poor white and black constituents and wanted to concentrate on economic issues. Kennedy established good relations with southern leaders and thought he could work with them, though his faith was tested during his presidency.  Gore hoped that LBJ’s civil rights legislation would be softened enough to enable him to give it support, and had Kennedy lived, it might well have been.  But LBJ had different imperatives and in the end it wasn’t so Gore didn’t support it, making him almost irrelevant.

Gore, however, still supported Kennedy’s presidential campaign of 1960 and during Kennedy’s presidency, the Gores were regularly entertained at the White House.  Kennedy used Gore as sounding board, for example over the Bay of Pigs crisis.

Nevertheless, there were tensions between Kennedy and Gore.  The interstate highways policy caused problems because Gore supported them as essential for the economic development of the south, whereas Kennedy thought the policy would cause problems for the north.  There were also problems when the vice presidency was opened up to the floor, and over tax cuts.  Finally, Gore watched with alarm as Kennedy administration was sucked into Vietnam.  He read reports about what was going wrong, and he wanted Kennedy to pull troops out.  Then Kennedy was assassinated. Albert Gore worked closely with Ted Kennedy after Bobby’s assassination, but couldn’t persuade Ted to stand for president.

Gore had allowed himself to support the Tonkin Gulf resolution in August 1964, but he was one of the the first senators to call for a negotiated settlement.  The Kennedys couldn’t come out against in cased they were seen as going against their brother’s legacy.   During the 1970s, the anti-war stance became mainstream and younger senators respected Gore’s expertise in the Nixon years. He became Nixon’s number one target in the 1970 campaign, which focussed on race and evangelical religion and made the south the bastion of republicanism. White southern voters saw the civil rights movement help African Americans, women, gays etc, but not themselves. 

Al Gore didn’t go straight to politics, but when he got into Washington he travelled home each weekend to hold meetings in his constituency, keeping in touch with the voters.  He steered clear of presidential politics.  The Gores didn’t back the Kennedy family in the 80s, as ‘Kennedy liberal’ was a term of abuse.  When Al Gore ran for the senate in 1984, he wouldn’t have his photo taken with Ted Kennedy.  But by 2000 they were on the platform together, with Gore having got to know Kennedy from sitting next to him in the senate.  When Ted Kennedy died in 2009, Al Gore described him as a champion of Americans who had no voice. 

Prof Badger concluded his lecture by noting that the problems faced by these politicians were no less significant than those faced now, but unlike now, the two families didn’t foster anti-intellectualism and think that a soundbite was a substitute for effective legislation.

The HA conference combines several Continuing Professional Development strands for teachers with general interest lectures for ‘armchair historians’.  The first session that I attended was given by Hugh Richards,  from the Huntington School in York, on helping GCSE students who are swamped by the new GCSE.  In fact, he concentrated on the challenges facing students who need to write essays in an exam, such as self-regulation, recall of information, deploying information and even getting started.  He pointed out that teachers are being asked to beat a system that is designed to differentiate the students, and advised deliberate practice, breaking down the big tasks. He also suggested that  students shouldn’t be attempting the big tasks, such as long essay questions, straight away because they are designed to asses a GCSE student who has done the whole course.  They need to be able to do all the component parts of the task and we need to break that down for them. 

Hugh Richards

Hugh took a sample ‘how far do you agree’ question and broke it down in to its constituent bits:

  • Knowledge
  • Structured response
  • Vocabulary
  • Multiple viewpoints
  • Understanding the question
  • Judgement

His school, like many others, had giving students essay frameworks, but this can make them too used to the ‘life rings’, meaning that they can’t manage without them when they are in the exam and faced just with a blank page.  Instead, he recommended basing teaching on the 3 elements to self-regulated learning:

  • Cognition
  • Metacognition
  • Motivation

He then outlined a couple of teaching techniques which helped to raise achievement for all pupils. 

The first technique was the use of spiderplans – a spider diagram that plans an essay and one of several different visual plans for different types of question.  He argued that spiderplans worked because they are based on a blank sheet of paper rather than a grid or scaffold, so they can easily be reproduced in the exam.  Students draw a circle in middle of the page and focus on putting question in their own words. Then they add points around it, giving them a well-structured response.

The next technique was to get the students to ask themselves ‘What mistakes might I make?’ These mistakes might be different for each student, so it helps them to reflect on the feedback they have received for completed assignments and use it to improve their essay plan.

Once this has been done, the students submit their structures to the teacher, who puts them on the board in a table so that the students can compare different possible structures, for example, answering by decade, by theme, groups of people.  You can ask them which structure they like best and why, because exposing the thought processes makes them reflect on the effectiveness of the different approaches.  It exposes the historical thinking and helps them to see why there might be problems. You can vote on the most effective, which makes the learning point clear but it hasn’t been done by giving model answers.

The next step is to consider as a group the evidence for one structure.  You can then ask again what mistakes they might make. They often remember the mistakes better than their successes, so we need to turn this to their advantage.  Another advantage of this technique is that it avoids wasting their time writing a whole essay that is then wrong, which is demoralising.  He advised asking students cross out their work when it was wrong, to avoid them revising from incorrect material.    

 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.

I have finally sent off my commonwealth chapter to my panel, ahead of my meeting with them next week.  I’m in a slightly different position to normal in that I was able to send it with a message telling them where I wanted help and where I hoped to expand it when I come to re-write it in the summer.  I identified two sections where the writing was flabby and repetitive, where some serious editing will be needed, but on the whole, I think it has something to say, at last.  That something is about radical ballads and the activities of ballad collectors, which isn’t how I expected the chapter to turn out when I started work on it last September.  It has been the hardest chapter I’ve had to write by far.  I’m glad that it turned out to be about the manuscript collections of ballads, because compared to the broadside ballads they’ve had much less attention.  I think that they are interesting in their own right, because someone chose to collect them and made the effort to write them down.

The rest of the week has been split between secondary reading for my final chapter on ballads and the news; cataloguing and analysing more ballads; and preparing my paper for the Print and Materiality Seminar Series at the John Rylands Library next week.  The paper should be fun because for once, I actually get to sing!  On Sunday last week I recorded a couple of the ballads I’ve been working on recently, one of which took three and a half minutes and the other was more than twelve!   I’m going to keep recording them as I work on them from now on, with the aim of having them all recorded by July.

Next week is half term, so I expect to have some days out if the weather permits, instead of working all week.