At the end of January, I happened to be down in London for a Historical Association committee meeting, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to the London Renaissance Seminar in order to hear Patricia Fumerton talk about ‘Moving Media, Tactical Publics – The British Broadside Ballad in Early Modern England’.

I was surprised, I must admit, to hear her talk about the  16th and 17th century broadsides in Manchester Central Library, one of which is marked by a seventeenth century handprint.  Professor Fumerton described how she attempted to gain a full appreciation of each ballad, including emotional responses.  She pointed out that although we cannot fully inhabit the lived experiences of people from hundreds of years ago, we can try to do it at one remove. In order to do so, we need a capacious theory or complement of theoretical components, such as assemblage theory, tactical media and plural publics.

Whereas EEBO gives only one image for all editions, EBBA gives the image for every edition.  Unsurprisingly, as founder and director of  EBBA, she argued strongly that studying digital rather than material ballads is fine, because the notion of whole in broadside ballads is already a fiction,  In fact, she suggested that EBBA’s collection helps us to experience ballads more like they would have in the early modern period because they allow us to experience many ballads together, they include recordings and we can see the images as well as words…  This is perhaps how the early modern person experienced ballads – hearing a snatch of a tune, catching a glimpse of another sheet’s words or images – then making associations with what they already –  knew of ballads.   They might ask themselves where they  had heard it before, or where they had seen that before?  To encounter one ballad in early modern England was to encounter many parts, and many were only experienced partially.   Soon, the EBBA database will include the ability to click on an image and it will bring up other links to all the ballads with that image.  EBBA uses  Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, so it takes what it calls an Item eg the ballad sheet, and then thinks of the things that make up its component parts and how they are related.  As it is modular, those parts can be plugged into another sheet – they are related but autonomous, therefore like the notion of assemblages.  She argued that because of this, ballads appealed to multiple publics.   Furthermore, like me, she argued that neither ballad performers nor audiences were passive recipients.  For example, performers could use hand gestures or movement to make a point, while tactical publics allowed consumers to subvert the authors’ intentions. If a ballad producer tried to over-manipulate the consumer, he actually empowered them.


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

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

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

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

Yesterday I logged in to my Manchester University library account and discovered that I can no longer renew my books.  This came as a bit of a surprise.  There’s nothing urgent, you understand, it just brought home to me the fact that, slowly and surely, I’m being set adrift in the big, wide world again.  I still sit here at my desk and get on with my work, but Chicken Licken keeps telling me that the sky is falling in, and he’s right. One day soon, I’ll attempt to log in to the State Papers Online or EEBO, only to find that access is denied. It’s not a day I’m looking forward to at all.  I no longer count as a student in the eyes of the university – I haven’t, actually, since last October.

I am academically homeless.

I think the proper, or at least more normal, term is ‘independent researcher’, and maybe ‘academically homeless’ sounds a bit needy, but it reflects quite accurately how I feel.  There’s security in a big institution and not just in the shape of database access.

Research and writing at the moment comes in fits and starts, broken by rounds of job applications and fellowship applications.  I have a book proposal to write (who warned you about needing to learn that new skill when you started out?) and I am haunted from day to day by the ever-present spectre of John Roberts.  Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to decide whether to write the article again from scratch or knock him on the head for good.  It might well be the latter, in the interests of the book.  Maybe dead horses should not be flogged, as my Fiend once said.  The trouble is that I never was very good at giving up on things.

And so a new year begins.

Ice skating at Lytham

Ice skating at Lytham

I have spent a lot of it so far cataloguing ballads, to the extent that my analysis spreadsheet is now so enormous that I am probably going to have to take it to the university print services department to get it printed out – I guess it will be bigger than a research poster and will cost me a small fortune!  Especially as I’ll probably have to get two copies of it so that I can give one to my supervisor.  I have, however, identified a nice section of wall in my study where I can stick it up.  Actually, it’s the only section of wall that’s big enough!  Still, I’ve got to finish it first, and although it’s getting there, everytime I look at anything I find more ballads that I need to add in.  There are just so many it’s amazing.

I have to say that after several days concentratedly staring at little boxes on a computer screen and tiny print  on paper, I was heartily sick of ballad analysis and ready to give it a break, so I did.   I went ice skating in Lytham with my children and had a whale of a time.  I didn’t fall over once, so I was very pleased with myself.  The next morning I spent doing more analysis and a LOT of filing, and then went up to Leighton Moss RSPB reserve with the family, which was very wet, but I saw several snipe, which was nice.  The weather wasn’t, it has to be said, as you can see from the photograph.  The snipe, which you can’t see on the photograph, were on the diagonal strip of land across the middle right.  I like snipe.  You’d think that something so stripy would stand out like a sore thumb, but it’s actually really good camouflage.

From the new Tim Jackson hide at Leighton Moss in the rain.

From the new Tim Jackson hide at Leighton Moss in the rain.

I spent an evening working on my talk for the Historical Association in Manchester, and I need to spend a bit more time on it.  It’s called ‘No Lion Wilde: Popular Depictions of Mary I’ and obviously it focuses on the ballads of the reign of Mary.  I’m quite looking forward to giving a talk to the H.A.  It’s not quite the same as one aimed directly at 6th formers, and although I gave a fairly intellectually-heavy seminar for the postgrads at university, that was only 20 minutes long – not a full 50 minutes.  So although it’s a bit scary, it’s fun.  I’m adapting the 6th form talk I gave in November to have longer excerpts of the ballads, as they, after all, are the crucial bits.  Other than that, it would involve putting in more theory, and I don’t think that’s all that appropriate.  I need to make it interesting but appreciable by a general audience.  The great thing about the Historical Association, though, is that although the audience is of the general public, they are assumed to want high quality, challenging lectures!  I suppose it’s the questions that are the really scary bit, as I can’t prepare for them.

I was instructed by my supervisor to get back into writing as soon as I could, and so far this is something I haven’t managed to do.  Instead, I generated a massive amount of ballad analysis by printing an awful lot of stuff from EEBO.  So much stuff, in fact, that I went through an entire printer cartridge in one day.  Then I had to read it.  Then I had to file it.  The trouble is that I know that there are several things that I am missing:  I haven’t read most of the Churchyard/Camel ballad flyting, and I know that I haven’t even printed several of the ballads I photographed at the Society for Antiquaries when I visited them last November.  I did, however, finally get on with ordering copies of a lot of things I saw at the British Library, so as I’d been putting that off I’m quite pleased with myself.

What else have I done?  I put several ballad tunes onto Sibelius so that I can listen to them and it makes the process of analysing them, in due course, easier.  They are now in a folder of their own, with copies of the lyrics that go with them.  I’ve read through Cheap Print and Popular Piety again too.

My plan is that next week, when the children go back to school, I will go back to my piece on the Cromwell flyting of 1540 and finish a draft of that.  It’s something to look forward to.  I’m going to give the rest of the missing ballads a break for a few days while I get stuck into writing again.  Should be fun.

This week has been an interesting mix.  On Monday I sent my article to my supervisor, and I searched all sorts of new source material on EEBO.  Well, when I say new, obviously I mean 450 years old, but neverthless, most of them are new to me.  So I have a long list of downloaded citations in Endnote, but I have to skim through them now to see what is actually going to be useful.   So I started on that, but I have still got a way to go.

On Tuesday I had my first singing lesson since before I fell down the stairs in May.  I can’t say it went brilliantly, as I’ve developed one or two strange habits over the summer.  Also, I’ve misplaced my Vaccai studies and Handel’s Messiah, which are two things I’m working on and although I know they’re here somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where.  And if you wonder why, it’s probably best to look at my Bookends post!  My books are still rather mixed up.

Wednesday saw me checking through more of the EEBO citations, and then downloading various articles on ballads.  I spent Thursday morning reading some of the ones on the musicology of early modern ballads, some of which are nearly 100 years old themselves!  Friday started a bit pear-shaped, as I was feeling rather snowed under.  The children had been very hard work during the morning and by the time I’d got them to school I didn’t know where to start. I had a long list of thinds that needed doing and I just didn’t know where to begin.  I find that having the children affects me that way:  when they’ve been really hard work it upsets me and then I can’t settle or concentrate properly.  Anyway, what I actually did was have a sleep – I was woken two hours later by the telephone so I was obviously very tired and that didn’t help either.  So I made a list.  Then I prioritised.

I started by reading the rest of J.L. Laynesmith’s ‘The Last Medieval Queens’.  Then I read some more of the articles on ballads, although these were mainly the ones on the subjects of the ballads.  I read one wide-ranging survey of all the Spanish Armada ballads, another survey of the subjects of the Child ballads, and another on the treatment of old age in early modern ballads.

I’ve done a lot this week.  It just doesn’t feel like it.

On Wednesday I got back the draft of my article, with a few minor alterations.  Now I have to decide where to send it to try to get it published, and frankly I’ve got no real idea.  I’ve also got a date for my first seminar: 30th October!  I’ve already written it and created a powerpoint for it, but I’ve got to practise it, as the last thing I want is to be reading it from paper.

The plan for next week is to carry on with the reading, and to prepare for the mental gymnastics that I know will be the first meeting with my supervisor this week!

I’ve changed tack a bit this week.  Instead of doing random keyword searches or looking up all the records in English for each year on EEBO, I looked up recusant women on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, made some notes on them and then started trying to find references to them on EEBO, State Papers and British History Online.  It’s quite interesting, though it hasn’t particularly turned up anything stunning (so far?).  What strtikes me is that women bring up the children, and presumably are responsible for passing on Catholicism to their offspring, and then they marry them into recusant families or send them abroad to seminaries and convents.  Is it going down the female line?  I’m not sure that this theory doesn’t fall down as soon as women get married into a recusant family.  Unsurprisingly, Catholic families like the Arundells, Howards and Vauxes intermarry.  Margaret Clitherow was converted to the old faith, and although her husband remained Protestant, the children were brought up Catholic.  One at least went abroad to be trained as a seminarian.  I wonder what is known of the rest of them – I’d have to check.

Is it easier, in a way, for a woman to be a recusant than a man?  They don’t face the same social, legal and work restrictions that a Catholic man would because they don’t apply to a woman anyway.  It’s not as if a woman is going to be barred from a career because of her beliefs!  Quite a few of the devout women I looked up seem to be married to church papists (men who went to church but didn’t communicate and still held Catholic belief in private).  For the wives of church papists, is it possible that their husbands would object to their overtly Catholic activities because they were afraid that their womenfolk would hold them back?  Or is it possible that they let their wives shelter priests and hold Masses in their homes because they secretly sympathised with their faith?  Indeed, what could they in fact have done to stop them?

I’m also interested in the way that having a confessor in the house shifts patriarchy from the male head of the family to the male confessor.  I know that there has been work done on it, but there just haven’t been enough hours in the day and week to look into it yet.