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

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

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

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

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.

The year of big, scary life changes.  The year in which my husband is likely to retire and in which I need to become the main breadwinner for the family.  The year in which, 20 years after starting at the University of Manchester the first time round, I should earn the title of doctor.

234 So to end 2013, I got some new bookshelves.  I need them because in the last couple of months I’ve accumulated so many books that I’ve run out of space to put them.  Two of the shelves on the bookcase in my bedroom are now devoted to post-1950 history, as I was given a lot of high-quality books by a friend who could no longer use them.  I’ve also had to buy quite a few texts for my work and, of course, there are the ones that Father Christmas brought for me last week.  New bookshelves were a must.

And to begin 2014, I put some books on them.

235The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that it required the movement of my printer from my right to my left.  This may not seem significant, but it created a strange sense of space.  Working in there this morning, it felt like there was a lot more room.  I stopped for a moment to consider it, deciding that the space in the corner had been redundant space, because it was trapped between my Spanish dictionary and the printer.  Now it isn’t.  I’m not sure how ‘working round a corner’ is going to pan out in the long run, but for now it seems quite pleasant.

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On a more research-based note, I am pleased to report that my chapter finally seems to be coming together.  I’m slightly more confident of it than I was.  This week, I’ve been working very much part-time, alternating it with playing games with the family and trying to get some fresh air between the raindrops and gales.  Somewhere along the way, I have found 6500 words of a chapter, which is interesting because it’s certainly not yet what I’d call a chapter – a lot of it is still in notes, or just lists of primary or secondary quotations.  When I mentioned this to my husband the other day, he commented that I had brain incontinence!  Puddles of words that don’t have any flow.  But, today, what prose there is is finally beginning to coalesce.  I’ve read several articles (I could do with going to the library but I don’t think I’m going to get there before the children go back to school next week), ordered yet another pile of books from Amazon and in the evenings, I’ve been cataloguing and analysing ballads, a few at a time.  Progress, I think.

Yesterday I began an 8 week mindfulness course, a present from a friend for Christmas intended to help me with my depression and stress since I can no longer take anti-depressants.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

An interesting week.  I’ve spent most of it smoothing out the  wrinkles in my  epitaph ballad article.  I think it’s nearly ready to go, which is quite pleasing.  The process of refinement is interesting and one that I really quite enjoy, as it brings out the pedant in me.  I’ve spent most of the week trying to marry together the three elements of the article – the research, the historiography and the background information.  I think, now, that I’ve been fairly successful.  I have a supervision meeting later in the week so the first job for Monday (when I’ve been to visit a possible new hall for the Historical Assocation in Bolton) is to send it off to my supervisors to see what they have to say, then I have to decide where to send it.

I’ve also been rewriting the paper on ‘Knowingness and the Mid-Sixteenth Century Ballad’, mainly about the flyting on Thomas Cromwell.   I hope to be able to do away with the script by Tuesday evening, when I give the paper at the Postgraduate History Seminar Series at the University of Manchester.  There will be a repeat performance in Lancaster on Wednesday for the North West Early Modern Seminar Series.  At the beginning of last week, I wasn’t entirely looking forward to it, but having thought it out again I’m much happier about it.  I was trying to cram too much information in, but having taken a lot of examples out and replaced them with ideas, it seems to work much better.  I’m rather looking forward to the chance to discuss my work with everyone on both days. I plan to go out on something of an academic limb, so I hope that there aren’t any people clinging to the tree trunk with chainsaws!  I still have a handout to finish to go with it, so that will have to be a job for Monday too.  Oh…  Monday is tomorrow.  Hmm.  Busy day then.

On Wednesday I went into Manchester.   I spent a nice day working in the John Rylands Library and then went to the Print and Materiality in the Early Modern World seminar, where I heard Angela McShane give her paper on ‘The Seventeenth Century Political Ballad as Subject and Object’.  We had an interesting conversation afterwards, too, which was great.

Then today I started again on the secondary reading that’s been backing up for weeks.  M. L. Bush on the Government Policy of Protector Somerset, but I’m finding it slow and heavy going, if I’m honest.  There’s not going to be much time this week to catch up.

 

I’m stuck in a bog.  Or at least, that’s how my work feels.  It went overnight from ideas coming out of my ears to being trapped in icky-sticky mud that won’t release its grip on my feet and let me move.  I’m not sure how it happened.  One day everything was chugging along as normal and the next I hit problem after problem after problem.  The main one is to decide what counts as a ‘socially critical’ ballad.  Sometimes it’s obvious, for example when a ballad says that society isn’t what it used to be because nowadays there’s too much vice/greed/theft/murder etc.  But what about when it says that god doesn’t like the vice/greed/theft/murder?  Or when it doesn’t say anything at all about any kind of deity but just exhorts everyone to be nicer to one another?  Or when it is a ballad of personal repentance?  Do these ballads imply that society is not like that and therefore have another level of meaning that criticises society without ever having to mention its existence?

So suddenly I found my work stressful and difficult.  Cue a phone call to my supervisor and a chat over coffee.  Well, in my case, tea.  I have just absent-mindedly drunk some of my husband’s coffee and it reminded me why I don’t drink it.  I’m a tea drinker.  But that is procrastination and beside the point.  Or maybe it’s not.  Maybe it’s part and parcel of the way I’ve been feeling this week: that this problem is too big to deal with on my own.  Until I could deal with it another way, I catalogued the manuscript ballads on my giant spreadsheet.  This, however, led to another problem, in that I realised I would be a lot better off if I could search my 400 or so ballads to see how many were tagged, for example, ‘religious’, or perhaps contained the word ‘sheep’.  Now this would have been a whole lot easier if I’d thought about it 12 months ago, but  I didn’t, and I suppose that’s the nature of the work I’m doing.  It’s a lot easier to look back now and see how I could have approached several things better, but that’s not always helpful.  So I decided that I could put each ballad lyric into a database…  only I’m absolutely useless with databases and I find them completely counter-intuitive.  I’ve never had a lesson on them and I find the software totally user-unfriendly so I had no idea what I was doing.  By the time I’d spent an hour unsuccessfully trying to put together a database outline for my ballad lyrics, I was ready to throw the entire thesis down the toilet.  I restrained myself, but it was difficult.

Sheep

Sheep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Facebook came to the rescue.  My friend Steph responded to my anguished cries for help (more on that later) and offered to set up the file for me if I let her know what fields I needed.  So big thanks to her – I’m looking forward to receiving it.  The plan is that when I do, I will slowly start collecting together all the ballad lyrics in the database so that, hopefully, by Christmas, I’ll be able to pull out some statistics.  The other interesting thing that my anguished cries for help on Facebook brought to light was Evernote.  It seems a really useful way of keeping some of my ideas and research together in a much more searchable way than word documents themselves do.  And the fact that you can use an add-on to collect information from the internet is really helpful.  So I’m looking forward to the results that Evernote might produce over time.

The not-coffee tea chat helped.  I’ve now got a few ideas for ways to turn things around, so it will be interesting to see if I can apply any of them during the week.  After the supervision meeting, I met one of the staff from the John Rylands Library to discuss my work, which was a very thought provoking meeting.   It got me thinking from a librarian’s point of view about the nature of manuscript verse, which was surprisingly helpful with the ongoing question of ‘what is a ballad anyway?’  I’m giving this more consideration as I read through Victorian Songhunters.

English: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire

English: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought I’d give you a quick update on my progress towards my summer goals:
• Definition of ‘ballad’ for introduction.  I’m part way through this, although it needs a LOT more work.  I’m discussing it with friends that I met at the Psalm Culture conference in London in July and I’ve given it a lot of thought, but so far, there’s only a little bit on paper.  This is my priority when the children go back to school before the university semester restarts.  However, I did produce a short piece on the nature of the ballad for my panel meeting, so I can count that too.

• Transcription of digital copies of ballads from MSS in the British Library, consulted last autumn.  Again, I’m part way through this.  I’ve checked the whole of one manuscript and I’m about to start work on another.  However, so that I can get my head round what I’ve completed and what I haven’t, I need to make some proper records.

• Archive visits during summer 2013: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire County Record Office, National Archives etc.  This hasn’t quite gone according to plan.  Stonyhurst College assure me that they won’t have anything of interest.  I haven’t yet made it to the county record office in Preston this summer, although I have been before.  I need to go to the British Library again, but I’m not sure how I’m going to fit that in.  I’m booked in to the Bodleian in Oxford and I’ve been to the University Archives in Cambridge and the Parker Library.  I’d like to go to Keswick and Stratford too, but again, I’m not sure how I’m going to fit it in before the end of the summer.

• Completion of article on ballad epitaph.  Yippee – something I can say I’ve completed!  This was sent off to a journal several weeks ago.

• Revise ballad flyting chapter.  Bigger yippee – something else I can say I’ve completed, at least in its first draft.

•  Knowingness, Implicitness and the Early Modern Audience.  This is a new addition to the list, and what held up work on the transcriptions.  I’m doing some background reading on the audience of cheap print in the period, which feeds in to a heavy-going (at least to write and for me to think about) piece on the use of knowingness in the sixteenth century.  This will, eventually, form part of my introduction.

•  Rewrite of chapter plan – This piece of work was set at my panel meeting, as my chapter plan still reads as if I’m just starting my research.  My supervisors suggested that I might find it helpful to rewrite my chapter plan to reflect the findings of the chapters I’ve completed.  Actually, I found it a rather soul destroying business.   I find writing abstracts extremely difficult at the best of times so writing several of them in one go was like torture.  I have to admit that I gave up.  I ought to come back to it, I suppose!

• Submission of proposals for talks – I’ve submitted an abstract for the History Lab North West interdisciplinary conference ‘Beyond History’ in November looking at music as historical evidence – the links between psalms, ballads and politics and especially melodic knowingness.  This conference was perfect for me, considering that my work is so interdisciplinary.   I was asked to take part in the Material Histories seminar series at the John Rylands University Library next academic year, so I’ve submitted a paper on ‘William Elderton and the Ghost of the Ladie Marques’.  That should be fun.  I hope that both these papers will provide an opportunity to sing some of the ballads, since that is what they were written for!

I think that covers most of what I’ve done.  When I’ve been to the Bodleian, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off so that I can spend some time with my children before they go back to school.  I haven’t had any proper time off since my interruption in February/March, which I don’t count because I was ill.  Even when we went on holiday to Donegal I worked every day because I had a deadline coming up.  I think we all deserve a break.