I was warned on Wednesday that my luck will have to run out eventually.  That may not sound too much like good news, but the converse is, of course, that,  in order to provoke the comment, things must be going relatively well at the moment.  Work on the commonwealth chapter continues, with some quite major revisions to the opening of the chapter and smaller changes to individual sentences.  It’s getting closer.  I still need to check a couple of references and make some alterations to one of the musical examples, but it’s certainly getting closer. (And about time too, I might add, considering that it’s taken the best part of six months!)

I spent almost all of yesterday just working on the footnotes, trying to get Endnote to play ball.  Don’t get me wrong, I do like Endnote.  I used to enjoy writing my footnotes by hand, but the way that Endnote does it for me is, usually, enormously labour saving.   But for some reason, yesterday, it got its knickers in an almightly twist and started putting in references to whatever manuscript it felt like.  It wasn’t a problem with the books, or the journal articles, or the webpages: just the manuscripts.  Since the chapter is  based around manuscript collections, it caused a bit of a problem.  I have no idea  what caused the glitch, but I ended up typing in the manuscript references  manually.

I’ve also started secondary reading for my concluding chapter on the news.   If anyone has any suggestions of things I should read on early modern news, I’d be very glad to hear of them.  The reading that I’ve done this week surprised me by giving me several ideas for  my first couple of chapters on ballad music.  In fact, I had to leap out of bed at 11 one night this week to write down an idea!  It’s the first time that that’s happened for a very long time, so I think I can safely say that the thesis is out of the doldrums and on the move again.

This afternoon I briefly revisited my chapter plan, taking into account some of the comments that my supervisors made when they looked at it last and writing an abstract for the commonwealth chapter now that it’s completed.  The rest of the afternoon I spent  transcribing documents in the State Papers.  For once, the handwriting is relatively easy to read.  Unfortunately, the digital scan of one page is so dark that it is illegible in places – I suppose a girl can’t have everything.

On Wednesday evening I went to the committee meeting for the Historical Association in Bolton.  A very productive meeting and plenty of things to work on in the coming months, not least of which is putting together the programme of lectures for next season.

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.

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 (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.

The results of 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.  I’ve decided that ‘definition’ might be a bit strong and that instead, working on what I understand to be a ballad is going to be an ongoing process.  I’m very pleased with the work I’ve done on this, because I accidentally ended up writing a bit of my introduction that I wasn’t intending to do at the moment.

• 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.  Finished.  Quite pleased with myself, because a week and a half of nose-to-the-grindstone work on two computers at the same time yielded some quite spectacular production.

• 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.  I thoroughly enjoyed my trips to Cambridge and Oxford, but I never got to Keswick or Stratford or the British Library, so these are things that I will have to try to fit in during the autumn, perhaps at half term.

• 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.  As done as it needs to be for now.  I will come back to it as part of my redrafting, of course.

• 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! I did finally manage to get that done.

• 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’ve also now sent off a proposal for a seminar for the university postgrad seminar series on the Thomas Cromwell flyting, so I think I can safely tick this one off as complete.

Since I finished transcribing the manuscripts earlier this week, I had another look at the work I wrote for the introduction, made a few changes and thought about what else needs doing to it.  It needs revising in the light of the comments made by my music advisor at my summer panel meeting.  Then yesterday afternoon I started to think about my new chapter on ballads and the common weal.  It’s not going to be the most difficult chapter to write, because without a doubt that has to be the one on sixteenth century musical theory.  Nevertheless, it’s not as straightforward as some of the others because I think it’s going to be quite difficult to find an angle from which to approach it.  I think that a few days of immersing myself in the source material are in order. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This week I finally have something a bit different to say.  I am aware, you see, that writing a blog about writing a PhD is a bit repetitive: “read some ballads, thought about the music, wrote about some ballads, went to a supervision meeting, did some more research, wrote a bit more, read some secondary texts… read some ballads…” and so on.  But this week was different, because I went to Queen Mary, University of London, to swelter at the Psalm Culture and the Politics of Translation conference organised by Ruth Ahnert, Tamara Atkin and Francis Leneghan.  The heat was immense, but so was the amount of work that had gone into the conference, not just by those many people giving papers but also by the conference organisers.

Three parallel panels, three times a day, plus multiple plenaries and daily double keynotes meant that there was plenty to keep you occupied.  I enjoyed  Timothy Duguid’s paper on Scottish metrical psalms, Lucia Martinez on the creation of early modern English metre, Lucy Underwood on Ralph Buckland and Kate Sargan on the life of Christina of Markyate.  But my personal highlight was the presentation made by  Beth Quitslund and Nicholas Temperley on the Sternhold and Hopkins psalter, not least because it was made in the chapel of the Charterhouse, which is in itself a beautiful building, but also because they actually got everyone singing!  There were only a few lectures that mentioned the music for the psalms, partly because a lot of them were on prose psalter translations, but it has to be said that literature and history specialists predominated, so hearing some music sung was very refreshing.

On Tuesday evening I went on the tour of the Charterhouse which was led by one of the brothers.  I was very glad that I went because the building is, in part, Tudor and it has a very  interesting history.  The gardens were absolutely beautiful.  There are several of my photographs below.

It was also a very friendly conference.  I arrived on Monday morning having met only one person there before, and left on Wednesday evening having made lots of new friends and having plenty to think about over the summer.  When I got home I booked my first summer research trip, to Cambridge.  I need to go to the Parker Library and Cambridge University Library.  I’m in the process of organising a trip to the Bodleian and then I have to think about going to London to the British Library.

While I was down in London I did some work on my theory section, refining my work on knowingness.  I finished this bit of work this morning and I’m quite pleased with it, because although I wasn’t very sure of myself when I started on it on Monday, it has really helped to clarify my thoughts.  It’s very important, because it underpins the whole basis of my thesis.


John Rylands Library, Manchester, England.

John Rylands Library, Manchester, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost.  Not quite.  Well, perhaps sometimes.  It comes over me in waves, usually on a Saturday or Sunday.  This weekend it was Sunday, today, that the enormity of trying to perfect my chapter before my panel meeting.  Now, if I only had to perfect my chapter in time for my panel meeting, things might be a bit more manageable but I have several Historical Association deadlines too, an article to finish and several other bits and bobs, as well as things going on at the children’s school that will cause interruptions…  I’m looking forward to getting it all over with and heading off to London for the Psalm Culture conference in July.

The panic set in because, after doing a 12 hour day yesterday, I realised that all my musical examples need re-writing.  Every single one of them.  This is incredibly tedious, because they are created in Sibelius on a different laptop and have to be exported as graphics files and then moved across to my work laptop to be inserted into the the chapter itself as images.  Any mistake means the whole sequence has to start again.  There is also quite a lot of work that needs doing on the text itself, to improve the clarity of the writing and to explain some of the more complex ideas about memory and music.

On Friday I went to the ‘Printing Cities‘ symposium at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, organised by my co-supervisor Sasha Handley.  There were six very interesting talks, but the one that stood out for me was given by Massimo Rospocher on Venetian ballad singers and politcal ballads, as it connected closely with what I’ve been saying myself.   The John Rylands is a beautiful building, so  it was very atmospheric.

Histfest programme

Histfest programme

I was very pleased to attend Lancaster University‘s postgraduate history conference yesterday, where I spoke about my work on knowingness in Tudor ballads and the links between sacred and secular music.   I think they had a bit of a shock when I started singing ‘Down in Yon Forest‘ to demonstrate the simplicity of melody and ‘call and response form’, both of which help to make it a memorable  tune.  The rest of the musical examples I had recorded my husband singing, because I didn’t feel confident that I would have time to learn them before the seminar, but I think having the musical examples really helped because it brought home how the melody can make links between the songs.  There were some very interesting questions and the paper seemed to go down well.  I was also very interested in the papers presented by my fellow panelists, James Mawdesley and Sarah Ann Robins, both early modernists too.  I would have liked to attend Geoffrey Humble’s paper during the morning, but I accidentally ended up in the wrong room!

I had a really interesting supervision meeting this week where we shared our ideas about early modern attitudes to death and looked at the epitaph ballad that I’ve been studying.  I’ve put that to one side for a bit though, in an attempt to get a chapter finished before my next panel meeting in a month’s time.  So today I’ve gone back to working on the ballad contrafacta, in particular pulling together my table of ballads with more than one set of words to the same tune.  I spent several days on it before we went on holiday and I’ve spent another 4 hours on it today.  It’s still not finished, but I needed a break, so I decided I’d catch up on my blog before I tried to do any more on the table.

On Friday I went to the Pathways postgraduate careers event at the university, but I’m no clearer about what I’m going to do when I finish my PhD.