Last Friday saw the publication of my first full length, peer-reviewed article, Verse Epitaphs and the Memorialisation of Women in Reformation England, commissioned by Liz Oakley-Brown when she was editor of the Renaissance section of Literature Compass.  I’m happy to say that it comes with its own teaching and learning guide, as well as supporting materials such as a ballad recording and a video abstract, although when I try to access the video abstract from the Literature Compass page, it takes me not to my abstract but to one by Jolyon Thomas.  Not that I’m not interested in the religious policy of modern Japan…  And frankly, I’d much rather watch someone other than me…

Anyway, it’s a nice way to start what promises to be an eventful week, because on Thursday I will be speaking at the Early Modern British History Seminar at Oxford University.  The title of my paper is ‘Text, Truth and Tonality in Mid-Tudor Ballads’. 

I’m also enjoying getting to know a bit more about twentieth century history, both for my tutoring of GCSE history pupils and my teaching at Holy Cross College for Liverpool Hope, although juggling all my different roles is proving interesting.

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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. 

about 1762

about 1762 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fittingly, the first Art Everywhere poster that I saw was  the Pelican Portrait of Elizabeth I!  It was on the concourse of Oxford Station.  Then on the way home from the Cotswolds we stopped at a motorway service station and saw the Ambassadors, Blaze 4, For You and Whistlejacket.  Apparently my husband and children saw several others during their wanderings around Oxford on Monday, but having my head stuck in sixteenth century manuscripts at the time, I missed those…

Generally speaking, I’m useless at doing nothing. Even if I’m watching television I am usually doing something else at the same time. However, on Monday evening I found myself doing just that – staring out the front of the tent into space and doing absolutely nothing. It didn’t last long, but I think it showed how ready I was for a break.

Medieval cottages in Bibury

Medieval cottages in Bibury

On Tuesday we went to Chedworth Roman Villa, where we caught on to the end of the children’s tour. Apparently the Romans introduced large, white snails which they used for food and their descendants still live in the area, which pleased my youngest a lot as he likes snails. We also saw a lizard basking in the sunshine. That afternoon we went to one of my favourite museums, Keith Harding’s Mechanical Music Museum. A rather brilliant collection of reed organs, barrel organs, paper roll pianos and old disc players. What I really love about the place is the disc they made of David Bowie’s ‘As the World Falls Down’ for the music box scene at the beginning of Labyrinth, as it’s always been one of my favourite films and I can recite whole sections of the dialogue from memory. We heard Gershwin duetting with himself on Rhapsody in Blue on a reproducing piano! Another much-loved museum is the Pitt Rivers in Oxford, but I missed out on that this time. Still, at least my children got to look at the shrunken heads!  Anyway, after the museum, on the advice of a chatty, elderly lady who stopped to talk to us in the street, we drove down through several beautiful little Cotswold villages to Bibury.

Wednesday saw a trip across to Waddesdon Manor, where we counted several hundred cows, horses, cats, dogs, rats and storks in all the paintings and sculptures… There was an interesting art installation, Canticus Arcticus, by Bruce Munro in the stables and the house was full of linen fold sculptures by Joan Sallas.

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor

Then on our last day we went on a walk round Port Meadow on the edge of Oxford. Lovely place, but made even better by the company of a friend.  We never got to the Treacle Well, as we didn’t get far enough down the road, but it didn’t matter.  A lovely and very relaxing day out.

English: The courtyard of the Bodelian Library...

English: The courtyard of the Bodelian Library, looking out the north gate from the south gate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Monday I did a day’s work on manuscripts held in the Bodleian Library.  Particularly, of course, Ashmole 48 – Richard Sheale’s ballad collection. There is some dispute over the purpose of the collection. Sheale is known to have been a minstrel attached to the Stanley family, but interpretations over the years have described Ashmole 48 as his minstrel manuscript or a collection of ballads that he heard and perhaps sung. Most recently, Andrew Taylor has argued that the manuscript was used to collect ballads on Sheale’s travels which he then took back to printers in London for publication. Whatever its purpose when it was compiled, there seems no dispute over the fact that it contains ballads. Which is nice, because it helps me to define ‘ballad’. There were a couple of other very interesting documents too.

Finishing work in Oxford on Monday afternoon marked the end of my work for a week or two. I decided last week that juggling was wearing me out, so for the sake of my sanity and my children I would take a couple of weeks off before they go back to school. As the epitaph ballad went on holiday to Ireland with me in May, this will be the first proper break I’ve had for months.

Danny Kaye

Danny Kaye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With sincere apologies to BBC Radio 2, because that really was a terrible title.  The thing is, I’m running out of novel and interesting ways to describe similar weeks!

I have spent much of this week reading and writing about historical and literary theory – the likes of Jauss,  Bourdieu, Skinner, Thompson and Fish.  This is because I need to place my work on ‘knowingness’ in sixteenth century ballads in a wider theoretical context.  I’m not, however, all that happy swimming about in theory, as I find that major theoretical models seem to read too much into things.  There always seems to be a touch of the Emperor’s New Clothes about them – I always want to point and shout ‘Look at the king, Look at the King, Look at the King, the King, the King!  The King is in the altogether…’.  More apologies – a Danny Kaye moment.  Still, I’ve written 1700 words on the theory, and I’m nearly happy with it, which is good because I have my third panel meeting in ten days or so, and that’s my piece of written work for it.  It would be quite good if it actually came to an end though, rather than just stopping dead!

The other major strand of my work this week has been to continue re-drafting my chapter plan for the panel.  I think it’s getting stronger all  the time, although I dare say that there are still plenty of areas which will cause discussion in the meeting.

On Wednesday the second of my disks of scans from the British Library arrived through the post.  The single most expensive CD I have ever bought in my life, and what’s more, it’s going to take HOURS of work to transccribe the ballads.  But they really were beautiful, and although looking at the scans is not quite the same, it reminded me of the sense of awe I felt sitting in the BL reading rooms looking at the originals.  Little sixteenth century doodles…

Today I read ‘I Could Speak Until Tomorrow’.  It is an anthropological study of the oriki poetry of Nigeria, and although the parallels may not seem obvious, there are some spooky similarities with the way the ballads use obliqueness to cover further levels of meaning.  I found it very interesting.

The other major news of the week is the good-natured argument I have been involved in over the use (or in my case the leaving out) of the Oxford comma.  Personally, I can’t stand the thing.  The best description of it is definitely to be found in Lynne Truss’s ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’.  For those that don’t know, the Oxford  comma is the one to be found before the ‘and’ at the end of a list.  It litters US writing.  My supervisor likes it, but I don’t.  In fact, I’d go so far as to put my grammatical hatred for it as second only to that for a misplaced or missing apostrophe.  He keeps putting it in and I keep taking it out again.  This state of affairs will probably continue until I re-write the work (in this case, the title of my theory piece) so that there can’t possibly be a need for it.  It will probably go to the panel as ‘Methodology’ as an avoidance tactic!

I’ve just been out in the garden listening to not one, but two, owls.  And the male is definitely singing.