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 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.

I’ve been rather unpredictable in my blog posts lately, mainly because I used to write them on Friday evenings as a review of what I’d done during the ‘normal working week’ (Show me a scholar who works a normal working week?  No? No, me neither…), but since the summer the whole family has been going to choir practice on a Friday evening.  That has thrown out my blogging routine completely and it has yet to settle in to a new one.  My child-free time (the school day) is so precious for work that I’m loathe to use it to write the blog.

Anyway, the other reason that I haven’t given many reports on what I’ve been doing lately is because I haven’t been doing all that much work.  It doesn’t seem all that interesting to report that I’ve read a few books.  I finally finished Steve Hindle’s The State and Social Change in Early Modern England.  I started on it before I had my nasty infection, which finally forced me to take a day or two off to recover, then I finished off and submitted the article I’d been writing.  When I went back to work I started reading Ethan Shagan on Popular Politics and the English Reformation.  My supervisor asked me what I thought about the Hindle monograph, I confidently gave a reply, he asked if I’d finished reading it, I said ‘yes’ and then as the conversation progressed I began to doubt myself…  When I hung up the phone, I went and picked the book up and, sure enough, I was only half way through.   So that put the wind up me.  I genuinely thought I’d finished it.  I had finished it by the end of the next day!

I catalogued 50 more ballads.

I organised another research trip to the British Library for January.

I had yet another telephone conversation about the abandoned common weal chapter, another ‘wobble’.   It was a conversation with my husband that gave me the starting point that sent me running to my study to grab a notebook and start scribbling ideas.  He unwittingly found me the angle I’ve been missing for the last 2 months and I filled a couple of pages with scribblings about how to turn the disparate ideas into something resembling a chapter.  I then had only a few days before the children finished school for Christmas in which to get started.  I decided to write a plan for the chapter and develop it from there.  So at the moment I have a file on my computer called ‘Developed Chapter Plan’ which lists in order all the points I want to make.  It includes a chunk of writing I’d already done on some manuscript miscellanies and several useful primary and secondary quotations that I’d already come across.  My intention is for the chapter to grow from the plan.

So then the break for Christmas.  Father Christmas brought me a large stack of books.  Alexandra Walsham on Church Papists, Hiram Morgan on Tyrone’s Rebellion, Landlords and Tenants in Britain, a book on the Aztecs and one on Mindfulness.  Plenty of reading material there for the new year.

Yesterday I met my supervisors to Discuss the Chapter.  I took
a list of questions and comments, a piece of work on some
manuscript miscellanies that I’ve been studying and some examples of
ballads that fitted some of the categories I’d been working on.  Between
us, I think we’ve managed to find an approach that might suit the
material.  It involves a bit of a change from my chapter plan, but
that’s not a problem for me if it’s not a problem for them.  I feel
quite a lot better about it today than I did this time last week.

Broadleaved woods in Macclesfield Forest

Broadleaved woods in Macclesfield Forest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next week I’m spending quite a bit of time in the archives, doing some more research, then on Friday I’m speaking at Beyond History, a History Lab North West event at Manchester University.  I wrote my paper this morning and I’m looking forward to hearing some of my friends, especially being on a panel with the lovely Rosy Rickett.  So next week should be a bit of a change.

This week I’ve been working from home again.  I’ve redrafted my chapter on ballad music ready for my panel meeting and redrafted my article, although I’m not certain where I’m going to send it to.  Between them, they have taken me all week.  I’m going to proofread them tomorrow, as I think it’s more or less down to the fiddly stuff now, like sorting out the formatting and  checking the detail of the footnotes.

Having finished the chapter yesterday and the article at lunchtime today, I was left feeling a bit peculiar this afternoon. Considering that I doubted I would get the chapter finished in time for the panel, having it more or less complete over a week in advance wa something of a surprise.  What to do?  I spent an hour or so looking at my training log and research plan for my panel meeting and tinkering with them.  I sent an application in for the graduate travel fund.  I sent a few emails.  I looked at a few Stuart ballads, just for a change of scenery.  I printed out several articles and a chapter of a book to read on the train to London tomorrow.  I’m off to the HA Branches and Members Committee meeting in the morning.

I think my next job is to get stuck in to defining ‘ballad’, so the chapter I’ve printed out is one by John Milsom on Tudor music.  Most people seem to have limited their studies of ballads to printed broadside ballads.  I can only assume that this is because it makes it easier to decide what is, or isn’t, a ballad.  Because I’m not confining myself to printed sheets,  I have to make an attempt to define what makes a ballad a ballad, or at least acknowledge that it throws up some interesting questions.  It’s on my list of summer goals, so I might as well get stuck in now!

 

 

The big news of the day is that I’ve had my first conference paper accepted for Histfest at Lancaster University.  This will be my first conference paper and as far as I’m concerned it has several advantages as a first conference: it’s just up the road, so I’m nearby and I’m not going to get lost on the way there; it’s a postgrad conference so it’s a good first step; and it’s got a reputation for being very friendly.

 

I’ve also submitted my first article to a journal.  Now for the waiting game: it will take about three months for the peer review process, which I suppose will take me through to mid-August.  I might as well just forget about it for a while!

 

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve spent some time this week working on my writing, trying to improve the style and clarity.  I’ve been looking at the moralisations of ballads that appear in the Stationers’ Registers for my period, so I thought I’d give serious consideration to how I wrote about them in the light of last week’s lesson on how to write a sentence.  I sent a couple of paragraphs off to my supervisor for inspection and I’m happy to report some improvement.  I think I’ve probably become a bit sloppy because of my tendency to splurge ideas on paper without thinking about where they are going or how I am setting them down.  I also suspect that the bar has suddenly been raised and I’m no longer getting away with things that didn’t matter in the past.  That’s fine.  I know (even though he hasn’t told me) that my supervisor’s making me work harder because he knows I can do better, and that’s a good thing.  I’ve printed out the last set of corrections that he sent and I’m keeping them by me on my desk, to remind me how it should be done!  I’ve written about a thousand words this week, which is great because I know that they are better quality ones.  I hope that in the long run, they’ll need a little bit less messing about with later!

 

I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Tuesday to work in my garden office.  It was warm and sunny, so I ran a lead out the back door for my laptop and sat at the patio table to work.  It turned out to be a very good day for thinking.  I wrote about 6 pages of ideas in one of my research books.  The questions I came up with have kept me going for the rest of the week.  That helped to improve my writing, because I knew what I wanted to talk about before I started to say it.

English: Queen Mary, University of London's Ch...

English: Queen Mary, University of London’s Charterhouse Square site, home to student accommodation and departments of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last thing I did before knocking off on Friday afternoon was to book my place as a delegate for the Psalm Culture conference at Queen Mary University, London, in July.  I’m looking forward to going, but I have to say that the idea of spending three days in the capital all by myself is a bit daunting.  I am so used to going everywhere as part of a package that the idea of being a professional person in my own right for several days without interruption is somewhat scary.   I’ve booked everything – trains, hotel and conference – so that I can’t back out of it!

 

Well, the planning paid off.

At least in as much as I got through my big supervision meeting on Wednesday without making a complete fool of myself.  Actually, they seemed to be quite impressed with the content, if not entirely by the structure, of the work I submitted.  My music specialist gave me lots of great ideas to work on, but I’m going to let them gestate for a bit while I work on the second chapter before I go back and redraft the first.  I was very relieved, because I really was worried that the musicologist would find great big holes in my work and suggest that I hadn’t found out anything new or raised any interesting points.  In short, I thought she would point and say ‘Imposter’ in a loud and accusative voice.  I was amazed to find that she seemed to think that some of the ideas were well worth pursuing and that I had already added something to areas of musical study that aren’t that well developed.

In terms of the writing, though, it was less successful.  I haven’t completely got over my tendency to list (I spotted ‘Titanic’ written in the margin of my supervisor’s copy of my chapter!) and I haven’t mastered the art of saying what I’m going to say before I provide the evidence for it. I am slightly alarmed by the look of glee in his eyes when he said he would enjoy going over the structure and style with me sometime in the next week or two.  The thing is that I know whatever happens, he will still make me laugh while he gently but thoroughly tears me to pieces.  I won’t realise I’m in bits until afterwards!  I know it needs doing, I know I’ll learn a lot and I know that I’m lucky that he isn’t as vicious as some supervisors I’ve heard about.  I will come out of it with a silly grin on my face, knowing a lot more than I did when I went in and being confident enough to give it a try.

RMS Titanic

RMS Titanic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So to sum up, it was a really productive meeting, it gave me a lot to think about and it gave me plenty of self-confidence to start on the next chapter, in which I’m looking at how the words fit to the music and how the different sets of words affect one another. Good fun.  But again, I’m in the situation that I’m not sure what I’m trying to say until I’ve finished writing and by then, the form of the chapter will be a mess.

I think I need my academic writing lesson soon!

Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575)

Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always like this at the start of a new piece of work. The floundering.

I’m starting to investigate the music, and I have spent the last day or two looking at modal theory, finding out about hexachords, looking in to the life and times of Archbishop Matthew Parker and playing with ballad tunes.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading, and I’ve tried to do a bit of writing on ballad tune analysis and on Parker’s idea of the effect of modes, but I’m struggling a bit.  I find it a bit hard to get going, until I’ve got an angle to get into.  Or unless, of course, I’ve been told what to do, like last week when I was asked to write my theoretical section.

It’s not comfortable.  I’d like to be able to report progress.  But to be honest, I don’t think I’ve been all that productive in the last couple of days.  I think I need to set myself a specific goal next week (apart from getting through my panel meeting, which is probably the main one).  I need to find a particular area in which to immerse myself, and I need to get hold of a couple of library books too.

Next week I have a research assistant to keep me company.  My husband will be on his half term break, but the children aren’t on holiday until the week after.  This presents something of a problem, because although I get extra help with my musical analysis next week, the following week I’m going to find it almost impossible to do any work at all.  So even if I get stuck into something, I’m going to have to put it to one side at the end of next week to take care of the children.

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.

 

Lots of people that I know have been complaining about the Olympics, and how London 2012 is getting in the way of their thesis.  Not in this house.  I have no problem with the Olympics distracting me, partly because I have no interest in them, but mainly because there are too many other distractions in the school holidays.  Three children for a start.  And then there’s the house move, which is now likely to be in a couple of weeks (that is, the week after my panel meeting).

A couple of days ago I decided that I would have to put my work on hold so that I could spend some time with the children and pack some boxes.  I have been working late in the evenings; for the first time ever I’ve worked until gone 11pm, and it’s happened several nights on the run, finishing with a night where I worked until 11.45pm.  At that point, I decided it was getting ridiculous, because I was still waking up at 6am with the children, and I was exhausting myself.  My husband told me it was time I told them to get stuffed.  Or words to that effect.  I told a friend, and they told me to tell them to get stuffed.

I’m not that brave.  But I have to draw the line somewhere, and without working all day, everyday between now and my panel, I would never get all the changes made.  My biggest cause for being perplexed is the insistence on detail in the chapter plan for the last two chapters of the thesis, which I haven’t researched yet.  Obviously I haven’t researched them yet, I’m only at the end of my first year (and not even that if you consider that I only really started this topic in January).  So how are you supposed to give more than a vague idea of what’s likely to be in it?