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.


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.


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.

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 (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!

Steve Tilston

Steve Tilston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Friday afternoon I sent off first draft of my first chapter to my supervisors.  It’s been a tough week, as on Monday evening I was really struggling to make the chapter work because it had just evolved out of my notes.  I couldn’t get the separate bits of the chapter to hang together – it was just some chunks of text that could have been completely separate entities if they weren’t all on the same page.  A frantic call to a friend about the disorganised nature of my work resulted in some very good advice.  “Write down the points you want to make on index cards, then arrange them into order.”  How right he was.  So I spent Monday evening juggling index cards.

On Tuesday morning I started with 12 index cards, a blank document and  heavy heart.  I got some blue tac and stuck the index cards to a convenient bit of blank wall next my desk, and  stuck a couple of post-it notes on to a few of them to remind me where I had found evidence to back them up.  By Tuesday afternoon, I had 5000 words.  Okay, so not all of them by any means were completely new and original for the new document, but the opening few paragraphs were, and I’d made substantial alterations to the bits that I had copied and pasted in from the old notes.  A first draft was ready for proofreading by Thursday afternoon, so I had a night out!  I took the family to see Steve Tilston at Garstang Unplugged, and we all had a lovely evening.

Friday morning I spent proofreading and making alterations, then in the afternoon I fiddled with the footnotes and bibliography.  I sent it off mid-afternoon, having reached about ten thousand words somewhere along the way.  It’s interesting, because not long ago I commented to a friend that I hadn’t ‘planned’ a piece of work in years.  Everything had just, sort of, evolved out of my research and seemed to come out okay.   This is partly because I never knew exactly what I wanted to say until I was saying it.  But this time it just didn’t work, perhaps because my command over the material was not quite as confident.

I have to say I’m not entirely happy with the end result.  It’s probably the chapter I’m going to find most difficult, as it is the most interdisciplinary, looking at the similarities and differences between art music, from church and court, and the popular music of the ballads.  I’m a bit worried about how my music specialist is going to react to it and I’m certain that my other supervisors are going to find plenty of stylistic problems too.  All in all, I’m quite nervous about my supervisory meeting next week.  Between now and then, I’m going to do some more reading on reader reception theory because I borrowed some books from a very nice German teacher at the university at the beginning of the year and it really is time I took them back!  I also have a conference paper proposal I need to write, as the call for papers closes this week.

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.