Looking down, and south, from the A685.   © Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Looking down, and south, from the A685.
© Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I seem to have been doing a lot of travelling lately, whizzing up and down the country on the pendolino and tootling across country on local trains.  I am, in the words of Doctor Seuss, a north going zax so frankly the journey through the valley in the Lakes where the west coast mainline and the M6 run alongside each other was infinitely preferable to the more familiar journey south towards London, although passing a trainload of mummified cars wrapped in bandages on a siding outside Oxford was a novelty.  The reason for all this travelling was academic, for once.  Early summer is conference season.  My twitter feed has been full of conference tweets for several weeks, which can be really interesting.  Several twitter hashtags have looked interesting enough to cause me to find out what the conference was that I was missing, and some of them I’ve really wished I could attend.   It’s a while since I gave a paper at an academic conference, so it was good to get back into the swing of things with trips to Reading and Newcastle.

Reading’s Early Modern Studies Conference was great fun. 410px-Codex_Mendoza_folio_2r Last time I went to Reading University I was on a two week accountancy training course and I hated every minute of it.  Reading was nothing like as unpleasant as I remembered it being, which just goes to show how much your experience colours your memories of a place.  The accommodation was lovely, although the lack of full wifi coverage if you couldn’t (like me and several other people) log into Eduroam was a distinct drawback. Because of my graduation, I wasn’t able to attend the whole conference, but on the Monday afternoon I very much enjoyed Maria de Jesus Crespo Candeias Velez Relvas‘s paper on ‘The Perception of the World in the Sixteenth Century’, as it took me back to undergraduate days of studying The First Hundred Years of the Spanish in the Americas and writing my dissertation.  I still find the impact of the Spanish conquest on the mainly oral tradition of the Aztecs and Inca’s fascinating and I recently downloaded the digital Codex Mendoza app!

The parallel sessions on Monday afternoon were all in seminar rooms, so I was somewhat surprised to find myself delivering my paper on Tuesday morning in a large lecture theatre.  My panel consisted of Richard Hoyle talking about ‘The King and the Poor Northern Man’, myself on ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in Sixteenth Century England’ and Jonathan Arnold on ‘Music, Morality and Meaning: Humanist Critiqus of Musical Performance in Early Modern Europe’.  It seemed to go very well. I had to leave Reading mid-afternoon on the Tuesday in order to get home for my graduation, so unfortunately I missed Jennifer Richards’ plenary that evening.

One of the interesting things about delivering a paper to most conferences and seminar series is that people seem surprised when I sing a verse or two of a ballad. Not so at the Voices and Books conference, where breaking into song mid-paper is normal!  I have really enjoyed all the Voices and Books meetings that I’ve attended, and they helped to cement the idea that I had early on in my ballad studies that we need to think of ballads as songs that were sung and read aloud.  It is a truly interdisciplinary network, with supportive scholars from music, history, drama, literature and language all sharing ther ideas and bringing their expertise to the table.  I can honestly say that I’ve come away from the conference with more ideas than I could possibly carry out in the rest of my working life, so I want to say a big thank you to the ever-smiling network organisers Jennifer Richards and Richard Wistreich for all their hard work and their inspiring example!

Voices and Books his was a really busy conference with parallel sessions and plenaries filling the days, leaving little space for tea and the wonderful food that was provided.  Having started the second day of the conference at 9.30am, I left the conference dinner the moment that I finished my main course through sheer exhaustion (in a good way) at 9.30pm, and, disappointingly, before the chewy strawberry pavlova.  My family would testify to how tired I must have been to walk away from a meringue!  And, by the way, the conference also had far and away the best food of any that I’ve ever been to, what with Thai beef salad; wild rice with currants, chickpeas and herbs; mini Yorkshire puddings with beef and horseradish; lemon posset; and dipped strawberries.

There wasn’t a single session that didn’t include fascinating papers, but the plenaries were particularly excellent. Heidi Brayman Hackel spoke on the relationship between hearing and speaking and the the role of the dumb-show in early modern drama.  Anne Karpf was truly inspiring when she talked about restoring the voice, pointing out that even oral history tends to priviledge the recorded or transcribed voice over the act of speaking itself, making me wonder again how to weave in to my  studies the ballads collected from the oral tradition.  I was struck by her comment that the first voice we hear is the maternal voice which we hear in the womb and can even feel its vibration – it made me wonder if the maternal lullaby works in a similar way to skin-to-skin contact for babies? Perry Mills, talking about performing early modern drama with a company of boys, reminded me of everything I miss about teaching.  And then, of course, there was Christopher Marsh and the Carnival Band demonstrating how to write a hit song in the seventeenth century – the first plenary session any of us had been to with a beer break in the middle!  Apparently the Carnival Band had been given free reign to interpret the songs  as they saw fit, and I noticed that they had chosen to accompany them using major and minor keys rather than modal harmony.  Apologies also for the state of my photographs of them, as my camera didn’t cope well with the limited light!

On Friday I talked about ‘Reinterpreting  the Sixteenth Century English Ballad’, giving a brief airing to my theories about tonality and knowingness, but my main point was that ballads were good for spreading news because they were passed from person to person and used tunes that were easy to pick up and remember.   I decided to demonstrate this by having my very own Gareth Malone moment and getting the conference delegates to sing!  I had been having kittens prior to the conference – as a teacher I used to get children to sing all the time but I’ve never tried it with adults, and if they didn’t go for it and join in I would end up looking rather daft.  Fortunately, they almost all joined in with varying amounts of enthusiasm and learned the first verse of ‘The Hunt is Up’ very  quickly.

At the conference dinner on Friday evening, Jonathan Gibson asked if I might be able to sing a verse of a ballad during his paper the following morning, which I was pleased to do.  So  after retreating from the dinner I went back to my hotel, where I attempted to learn the tune of Wilson’s Wild, while feeling the bass and vocals of ‘I-I-I-I-I’m not your stepping sto-one‘ vibrate through the floor.   On the final day I particularly enjoyed Jonathan’s paper, Naomi Barker on traces of orality in Italian keyboard music and John Gallagher‘s paper on the teaching of foreign languages.  I’m very interested  in the idea of learning a language through singing its songs, so that’s something we’re both going to look out for.

So I’m home, brimming over with ideas, just as my institutional login is about to run out.  Ho hum.

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This week is the first week of my children’s Easter holiday, so I am juggling childcare with work. Cramming little bits of work into wherever it will fit isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t allow for extended research or writing, for example. But there are little things that I can do. I went through a conference paper in the bath this afternoon, without the paper notes I will use on Friday. At least now I know exactly where I need to rely on my notes more heavily and where I can afford to abandon them altogether! On Sunday afternoon I recorded a few more ballads. I’m considering an introduction and conclusion to a short piece I’m writing on the historiography of ballads and the news. In the end it will be part of my chapter on ballads as a form of news media. There is a significant majority of historians who agree that ballads could provide news as well as entertainment before the development of newspapers, but little detail on what actually constituted ‘news’ in the sixteenth century. That’s a question I’ve been trying to answer myself in the last few weeks, but one interesting theory came from a rather unexpected source. Discussing the issue of what makes something ‘news’ with my two elder children during a car journey over the weekend (and they raised it, not me!), my elder son pointed out that news DID include opinion or editorial commentary, because if we were all clones, we wouldn’t need any news because we would all think the same way about everything. Only if we were all clones who thought the same way, could news be objective. Profound, I thought, especially coming from a primary school pupil.

Last week I tried to cram in as much writing as I could because I knew I would have less time for it in the next few weeks, but the pattern was broken by a trip into Manchester to record a short video interview about my PhD for the department website. When one of my colleagues had asked me a few questions about my work, I then got to ask the questions of another friend. I found that considerably more difficult. I can talk endlessly about my work, but semi-improvised questioning was really hard.

On Friday, I go to my first music conference: Music, Circulation and the Public Sphere. It’s perfect for my research and it will be interesting, if rather nerve-wracking to talk to an audience of musicians rather than historians. I’m very much looking forward to it, as I’m hoping that I’ll get some feedback to help me answer some of the questions I raised in a previous post on Musical Musings. I’m going to talk about ballads and news, how they provoked debate among their audience, before raising some questions about the development of popular and sacred music in the Renaissance period.

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.

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.

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.

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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.