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 have finally sent off my commonwealth chapter to my panel, ahead of my meeting with them next week.  I’m in a slightly different position to normal in that I was able to send it with a message telling them where I wanted help and where I hoped to expand it when I come to re-write it in the summer.  I identified two sections where the writing was flabby and repetitive, where some serious editing will be needed, but on the whole, I think it has something to say, at last.  That something is about radical ballads and the activities of ballad collectors, which isn’t how I expected the chapter to turn out when I started work on it last September.  It has been the hardest chapter I’ve had to write by far.  I’m glad that it turned out to be about the manuscript collections of ballads, because compared to the broadside ballads they’ve had much less attention.  I think that they are interesting in their own right, because someone chose to collect them and made the effort to write them down.

The rest of the week has been split between secondary reading for my final chapter on ballads and the news; cataloguing and analysing more ballads; and preparing my paper for the Print and Materiality Seminar Series at the John Rylands Library next week.  The paper should be fun because for once, I actually get to sing!  On Sunday last week I recorded a couple of the ballads I’ve been working on recently, one of which took three and a half minutes and the other was more than twelve!   I’m going to keep recording them as I work on them from now on, with the aim of having them all recorded by July.

Next week is half term, so I expect to have some days out if the weather permits, instead of working all week.

After a couple of dodgy days at the beginning, the week has definitely ended on a high.  I spent quite a lot of time at the beginning of the week consolidating the ideas that my trip to the British Library generated and I wrote a thousand words in a couple of hours, bringing together my thoughts .  It was very satisfying, especially in the light of the 6 months I’ve been struggling with the 7000 words of the commonwealth chapter.  In a sense, it made the chapter all the more frustrating.  Although the chapter had improved, I was still really struggling  to make it flow.  Everything was there, in vaguely the right order, but with no grace and no flow.  Cue accusations that the naughty child in me didn’t want it to flow yet.   My response was along the lines of ‘get lost’.  There is nothing fun about spending six months messing with the same set of words.  But at least writing about London proved to me that I hadn’t lost it (whatever ‘it’ is) completely.

On Wednesday night I did something a bit different.  I read the chapter aloud.  Perhaps I should have done it a long time ago, because it was so obvious when I thought about it, but it simply hadn’t occurred to me.  I printed the chapter out and attacked it with a red pen and scissors.  And it worked.  Bashing it out line by line, aloud, showed exactly where the  problems were and what didn’t make sense, what needed more explanation and what would be better broken down into more sentences.   Thursday I spent typing up all the changes that I had made and by 2.30 that afternoon, I was a very happy girl.  It’s not ready, by any stretch of the imagination, but it will do as a first draft.  What’s more, it has lost its hold on my nightmares and no longer causes me feelings of guilt and insecurity.  Maybe it won’t be the best chapter in the thesis (who knows, maybe it will), but at least I’ve now got something down that I’m confident about.

I celebrated by unpacking a box-load of books.  I’ve inherited another library, he second in three months, so my brand new shelves are now groaning under the weight of scholarship I could never have afforded to buy.

Today I checked through the results of some searches that I ran on State Papers Online and found a perfect little nugget to help with one of my arguments, so I am very happy indeed.

Finally, I’d like to pass on my very best wishes to Glyn Redworth who retires from the University of Manchester this week after more years than either of us probably cares to think about.  Time to start a new chapter, in more ways than one.

You may  have noticed that there wasn’t a blog post on Friday evening.  Nor was there one the Friday before.  There reason was that I didn’t feel like it; I didn’t want to acknowledge in public that I’m still stuck in the bog, probably waist rather than ankle-deep now.  In fact, if truth be told, I just didn’t want to think about my work any more than I absolutely had to.  Not that it worked – I was thinking about it constantly anyway.


English: Looking over the bog

English: Looking over the bog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The chapter is not going well.  I’d go so far as to say that the chapter is doing something quite unusual:  it’s going backwards.  Having eventually managed to churn out around 6500 words, I then decided that what I’d done was a load of rubbish.  I haven’t hit the delete button, but you can be quite sure that no-one is ever going to see those 6500 words ever again.  I’m not at all happy with the way I approached the material, but I can’t see another way of attacking it.  I know it’s not right, but I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve spent this entire week wondering how to improve things and trying to think of an angle to take that will let me approach the common weal ballads, but I can’t come up with a solution.  As I have a supervision meeting this week, I have concentrated on writing about four manuscript miscellanies I’ve studied, really just to practice writing with clarity and simplicity rather than because I think it will be particularly useful for the thesis. Oh, and because I needed something to hand in to my supervisors on Monday.

English: Snowed trees Polski: Ośnieżone drzewa...

English: Snowed trees Polski: Ośnieżone drzewa w Dąbrówkach Breńskich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I distracted myself by working ridiculously long hours on the ballad database last weekend.  It’s going quite well, except that moving information from the spreadsheet to the database proved to be more of a challenge than I expected and has proved to be rather time consuming.  But it is considerably easier, already, to find the information I need.  There are long hours ahead of me working on that, I fear.  I am in the process of planning a trip to the British Library too.  So I think the main problem with my work is stress – I’m just snowed under.  The problem with the chapter was exacerbated by a realisation of just how much work I have to do in the next few weeks.  So there’s plenty to discuss at my next supervision meeting, not least of which is strategies to cope.

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. 

Juggling, I have discovered this week, isn’t easy.  I can only assume that this time last year I was so taken up with the prospect of moving house that the PhD took a back seat to packing boxes and playing with my children.  I didn’t have my summer panel meeting until the middle of August last year and I do remember being on holiday with my computer, but I don’t remember it being as exhausting as this.  I’ve given myself a long list of jobs to do, tidying up bits and pieces that need sorting out and visiting several archives, but I’m also trying to fit in with family life too, so somehow I have been spending half a day working and half a day doing things with the children.

On Tuesday I commuted to Manchester, had a breakfast supervision meeting and then spent an entire day in the John Rylands library on Deansgate reading a book about one of the manuscripts that I am going to see this summer.  Today I read a book and took notes while visiting family.

I’ve been re-writing my knowingness piece too.  Precision demanded in every word.

This is proving less than easy.