difficult to motivate myself

the heat today is making it difficult for me to press on, particularly this afternoon. This morning wasn’t too bad: i got some serious notes done on the Coward book. It’s really firmed up my understanding of the positioning of the various different splinter groups within the overaching Protestant faith, the different theological concepts and positions that are possible to take. Perhaps more importantly I’m now understanding what ‘Puritans’ aren’t, and what position/beliefs the average Protestant of the period would have held.

This afternoon I read part of How to get a PhD by Estelle M Phillips and Derek S Pugh. A really useful book, I’m starting to get a much firmer idea of what the PhD entails and what I can expect, which is a good thing.

Tomorrow promises to be even warmer. In this heat its difficult to concentrate, all I want to do is to go and lie on the bed in the other room and doze. I wonder if it is worth, for a few days, just adopting continental sleeping patterns and going for a siesta, and then working later? I may try it….

break from work

The last few days have seen me have a break from my studies – mostly due to my Mum visiting from Thursday evening. So, a bit of a catch up…

Wednesday was primarily focused on preparation for Mum’s visit. I did do some reading of the Coward book, but not a huge amount. Mostly it was cleaning and preparing her room, that sort of thing.

Thursday we were paid so I went food shopping for the weekend in the morning, immediately after I’d dropped my partner at the station. Tesco was so quiet at that time of day, it was really pleasant. Will repeat that because it’s so much better than shopping when everyone else is. This is one of the things that has to be remembered about studying at this level: because so often you’re working at weekends and in the evenings, things like buying food and taking care of the house still have to be done and sometimes study has to give way to allow for these things at times that others might find odd.

In the afternoon I went to the New History Lab’s career workshop. It was a really good workshop, led by two lecturers at the University and it was really useful, explaining how career choices can affect things like your REF score, what sort of things we should be thinking about when we read job adverts, and how to frame an academic CV correctly, how to make sure it ‘scans’ well, that sort of thing. I got some really useful tips about my CV which I will definitely be incorporating (and indeed, already have, as I sent a job application off this morning – more about that in a minute). I had a really nice chat with a few people too so it was a useful afternoon. Then I collected my partner from the station and set off for home. Mum arrived around 8ish and we had a nice quiet evening chatting.

Friday Mum and I went to Bradgate Park outside Leicester – neither of us had ever been and it was fun. I had forgotten that there’s a dig going on there, we wandered over to have a look and I was very pleased to be able to chat to a number of staff and students from the Archaeology department at the University. It’s a really interesting dig, looking at different parts and ages of the park and the results will be very interesting to view, should really change how the park is perceived, I think. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to walk very fast due to a sore foot so we weren’t able to walk as far as I would have liked, but I definitely want to return, maybe with my hearing dog when I get him or her.

Saturday I met up with someone who has just completed her thesis on a similar subject to what I’m proposing to do, but in a different area. It was really useful to meet someone to chat with her about it all, but also to hear about her experiences of doing a PhD. I found that the hour and a half time that I had allotted soon disappeared and I was late to meet my partner and Mum. Once we’d met up, we went to the Richard III centre in Leicester. Its an interesting experience. It didn’t really tell us very much that we didn’t already know, as we’ve all watched the various TV programmes about the history and the dig. Parts of the exhibition left a little to be desired – Mum commented that in places, with different speakers booming out different bits of information, she felt her ears were a bit overwhelmed and assaulted, almost. I particularly liked the way that the exhibition featured the changing perceptions of Richard through the centuries, the way that the story was manipulated by different historians and playwrights for their own purposes. It really demonstrates how history is never about ‘the truth’, but different people’s versions and perspectives – and to me, that is what makes history so interesting. Sadly we weren’t able to view inside the Cathedral & Richard’s new resting place as the Cathedral was closed for the afternoon. So we went and had a nice lunch, and then home to rest my poor foot – I was limping very badly by this point.

Sunday we relaxed and chatted some more, cooked good food, and Mum left in the afternoon. In the evening my partner and I joined some friends to play Ingress in Wigston, turning Wigston a nice shade of blue.

Today has been very much about getting back to work. I did a lengthy job application form this morning for a job that would be part time (2.5 days a week) and would continue throughout the next year. I have serious hopes for this and put in some hard work into the form. I’ve also written a lot of emails, catching up from correspondence that came in last week while I was neglecting my uni work. I also did a little reading and some washing up – the never-ending washing up!

The majority of this week should be much quieter, and I hope to get the Coward book finished – I need to start making more inroads into more books and articles as I only have July left before I need to start working on primary source material.I also hope to spend some time working on the Charnwood Roots project as I owe them some serious time and work.

what the… where’s the day gone?

you know that moment when you suddenly realise you’re hungry and you look at the clock and are stunned at how late it is?

… yeah. that.

Today has been amazingly productive. I like days like today, where I feel like I’m getting somewhere and not just doing my hamster on a wheel impersonation. So far:

  • Read through, and made notes on, the sample CVs, cover letters and applications that were sent out to us as part of the preparation for the New History Lab workshop on Thursday;
  • Replied to an email sorting out a meeting on saturday;
  • Made some notes from a PhD how-to book – E.M. Phillips and D.S. Pugh, How to get a PhD: A handbook for Students and their Supervisors (5th edn, Maidenhead, 2010);
  • Contacted a conference organiser about getting communication support for a conference in November;
  • Applied for two jobs (temporary admin jobs for the summer);
  • Replied to a fellow academic whose research interests are sort of touching on mine;
  • Wrote a blog on yesterday’s exploits, and a blog on today’s accomplishments;
  • Created a poster for a friend who is setting up a website celebrating the 50th anniversary of the MA I’m doing, so that it can be publicised at an important lecture on Saturday;
  • Had lunch. late. very late!

Not bad. Not bad at all! Its now 5pm; I have to leave to collect my partner from the station at around 6.30pm, so in the remaining time, I’ve got to clean the bathroom and do the washing up. And then, if I get time, I can read more of the Coward book or the how-to book. That’s doable. I think!

half day

Yesterday was very much a half day – I wasn’t feeling too well in the morning – so relatively little was accomplished. Most of the day circulated around planning, answering emails, catching up with admin, that sort of thing.

One good thing was that a new course on Developing your Research Project started at FutureLearn, which I signed up for a while back. An eight week course, it’s already earned its way by highlighting a couple of areas that I needed to pay attention to – I had no idea where I was supposed to submit my PhD Proposal to, and what the word count was for it, if any. That’s now been rectified and some preliminary notes made on it, although it’s very much a work in progress and will be for some time.

This week is a busy one, both professionally and personally. Thursday there is a New History Lab workshop being held at Uni on applying for research funding or research jobs, with feedback on the academic CV and applications. While I’ve not made any applications (yet!) I’ve definitely got an academic CV and this workshop should be very useful – I’m really looking forward to it. On Saturday I am meeting a colleague who has just completed a similar PhD to the one I’m proposing to do, so we’re meeting up for a coffee and a chat – it will be good to speak to someone who’s been there and done it.

Also on Thursday, my mother will be coming for the weekend – we’re hoping to do some touristy stuff, visit Newark and the National Civil War Museum, maybe do the National Civil War Trail which I did as part of my MA course back in Easter and it was very good, the Augmented reality app was brilliant, great fun if you have bloodthirsty youngsters! We’ll also be visiting the King Richard III Visitor Centre and the Cathedral nearby, see his grave, as well as other parts of Old Leicester. So most of the next few days will be taken up in preparation for one or other of these things.

cotton wool…

as in… I have a head stuffed with it. Or so it feels… as a result I’ve really struggled to get very much of Coward’s book done today. I did finish the Preface and got slightly less than halfway through the first part, so not too bad. But I’m not sure how much of it I’ve taken in.

One bit did make me laugh. The first part of Coward’s book is a sort of overview of the period 1603-1640, from social, economic, religious, political perspectives. In a section dealing with the straitigraphy of society, Coward notes that the peerage assessed their own incomes for tax purposes in this period, and landlords who weren’t peers, were assessed by their mates. As Del Boy would have put it: “Cushty!”. One example given was that of Sir Timothy Hutton of Marske. His real income was £1,077 in 1606, £1,095 in 1625, but between those two years he was assessed on an income of £20 per year and during that same time, his subsidiary period was just £64.¹

If you listen verrrry carefully you may just hear some city fat cats gnawing out their liver in jealousy… that thought alone makes me happy 🙂

On that note, I think I will call it a week. I did get other stuff done today – some job hunting, some emails, but nothing earthshaking. I will take the weekend off and focus on packing off this cold so that next week I can hit the books with renewed vigour… I hope!

[¹ J. T. Cliffe, Yorkshire Gentry from the Reformation to the Civil War (1969), pp. 139-40, in B. Coward, The Stuart Age, 1603-1714 (3rd edn, London, 2003), p. 50.]

shift in thinking

After a 2 hour sleep yesterday morning I got up feeling tons better. Sleep was definitely a good idea. Then in the afternoon I worked on Coward’s book. As I said yesterday the third edition has a preface that reviews the historiography of the period, focusing on work produced between 1994 and 2003 (between the second and third editions), which is very very interesting and useful. I’m still only part way through it, but it is so useful that I’m making intensive notes, and listing a lot of secondary works that will be useful to check out.

One thing that has come about as a result of this reading is realising that the terms ‘revisionist’ and ‘post-revisionist’ aren’t quite what I thought they were. I had always understood them within the context of Reformation history as pertains to the Tudor period, where traditional ideas said that the reformation was inevitable, the catholic church was corrupt and no longer useful for the people, who welcomed it with open arms, became happy protestants and never looked back. Revisionist historians said, hang on a sec, the church wasn’t wholly corrupt and useless, many people actually didn’t want the reformation, they liked their smells and bells, and the reformation was an enforced process. Post-revisionists have gone, well, hang on a sec, yes, revisionists, you have a point, but traditionalists do too, and maybe we need to be thinking in other terms than just ‘top down’/’bottom up’, its all a lot more complex than THAT. I’m simplifying, but you get the point. I understood the terms purely within the context of Reformation history, and that they were only ever used that way.

Coward’s work has shown conclusively that that .. well.. ain’t so. The terms revisionist and post-revisionist have much wider application than just Reformation history. I feel a bit embarrassed that I’ve reached Masters level and not realised this! Still, better late than never. The different ways of seeing history are clearly important, being able to define them and historians writing from the different perspectives clearly is a key skill, I think, and particularly important in any review that you do of the existing literature. Although we’re solidly in post-revisionist territory now, the bigger question becomes… what next?

More than that though, the preface has given me something of an example of what it is I need to do for the proposal: to examine the literature, analyse it and the various perspectives that different historians have written on, and find a gap. Just saying “this kind of study ain’t been done on Herefordshire” isn’t enough. Quite frankly, its been done in a number of places already – so what makes us think that Herefordshire will present different results to Warwickshire, Wiltshire – the places where they’ve already been done? What will Herefordshire show that the other places haven’t? What relevance does it have for the modern world?

That’s the job I have to do in the next few months …. tough ask!

more productive

Yesterday was much better. I worked on a new book, The Stuart Age by Barry Coward. This is a first year undergrad/A Level standard textbook, but one that I think is necessary. I’m very much a Tudor girl by inclination, always have been, and have 20 odd years of reading in that time period behind me which means that I have a basic knowledge that really helps when dealing with primary sources. For example, reading an account by someone describing the rising food prices in around 1548/9, I’ll know what the background to that is – a combination of harvest difficulties, enclosure, and riot problems, depending on where in the UK the person writing was. I just don’t have that same knowledge for the Stuart period, so I’m hoping this (rather thick) book will go some way towards rectifying that, and help give me the contexts for not only primary source material when I get into the archives, but also the more complex secondary monographs and academic articles.

So I worked on creating a timeline. Coward’s book has one, so I worked through that, adding info where I thought necessary. Its very geared towards the religious side of things, obviously, although I’ve included larger events like the death of a monarch or the outbreak of war. Its something that I think will be powerful and useful in the months to come – and as a computer document, I can add to it as I need to.

I’ve also started a vocabulary, to record my own thoughts on words that I’ve either not come across before, or where the meaning can be quite nebulous (epistemology being an example – I know it means the theory of knowledge, but its so much more than that, and it can mean different things at different times). I haven’t had to use a vocab like this since I was about 10. Thanks to a love of reading, I’ve always had a strong reading age – I was measured as having a reading age of 16 when I was about 11 – so I’ve a wide vocabulary and I’m not afraid to use it. However, working at this kind of level and delving into religious history in the way that I am takes me to a different level – with a range of new words linked to theory – like epistemology and ontology (does anyone else hear Maureen Lipman – ‘You got an Ology?‘ every time anything with an ology is said/typed? No? just me then…) but also a range of new terminology, some of which is quite difficult to grasp, such as Manichean (a belief in a dualistic good & evil).

Dragging me down, however, was a soreness in my throat – I’ve come down with a cold. I was able to pop painkillers yesterday but this morning I feel totally out of it. I had to get up to take my partner to the station for his job, but I think now I’m gonna head back to bed for a couple hours and see if that helps. Then I can get back to work on Coward’s book – he’s got a great preface to the third edition that goes extensively into the historiography of the period that I think will be very very useful.


Yesterday was shaping up to be a better day. I finished Spaeth’s book, which made me really happy, did some emails and admin, and then sat down to lunch. And while I ate, I thought I would start a new novel.

HUGE mistake.

I got totally sucked in, and nothing else got done for the rest of the day. I kind of don’t regret it, cos it gave me down time that was needed, and just to be able to read cos I wanted to, and not cos I had to, my eye leaping ahead and speed reading at the full speed that I can instead of ponderously making sure i read every line was an absolute JOY.

But it meant nothing else got done. Bah. Relaxation is necessary too, right?



best intentions

Well… I started out with good intentions at least! Today has proved to be a bit of a bust. My partner woke me at 4.30am, telling me he needed to go to hospital. Thankfully, after some discussion, we agreed that he didn’t need to go after all, that he would wait and try to see the doctor at 8.30am. I tried to get him comfortable and eventually managed to get another hour or so myself, but it wasn’t really enough. As a result I’ve been struggling to stay focused more or less all day – and partner being here all day, and with him needing to be looked after, meant it has not been the most productive of days.

I managed to do some reading on my current book, Church in an Age of Danger: Parsons and Parishioners, 1660-1740, by Donald A. Spaeth. I’m not sure it was the best book to start with: my knowledge of the religious situation in the post restoration period isn’t that great – in fact, my knowledge of the religious situation post 1603 isn’t great, never mind 1660. I’ve got a lot of work to do to feel as proficient in the period 1603-1740 as I do in the sixteenth century. Having said that, its a good book. Spaeth writes well and he’s introduced some of the issues, explaining how different historians have seen the church in the period, and in the immediate period after 1740. His work is useful, too, for chasing down other historians and what they’ve written. I’m not sure I’m going to get all the reading done before the PhD proposal needs to go in, but then, there is always another book to read, a source to chase. However, what I’ve read so far has triggered some thoughts about the way that the Reformation and religious history is viewed by different historians, the different takes on the established Church. I need to do substantially more reading but it seems to me at the moment that it is a mistake to try to view religious changes in a short space of time – that it is necessary to view the changes over the longue duree – even if the focus remains on a relatively small area. I’m sort of envisioning, at the moment, clergy-parishioner relationships through time, like two boats on a river held together by a pole. Periodically one or the other of the two boats will be subject to forces, either pulling or pushing, from either side of the ‘river’, which will place the pole under pressure, and may send the boats spinning chaotically while they try to absorb the impact of the forces. Sometimes a pole snaps, and a boat sinks – to be replaced by another, but you rarely get one boat alone. Hmm. that’s a useful analogy. I may have to rememeber that one – although, of course, it is very possible that my view of it will change as I read my way through the literature.

I also did a little bit of job search today (updated my CV, that sort of thing), sent a couple of emails, and checked out an issue with a paper I have to give in November – I suddenly wondered, last night, whether you have to actually submit the written document that you plan to present at a conference to the organisers. It seems that’s not the case, but I’ve got some useful notes out of just checking it wasn’t – they’ll come in handy come September/October when I’m preparing for it. I had an email to say that an article of mine has been accepted – not an academic article, but a general one for a blog site that has nothing to do with my academic work, but I’m pleased with that. My writing is getting credited, so its all good news.

Otherwise, a friend popped around with his small son. It was good to see him, and have a chat – although more time away from the books. But I don’t mind really – today’s been such a bust that it didn’t make much difference. On another day I might have been more abrupt.

I was going to go to the Uni library tomorrow but today being such a bust means I’ve changed my mind. I’ve a routine appointment on Wednesday morning at the hospital so I’ll probably go in after that instead. See if a friend wants a coffee and a natter. I feel that I need to get out and have a chat with a fellow academic at least once a week – it helps keep the spirits up, keep the focus where it needs to be. I’m determined to finish Spaeth’s book tomorrow – that way I can look at getting some of the books that I’ve earmarked from his footnotes that I think may be useful.

new beginnings

Part of the way through my part time MA studies, I’m now at the point where the topics for my MA dissertation and general area for my PhD research have been decided on. This will be roughly in the field of parochial conflict in the Early Modern period. The MA dissertation will focus on a particular village in Shropshire, where the parishioners went to extraordinary lengths to try to get rid of their clergyman in the post-restoration period. The PhD will focus on clergy-parishioner conflict throughout the whole of Herefordshire.

This summer needs to be about putting in the prepatory work for the next year or so, with several aims:

  • Doing the general literature reading for both my MA dissertation and PhD proposal;
  • Establishing the availability of primary source material for MA dissertation and PhD;
  • Beginning the research process for my MA dissertation (which is not due till Jan 2017, so I have time);
  • Writing my PhD proposal;
  • Doing a little extra research for an article I have already done a lot of work on, and just needs some extra to finish off;
  • Preparing to deliver my first conference paper in November 2015.

The record office that I will be primarily working from is closed (they’re in the process of moving to a new building and I cannot WAIT to see it) so its been suggested that I spend the time working on the background literature.The general aim is to try to get this finished by the end of July; or to at the very least get to the point where I can a) put information from primary source material into context and b) understand the finer points of the material I will be reading when I get to the record office.

I primarily work from home, where I am lucky enough to have my own little study and can work uninterrupted. That solitude, while welcome (and I know a few people who would give their right eyeteeth for it) can also be very isolating and it can be terribly easy to procrastinate, hence the blog – if I have to report my achievements at the end of the day to something (if not someone), then I’m much less likely to procrastinate! Hopefully this will work and help encourage me to keep my nose to the grindstone, as well as giving people an insight into what is required to work on and complete both an MA and a PhD.