I’ve not blogged in quite some time – been ferociously busy. Easter, of course, and then the last of my MA assignments (analysing a churchyard to see what it could reveal about the culture and community of the parish it serves) has taken up much of my time … just the dissertation to go on the Master’s degree – which I’m hoping to get done and handed in by the end of July, but we’ll see. (It’s actually due Sept 6th, but I need a holiday!)
I’ve also had the welcome event for the PhD funding that I won. Time to be a little clearer about that, I think! This is the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Midlands3Cities DTP (Doctoral Training Partnership) funding (aka M3C). They will be covering my living costs and tuition fees for the next three years, starting from October when the PhD kicks off, and I have to submit my final thesis before September 2020. I’m trying very hard at the moment not to think too much about that, if I’m honest! Eighty thousand words seems like an awful lot, but, as I keep telling myself, it doesn’t need to be researched and written next week. I have time. Andddd breatheeee….!*
Thesis panics aside, M3C is a fantastic opportunity. It’s a consortium of 6 universities, from 3 cities in the Midlands region: University of Leicester (my home uni), De Montefort University (also in Leicester), University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University, University of Birmingham, and Birmingham City University. Their focus is arts and humanities; the actual range of subjects they accept is incredible. It isn’t just about the money (nice as it is) or the opportunity to study at this level (which, honestly, many would love to do, but simply cannot afford). There are other opportunities that come through M3C – additional training opportunities, opportunities to work with partner organisations, opportunities to be involved in various student led projects. I jokingly referred to M3C as ‘miracle-gro for academics’ in my interview; I’m convinced now that it’s not that far from reality! Their aim is to help support and develop ‘the next generation of arts and humanities researchers’, and one of the key strengths of the project is that it’s multidisciplinary … and draws on the strengths of a range of universities. This has it’s impact in a number of ways, but the main one as far as I can see (at present) is that I have three supervisors, from two universities. The lead is from the University of Leicester, as my home university, the second is from the University of Nottingham, and both will be supervising the part of my project that is focused on politics – here I mean politics in the sense of relationships between people, the imbalances in power, not national politics. I also want to see if the politics are reflected in the built environment, which the third supervisor will be helping me to explore – he’s from Nottingham as well, and is an archaeologist (the other two are historians).
So what AM I going to be researching? I’ve been asked this question an awful lot; I expect I will be asked it an awful lot more. I have an answer that rolls neatly off the tongue: ‘I’m going to be looking at the relationships between clergymen and their parishioners in seventeenth-century Herefordshire’. Most people (non academics, I hasten to add) sort of go, ‘um’, and change the subject, REAL fast. Heh. That’s okay. Although it’s telling me that perhaps I need to make it a bit more user-friendly! It’s succinct and to the point – and for me, at the moment, that’s a big step forward (you know those old comedy sketches of someone going ‘come back, I haven’t explained… ‘ as someone flees into the distance? That’d be me). But.. I digress. So. lets try this more user-friendly approach now. How about – The seventeenth century was a period where vicars were often one of the most powerful people in their parishes, but were also subject to fluctuating control from above. In addition, the entire century saw massive upheavals, with civil war, tremendous political, cultural, social and religious changes. I want to explore how the relationship that the average vicar had with his parishioners changed through all that. Did the means by which he coped with problems change? What was the impact of the war on the vicars themselves in Herefordshire? Was any of this reflected in the church architecture, or the churchground, or even the wider landscape of the parish? Lots of questions – and its very exciting! I’m going to be working a lot with Herefordshire Archive and Research Centre (which I blogged about before – beautiful building), possibly also with Hereford Diocese and Hereford Museum. I’m going to be exploring the parishes themselves – I’m trained by the English Local History centre at Leicester, which encourages you to walk the ground whereever possible! I’ve lots of ideas and plans and it’s all very exciting….!
This excitement really emerged last week at the M3C welcome event in Nottingham. It was a great day! 100 pending PhD students gathered in a room, talking happily and excitedly about their researching – the noise level was stupendous. My sign language interpreters had issues hearing at a couple of points, and I was quite glad for a quieter spell during lunch. We had a thorough introduction to M3C and what it offers, then midmorning we were asked to sign up to twitter, tweet our research topic (that succinctness came in handy there, I can tell you, with twitter’s 140 character limit) and then go talk to other people and find out/tweet something about them! It was fun – that’s when the noise levels got a bit loud….! But the range of what this year’s group is studying was incredible (If you’d like to get a glimpse of that, go to Twitter and search for #M3C16, or even look at https://twitter.com/Midlands3Cities – around May 11.). After lunch we had workshops and talks from PhD students ahead of us in the programme, explaining some of what they’ve been doing and how we can make the programme work for us. We got to meet the movers and shakers within M3C as well, put faces to names. We have a 2-day residential course in September, and then, on October 1st, it begins.
And I cannot WAIT.