On 4th September 2017 I visited three more churches. St. James, Wigmore made it onto the list primarily because of its most famous vicar, who I had come across in my archival research – one Alexander Clogie (with varying spellings). He was prominent enough to have an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and at least one published book (Vox Corvi) – a copy of that can be found on Early English Books Online – all great stuff as far as I’m concerned! Clogie managed – somehow! – to survive all the political and religious changes of the seventeenth century and to remain in position throughout. He was installed in 1647 and was vicar until his death in 1698. When I learned that Mr Clogie was buried at Wigmore, his church, I had to visit.
This was the final of the three churches I visited on 17th July 2017. St. Margarets parish is near Clodock – it took around 20 minutes to drive there via winding narrow country lanes – and is a beautiful small two-cell church. The main reason for visiting was the ‘deliciously carved’ rood screen/loft¹. As with the previous blogs in this series, the remainder of this blog is focused on a few of the photographs that I took that day, with some explanatory text beneath each one.
If you’d like to visit St Margaret’s church, then more information can be found here.
Another one of the churches that I visited on 17th July 2017. St. Clydawg lies in the parish of Clodock and Longtown in Herefordshire, not far from Abbey Dore (still in the Golden Valley). It is an early church; a church has stood here to St. Clydawg from around 500 A.D. The unusual name is for one Clydawg, the son of Cledwyn, King of Ewias, who was murdered; when he was buried, the oxen pulling the cart refused to cross the river Monnow, so he was buried near the river bank. He was regarded as a martyr and people began to worship at his tomb; the church was built and a settlement grew up around it, called Llan (enclosure) Y Merthyr Clydawg, or Clodock. The church was restored in the seventeenth century, and today has a lot of seventeenth-century surviving material, hence my visit. As with my previous Abbey Dore blog post, the rest of this is primarily photographs with the occasional explanatory text.
If you’d like to visit St Clydawg, then the details can be found here.
Dore Abbey, one of only two former Cistercian Abbeys still used as a parish church in England (the other is Holme Cultram, or Abbey Town in Cumberland, according to Pevsner’s book on Herefordshire), was the first on the list of churches that I visited on 17th July 2017. The Abbey suffered the usual dissolution on March 1, 1537, being bought primarily by John Scudamore. It was his great-great-grandson, John Viscount Scudamore who restored the church in 1632-33. What remains today is what was the presbytery, crossing and transepts (the nave has largely gone), although ruins around the church allow the visitor, with the help of the guidebook and map, to work out what would have been where. Scudamore was a friend of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the church was rebuilt in ‘Laudian’ style. As such, it was one of the first to go onto my list of churches to visit in Herefordshire. My visit was primarily focused on the seventeenth century elements (as that is where my PhD is focused) but archaeological digs took place around the church either side of the turn of the 20th century and the items dug up then have been placed inside the church and are available to view by visitors. I also took photographs of some of the other, non-seventeenth-century elements. The remainder of this blog is focused on a few of the photographs that I took that day, with some explanatory text beneath each one.
One of the most important skills that a student has to learn, ANY student, at any level, is that of time management, and a PhD student is not particularly unique in that. Where we differ from undergraduate or even masters students, however, is in the time we have available to us with little in the way of specific externally imposed goals. Most of us will have two, absolute goals that have to be met: the Thesis and the Viva, and most, if not all, will have to meet targets imposed by their university: reviews, supervisions, reports and so on.
That means there are large blocks of time where there is little external pressure to achieve things. New students are warned, going into a PhD, that we have to be responsible for driving our PhD forward, managing it ourselves, and not relying on our supervisors to do it for us. That sort of discipline can be difficult to learn.
What can also be difficult is in balancing and driving forward the different parts of the PhD, particularly the parts that ‘feel’ less urgent (e.g. the bits that don’t have an externally imposed deadline). It’s always easy to let secondary reading slide, for example. And while there are a number of different tools and methodologies for managing different projects which can be useful to the PhD student, different projects and balancing them also very much impact on our time management… or at least, have the potential to cause problems there.
Eighteen months ago, I stumbled across something called Bullet Journalling. I’m not alone in this: any number of students around the world have discovered it and are using it to aid and manage their studies. One of the key strengths of this system lies in the fact that it can be tailored to suit you, the user. Another, is in its simplicity. All you need is a notebook, and a pen. Actually, scratch that. All you really need is something to write on, and something to write with. you write the date at the top of your page. then you list what you’re going to do that day, your tasks, like this. You can use a series of ‘bullets’ – that’s the various squiggles on the left of the right page – as signifiers, or a key to the different items, and there’s no limit on space. If you want to list 3 pages worth of bullets, you can (although I would question whether you’d get them all done!). I’m sure some of you are thinking “sounds like a to-do list to me” … and yes, to a certain extent, it may be that, although it’s more than that: you can record other things too, appointments/events, and you can make notes. So that killer quote you overheard in the library cafe: pull out your journal and jot it down on the next available line. You see a fab chart that just happens to explain the balance between primary sources and secondary sources in a dissertation and when you should be using each in which bits of it (that actually happened to me!) … you can devote the next page to copying it down. The kind of stuff you’d record on post-it notes and lose – no longer. Now, stick ’em in your bullet journal.
It gets more complex than that, however. Obviously, you’re going to want to remember this killer quote when you’re writing your thesis…. so you need an index. and you need page numbers. And, since you write this journal as you go (remember, each day has as much space as you need?) how do you handle appointments in the future?
The inventor of bullet journalling has a great starting point here, but as I said, one of the key strengths of this system is that you can adapt this to make it work for you. If you hate the idea of using a dot to signify a task, fine. I have boxes, myself (colouring them in to say they’re done makes me *ridiculously* happy and it is embarrassing how much of a motivator that is for getting things done. My one solace is that I’m not alone in this). If you find that their suggested way of recording appointments in the future just doesn’t work for you, great. Use a different way. [Myself, I record appointments in google calendar – it means this stuff is managed on my smartphone and goes everywhere with me (even if my journal stays at home), and my partner can see it too.] If you like systems with different coloured pens and diagrams and you like drawing and doodling… oh man. Bullet journalling is TOTALLY for you!
Even better … there’s a huge, and I do mean HUGE community out there on the internet of other people using bullet journals to manage their lives in a myriad of different ways. If you’re new to it, I would recommend holding off on going that route – and for heaven’s sake, please do NOT google image search bullet journal or Pinterest it – going that route is well and truly a major and very deep rabbit hole and this is meant to be about improving your efficiency and time management not distracting you from your PhD…! There are a lot of very highly decorated, artistic journals out there and for some that can be intimidating and off-putting. However, if (despite what I said), you looked anyway … I think its important to reitirate that bullet journalling is not about having a highly decorated, very colourful journal, necessarily: at its core, it’s a pen, and a notebook. Nothing more, nothing less.
That caveat aside, the community is useful because that ability to tailor your journal means that you can steal ideas from everywhere. There are a LOT of other PhD students – hell, even some academics – using Bullet Jouralling to manage their time and their work, and some of them generously share how they do this, so that people like you and I can learn from them, and sometimes their ideas are really useful ones. Things like, for example, the Research Pipeline that Dr Ellie Mackin developed. Ellie has a number of really useful and interesting videos on YouTube about how she uses the bullet journal to manage her work. There are facebook groups galore: I’m not going to mention specific names because 1) most of these are closed groups anyway and 2) because of that rabbit hole thing I mentioned earlier. [But if you are very keen for a recommendation for a bullet journalling students group, please contact me and I will try to help.]
But I can hear you ask: … if bullet journalling is such a rabbit hole, why should I start?
Well, here’s what it’s done for me. Since I discovered it, I’ve graduated from my MA, pulled together a PhD application and won funding for it, written and delivered 6 conference papers, written and delivered 5 public history talks and won a general essay prize. I’ve started my PhD, which is going well. My productivity has gone from strength to strength, but more importantly, I feel confident that I’m able to remember things when I said I will do them. I’m managing my goals and my projects. Things in my life are getting done, and I’m happier than I have been in years, mostly because I also use my journal for self-reflection. My physical health is better than it has been in a long time. I’m not alone in noting all this. Many people have noted that keeping some form of paper and pen-based record improves their lives, that the act of putting pen to paper aids in so many ways. Bullet Journalling specifically has many benefits; creativity; better mental health; productivity; for us students, there are so many articles out there.
The more astute amongst you may note that although I’ve extolled the virtues (many) of the bullet journal, I’ve not said a great deal about how I use it. That’s quite deliberate. My journal is highly personal, and also very unique to me. And I suppose I also don’t want anyone reading this to take away the message that my way is the right way. It is – for ME, but not necessarily for anyone else. There are no shortcuts to this: You have to read the inventor’s website (bulletjournal.com). Go on! grab a pen. grab a notebook. get going! Try the system, make changes. You won’t get it right immediately – there’s a process, over several months, of trying things, seeing what works, scrapping what doesn’t. You may conclude, at the end of the day, that this system is not for you, and that’s perfectly fine – it won’t suit everyone. But I’m willing to bet that there are many people who will like it, and who will find it something completely lifechanging. And if you do try it, even if you conclude that it’s not for you I’m also willing to bet that you’ll come out of it with a better understanding of how you work, what you need and what you don’t need. All of which is good stuff to have.
So… go for it. What have you got to lose?
Those who don’t know me in real life may be forgiven for thinking that this blog, like so many others on the internet, has been abandoned. Not the case – although I note I haven’t blogged since March! – more that I’ve just been tremendously busy. I have been thinking about the blog though, about how I want to take it forward from here, given that I am now moving into the primary source research phase of my PhD.
But before that, I wanted to do a bit of a catch up, fill in the gaps of what has happened in the last three months or so: Continue reading
As an academic historian-in-training, I’m used to dealing with the written word, whether that’s reading other historian’s work or primary sources from the past. Last week, however, featured the spoken word rather than the written. My first audio-visual piece went out to the world. A vlog (video log), a filmed debate done as part of the History on the Box blog series produced by postgraduate students at the University of Leicester, it’s been – so far – well received and it’s something I’m pretty proud of. Myself and my fellow student, Katie Bridger, were debating the merits of the ‘ambitous and groundbreaking’ method of presenting history promoted in ‘Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives’ series which aired before Christmas 2016. The new method referred to is the way in which Worsley, one moment dressed in modern, 21st century clothing, presents as the historian we know, when someone will cross the screen, and suddenly, she’s dressed in sixteenth-century dress, a maidservant in the background, observing the events of the wives of Henry VIII. Sort of time travel, if you like. Is Worsley successful in this? Well, that’s what Katie and I were arguing about – and if you want to know the outcome, you’ll have to watch the video.
It has, however, stirred up thoughts in my mind about public history as a whole, about the role that we, as academics, have to play in terms of passing on our knowledge; of increasing awareness of history as a whole and specific historical knowledge; and also some of the key skills that we, as historians, learn. Not every historian is going to want to do this kind of public engagement, but I think its something that is particular to the kind of historians both Katie and I are – we’re both students at the Centre for English Local History at the University. I think a lot of the people from the Centre are willing to spend time in talking to people, that they seem – and I’m aware that I’m generalising here – to find it rewarding in doing this kind of public engagement. Talking to people who want to know more about the history of their own area. Those who are curious about the past often want to know about their own area, to understand, for example, why local villages are named in certain ways. I think, to a certain extent, that’s human nature; a certain sense of curiosity about why things are, as they are. There are many many talks occurring up and down the country in village halls, guildhalls, churches, on the streets: people – not just academics, but people with knowledge, who are willing to spare a little time to share what they’ve learned to those who want to know. Now that I stop to think about it, and consider the people that I’ve met through the Centre, not just those who taught me on the English Local History MA course but ex and current students at the Centre, that sort of passion for imparting knowledge, for teaching, even in small bursts, is shared by most, if not all of us. An interview with Worsley, for example, echoes the same point, when she explains why she doesn’t work in academia: ‘I am interested in talking to people at large rather than experts. I want to express my enthusiasm for history with as many as possible.’ Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this passion is unique to people from the Centre, or even to historians as a whole; you only have to think of, say, Brian Cox, who has a similar passion for teaching physics to see what I mean.
But what does this passion mean to the national engagement of history, as a whole? While the urge to teach – in a variety of ways – is certainly prevalent across historical academia, we have to recognise that not every person is interested in sitting down and watching a more traditional history television documentary. This invariably features visits to the places being discussed, perhaps featuring the primary sources being discussed, sometimes actors who portray the people and scenes that we know of from history, sometimes talking, sometimes not. But what the debate has really clarified, in my mind, is that I think those who make history documentaries for television, perhaps feel that the now-traditional format described above (which, believe it or not, was once groundbreaking in itself) has had its day, and that its not engaging with new audiences any more. After all, there is a reason that certain subjects like the Tudors have – as I said in the video – been done to death. Ultimately people like to hear about the foibles of the great, the wealthy, the scandalous. They like to hear that they are human, just like them. These are stories, not quite real, and serve the same purpose as the stories that were once told round fires at night in the village pub, or, even further back, in the middle of the settlement or camp that they were living in at the time. Human psychology means stories will always be told; if a certain king behaves in a certain way, then it means Joe Bloggs feels a little better when he’s perhaps behaved badly in a similar way (although not quite so badly, of course. Kings get away with more than ordinary mortals do!) But the current prevalence of historical television programming is causing a problem; more channels, even a channel devoted to history, means we are rapidly reaching saturation point, and although there is – as Katie pointed out in the debate – so much out there that could be filmed and talked about, for many people, they just don’t want to know about anything that isn’t a bit familiar, glamorous, or heroic. The history of the ordinary person, for example, Mary the baker’s daughter from the next village over, in television terms, just ain’t sexy.
But if these documentary makers can hit on the next new big method in history documentaries, then this saturation point goes back to being unsaturated. They have to start over, with telling all the current stories in this new way. There’s also the possibility of gaining new audience share, of pulling in those people who might not watch a traditional documentary. Win-win! I think these concerns are at the root at not only Worsley’s ‘Six Wives’ but also ‘1066: a year to conquer England’, which is on television at the moment. That series has everything: it has Dan Snow as the presenter, visiting the different places that feature in the history, it has actors playing the roles of the different people involved; it has historians (Janina Ramirez, Tom Holland and Dan Jones) around a table, arguing for the different historical figures that they are representing. The premise of that series is that 1066 was the year that changed everything; and periodically the screen fills with a countdown to the Battle of Hastings across the 3 hours that the series takes up. Whether that series is successful in being the next new big type of history documentary or not (I would argue not – I think it is too cluttered and hectic) I think we’re going to see more of these experimental types of history programmes on the television.
What does this have to do, however, with those of us who speak to substantially smaller audiences, on topics such as local history? I think we often take our lead from these programmes. Those who come to our talks often like to listen to/watch history on national media as well, and that will shape their expectations of us. Those of us who are serious about our crafts – that is, public history engagement – will be wanting to deliver, to keep people listening. If we become old fashioned, then our message becomes less attractive. I think too, that our message, in a way, is more important now. The world seems to be changing; right-wing opinions are coming to the fore and fake news is a real and present worry for not only public figures but for those of us who listen and watch current events. The skills that we as historians have are critical in defeating things like fake news. I don’t mean so much the ability read Latin or medieval writing, but the skill of analytical questioning, of not simply accepting at face value, a document that is presented to us. Of thinking; if we have a letter, why someone has written it; who they were writing to; for what purpose; where, when; why has it survived? Basic questions that historians are used to working with that need to be applied to modern documents too.
I don’t think its any accident either that the last year has also seen at least two television series devoted to the topic of historiography (that is, how the history that we tell of a specific subject has changed over time).¹ It’s critical that people understand that the way that events and topics are described can be changed according to who is talking/writing – and that truism is as true now as it is for the past. One of the few ways to break the spell of fake news is to understand how it has happened before, to past events, whether the ‘fake’ has been crafted deliberately or not – and for that, historiography is critical. In that sense, I think historians have a very real and vital role to play, whether that’s on national television or radio programming, or talking to a small group of people in a village hall for an hour, explaining how you’ve question the documents on the topic you’re talking about.
Public engagement is becoming more and more important as part of a historian’s role, I think. The days of being able to rest within the ivory towers of academia, if they ever did exist, are well and truly over. I think this is at least partially why PhD funding programmes like Midland3Cities are so keen to make sure that those they support (those who will be the next generation of academics, in other words) are able to do this. And I think, that no matter the direction that television documentaries do go in, that academic historians of all kinds and levels continue develop their public engagement role.
¹ Timewatch and ‘British History’s biggest fibs’ with Lucy Worsley