little by little, brick by brick

After Friday’s rather angsty post about feeling unsettled and unsure about my work … I’m pleased to say that I now feel vastly better. I feel more in control, although little may have changed to the average onlooker! Over the weekend, I’ve:

  • Assessed various different notetaking tools, including Evernote, Onenote, Readcube, and Mendeley. I’ve not truly been happy with any of them, or rather, I’ve not been happy with how my current laptop set up is able to handle them (i.e. not very well, very slow – and thats with just a few PDFs loaded). That may change when and if I get my new computer, but I have to make the decision now for the next three years. I also feel that with these tools there’s a certain level of redundancy – I’d be typing bibliographic information into RefWorks, into a word document, and into this – its one layer of typing too many.
  • At the same time, I’ve also revised my understanding of what I think I should be achieving right now. This is partly prompted by an article of Pat Thomson’s over on Patter, the rather timely and well titled – ‘Can you do too much reading’. One very specific paragraph in there really spoke to me and made me realise that at this point, it’s not (or shouldn’t be) about taking copious notes on all the secondary literature, that’s pointless, slow and cumbersome. Rather, it’s about reading widely, jotting down the occasional note if it’s really important, but otherwise, its about recording your reactions to the material. Do I agree with them? Do I think they’ve proved their point? Are they talking rubbish, left something out? Have I spotted a gap? What’s the theme? How does this work with my project, my ideas? The specific paragraph from Thomson’s article begins: ‘Reading ought not to contaminate our thinking, but rather enhance it. Writing about what we are reading, as we are reading it, and writing about our reading in relation to our project, can go a long way to helping us sort out our own ideas, bouncing off the texts in our field.’ I feel it’s so critical I’ve copied it onto a post-it note that will eventually find a place on the wall above my desk which is where all the really critical stuff goes (and I’m very selective about what goes up there).

So, put those two together, and a suggestion from a friend on FB, means that instead I’m going all luddite and doing it with good old pen and paper. I’m going to be using a B5 notebook from Black and Red which is split into two columns, so that I can use the double-entry notetaking method (there’s a video here which is rather good on that method), and usefully, has the pages numbered, as well as a space for the date at the top. The time may come, later, for more indepth notetaking and for that I may resort to more technological methods, but we’ll see. I know one person who built an entire notetaking system for her PhD within MS Access, which I’m full of admiration for! But the handwritten books have another advantage: I can do them anywhere, as long as I have the book, a pen, and something to read, which helps with my current, rather on-the-go life.

I’ve also started something I’ve been putting off for a while, writing in my PhD journal. This is an A4 sized book, which feels massive and beautiful and clean (fellow stationery aficionados will understand this) and I’ve not wanted to write in it for fear of spoiling it, but I’ve hoiked myself up by the chinstraps this afternoon and bravely put pen to paper! This book is intended to manage the entire PhD: it has the nuts n bolts of information about the various deadlines I have to meet in the front, so I can check at a glance if I’m on course with something, as well as a research diary and a section of basic information about each and every parish in Herefordshire. I have a feeling this journal may well be worth its weight in gold by the time I finish the PhD, at least to me.

I’ve also sort of cleaned up my desk a little, although I suspect I may need to wait till the Christmas break to have a really good go at it. I did sort out some of the paperwork and coursework I’ve been sticking into a pile; sorted them into groups and filed them away in lever arch files so it all feels a bit better. That, coupled with sorting out my planning system a bit more means I feel much more in control of things ahead of the week to come. Lets hope I maintain it.

Next week I’ve more time to do the things I should be doing (reading and writing) and I hope I can make some serious inroads into the work that I should be doing. If I can do that, I think it will vastly improve my situation, and really contribute to building that foundation I was worrying about on Friday. It’s not much of a foundation yet. Maybe the foundation of the foundation. But it’s getting there, slowly!

PhD induction: Graduate School Induction

The last, but one, of the PhD induction events was today. At this point, it’s perhaps starting to drag a little, as one of my new friends said to me this afternoon. And there’s one more to go to! But for all that it was fun and I did get some information from it, so it wasn’t a total bust.

But I’m getting in advance of myself. I headed into uni early, after dropping off my partner at the station – parking at the Uni of Leicester is a nightmare at the moment (thanks to building works in the nearest car park) and getting there early to find parking is a must. While eating breakfast there I was thinking about the trip to the University of Nottingham campus yesterday and how you experience space without a map, and perceptions of space around us, how we move through it, experience it. Does space feel larger when you walk it as opposed to driving it, and when you only see part of the space? Do we overdefine spaces by boundaries in modern life, compared to our early modern or medieval predecessors who lived, largely, without maps? Is the way that we perceive and imagine space different to those early modern predecessors? I cannot help but think that we must do, because so much of our lives today are shaped by having a perceptual, overhead and map-like vision of the spaces that we move through. Who here hasn’t googled their house, understood a place that they were about to visit through google maps? Is it a common ability, now, to be able to remember what we see via digital maps, to relate where we are on the ground to an imagined mental map of the space around us? Even in a pre-digital age, I remember pouring over maps, learning to mapread, to understand the spaceand the world we live in, in relation to other spaces that we cannot yet necessarily experience because we haven’t been there. We live in a connected world – quite literally. We understand how Leicester is connected to Nottingham, the spaces that we have to move through to go from A to B. In today’s world, we can – through maps, through google, visualise the next bit of space that we can’t necessarily see, without having actually been there. In the medieval period, when people undertook pilgrimmages, maps could simply be a route, a series of places that one had to go through to go from A to B. So if I was in a small village outside Ludlow, going to pilgrimmage at Canterbury, to the Shrine of Thomas Becket, then my route map might be – small village-Ludlow-Hereford-Cheltenham-Oxford-London-Canterbury. But that’s not a direct route, not the shortest one, just the simplest one, in that there would be something like a road, a route, with signposts and people to direct you on your way. There was no need to percieve, to understand spaces in the same way that we do now. I think we’ve lost, almost, a sense of adventure, in our digital, mapped world. But then, medieval and early modern people would have totally understood and known, in a very deep and full way, their locality, their parish, the areas around them. Modern people would struggle to do this, I think. I’m a historian and I have no idea where, for example, on a very simple level, the parish boundaries are for my home. But 500 years ago people did need to know – the knowledge was imposed on them, they would ‘beat the bounds’, walk around the edge of their parishes, so that they knew, to the last inch, where their parish ended and someone else’s began. They knew where the boggy bits were in winter, where the best wild strawberries grew, where the worst wild apples were that were really only good for pigs. They understood where the safest crossing place was for a river. In short, their perception of the world, the knowledge that they considered important to know abour their locality, their imagined space, is totally different to ours. Does this mean that their world was more defined than ours? Or just defined differently? Interesting questions, all, and totally outside of my sphere of research. (and one of my former lecturers, if he was ever to read this, would probably slap his hand against his forehead and start muttering about why I didn’t think all about this during the MA….!)

After breakfast – both physical food and thinking – this morning was spent in the library. I had intended to start the bibliographic search for the positioning essay that I have to do, and I did start that, after sending rather a lot of emails (trying to sort out too much at the moment I think). In history lit reviews – at least, the ones focused on British or Irish history – one of the best places to start is BBIH, the Bibliography of British and Irish History, which is a massive database of all publications on British or Irish history, regardless of whether it’s a book or an article. Its got a powerful search tool, and to begin with I just typed in ‘Herefordshire’ and the beginning and end dates of my search period. The results were interesting and have suggested some books and articles that I need to follow up on. But what was really startling was the first result – my own name! It’s very disconcerting, seeing your name and work pop up like that when you’re not expecting it – it quite threw me for a moment. And then I did the inevitable screen grab and sent it to my mum. (Doesn’t everyone do that?)

After noting down a few books, chasing a publisher, and suggesting a book to the library for the ‘more books!’ campaign, it was time to grab a quick lunch and then head off to the Graduate School Induction. This started with a brief introductory talk from the Graduate Dean, then was followed by another brief talk on managing the student-supervisor relationship. After that we broke into groups and discussed our three biggest concerns/worries, that we had to write onto post-it notes. I got to meet some more new people, including one very nice physics student that I had a lovely chat with afterwards. My three biggest concerns were:

  1. the question of whether I should bother my supervisor with something minor (we get told so much about ‘look in the handbook! the answer’s in the handbook!’ and tales of students asking where they can find things that they’ve been told so many times before in class. All that does have an impact and I’m one of these people that prefers to be self-reliant rather than bother someone else. If anything I probably carry that too far in the wrong direction and struggle on alone when I shouldn’t.
  2. Organisation. Not of admin, or my time, but of my resources, making sure that I’ve checked every single place that I should be checking for something, checked every single available possible resource. I shamelessly borrowed this from something a friend said, they were worried about organisation in a slightly different way but in discussing it in the break, I realised that they were tapping into something that had been nagging away in the back of my brain (thank you to the friend – yes, you know who you are!).
  3. Not being good enough. I struggle with imposter syndrome and, yes, I worry that one day, I won’t be good enough. I’ve invested so much into this, emotionally, that I think if that day ever came, it might just break me. I’m really not sure how I would handle that and I think it’s something I do need to consider, not because I’m anticipating being not good enough any time soon,but because, inevitably, at some point, I will stop. Even if I continue to learn, continue to write, one day my brain will stop or just be unable to the kind of mental processing that I need it to do and I may have to live with the consequences of that.

Boy. That last one was dark! I didn’t think about it that way when I was writing it on the post-it note, but yes, that last one is definitely a big worry and probably one that many people share as well. No answers to that one but the rest of the induction was filled with advice – advice for mental health, wellbeing, information on the student’s union, various training courses that are available to us. So much to consider, to think about. It’s almost overwhelming.

The next – and absolute last (I think) – PhD induction session is on Monday, which is the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities induction. It should be interesting, and comes straight after a class on Research Design and Practice, so another very long day. Tomorrow is lunch with a friend, fitted around more historiographical lit review research, from home this time. I did my MA dissertation at the same time as this friend did theirs, so the lunch tomorrow is in the nature of a ‘hooray, we made it!’ celebration lunch! Should be fun and I’m really looking forward to a good catch up. Not going to blog tomorow – well, not unless I have any major breakthroughs in the lit review!


The First Supervision


the infamous cookies

You might think, since I’ve been quiet in blog land for the last two days, that I’ve been enjoying time off. Not a bit of it (although I will be taking next weekend off). I’ve spent the last two days nose to the computer keyboard, plugging solidly away. Part of the reason for that was the decision to hold my very first supervision meeting today, with all three of my supervisors (And while who they are is a matter of public record, I do believe in respecting their privacy, so I won’t mention them much, or by name). I have three, by the way, because when I was considering the team and my proposed project, I felt strongly that I needed an additional voice to help guide the archaeological elements that are included in the project, as well as the other two who are more focused on the documentary side of things.

This morning I was nervous, I freely admit. Daft, perhaps, but I was. Supervision meetings were new to me, and it’s not like anyone can really tell you what they’re like as they’re highly individual to the person being supervised, as well as to the supervisors themselves. I am lucky in that I know one of my supervisors fairly well – he supervised my MA dissertation. But that doesn’t negate feelings of nerves. I always want to do well, and the first meeting is important. First impressions and all that.

We went for lunch beforehand, with another PhD student. It was good to see more of the University of Nottingham’s lovely campus. Very different to Leicester – much bigger grounds – and the views are quite amazing. This is one part of the AHRC Midlands3Cities partnership that I really do like, the opportunity to visit other universities, to see different campuses and set ups. That broadening of experience is something that can only stand me in good stead, I think, in future, and prevents a certain insular perspective. It’s good to break out of the same places, the same routines and experience new things, both on a personal and a professional level.

The supervision itself went well, I think. I took cookies! I think they were appreciated (I’m taking something else next time. Don’t know what yet. We’re meeting before lunch, so I have to think imaginatively, perhaps). It seemed to set the tone for what I thought was a nice, relaxed meeting, with some laughter and some seriousness. I had some good news about my dissertation results (unofficial, so not saying anything here till it is official!) and I’ve been set an assignment to do for the next supervision, a 3,000 word essay on the historiography of Herefordshire. It’s one of the ‘positioning’ essays that they want me to write between now and Easter, there’ll be three or four of them, and it should be fun. I’m itching to get my teeth into it – and I may start researching that tomorrow. I’ve also got an abstract to write, for a CfP (call for papers – basically an application to speak at a conference), so that’s exciting too!

Tomorrow: I’m on Leicester campus all day – in the library in the morning, digging into that essay, and in the afternoon I’ll be attending the graduate school induction. Should be fun. Fingers crossed I make good progress with the research!

PhD Induction Week: The Introductory Session

You know, it’s slightly ridiculous. I’ve been studying at the University of Leicester for almost five years now, and I still get that ‘first day of school’ anxious feeling the first morning of a new course. At least, till I get onto campus. That’s what I did this morning; dropped my partner at the station (at Leicester, the station is down the road from the Uni) and then went for coffee. And sat and worked for a couple of hours, making notes, and my anxious feeling disappeared.  I guess I’m more comfortable in my role as student than I thought…

Anyway, this week is chock full of all kinds of events at the University of Leicester – it’s also Fresher’s week, so we’re dodging undergraduates and people giving us flyers for things we don’t want (one advantage to being an older mature student: they tend to assume we’re staff and don’t bother us!). I’m hoping to blog my way through this week, to give a flavour of what a PhD induction week is like – through my eyes – but we’ll see how far I get with that one. It’s a heavy week for me in terms of lipreading, and I may just find its too much work on my eyes (if you want to know what it’s like, turn the sound off on the television and try lipreading/understanding a programme on that. Exactly. and I’ve got to do 12 hours of it tomorrow). So we’ll see.

Today was the lightest day of the week, with the introduction to induction week. I got to say hello to a few of my fellow new PhD students, one of whom will be at the residential school in Birmingham tomorrow, which was nice. That was before a two hour session where a whole lot of information was thrown at us by the Postgraduate Tutor – most of it was the kind of thing you’d expect to hear in a session like this. Where to find the student handbook. Where to find this, that the other.  Some of it I’ve heard before – in my MA induction – and some of it, well, okay, a lot of it was new. Every day now, I’m getting a better idea of what the PhD is going to demand of me, a shape of the work that I’m going to have to produce over the next few months. And that’s all good. But I’m also finding out some of the fun stuff. As our Postgrad Tutor explained, this first year is the most free we’re going to be for the rest of our academic lives. Its about reading – a LOT – and engaging in lots of conversations, opening our minds to the possibilities and learning our fields. Put that way, it all sounded really exciting. It was a lovely way to start the week – we’ll have to see if the rest of the week maintains this feeling. I do expect it to at least end that way, with the introductory New History Lab session. This is the history postgraduate community at Leicester and it’s fab, warm, welcoming and they do tea and fantastic cakes! I am firmly in favour of cakes. Cakes are food for the soul, as well as the body, in my book…. but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

First – tomorrow: A very long day. The train from Leicester to Birmingham first thing, and the M3C residential school all day, with a dinner in the evening. Should be fun!

PhD status: Imminent

It’s about to start, my PhD course. I’m officially registered now, but as of Monday, I will be a probationary PhD student. I have a week of induction to get through, then the project begins. I’m excited and nervous all wrapped up in one; there’s a lot of networking to get through next week and networking is not something I’m very good at. At the moment, at least. Things always improve with practice and I’m going to be getting a lot of practice!

This course is going to be very different to anything that I’ve done before. My two previous degrees were both taught degrees: that is, there were a series of modules with assigned credits, classes that I had to show up for, assignments to complete – to above specific marks – in order to pass. In other words, a taught student, whether BA or MA, is marching to someone else’s drum. The learning is predefined, even the assignments (dissertation apart) are predefined.

A PhD, as a research degree, is completely different. The PhD is about researching, not to tell your teacher how much you know, but to push the boundaries. To provide something new, original. This graphic from Matt Might describes it very well. To put it succinctly: I’m aiming to grow a pimple on the face of human knowledge. But there are no restrictions other than the ones you, yourself, place. There are milestones that you have to hit, certain things to achieve, yes, but otherwise, this time, I’m the drummer. I’m the one leading the way, determining what my project is, what I research, and what – and even when – I submit. It’s difficult for non-academics to understand, I think, the huge difference between the two – and the terrifying emptiness, almost, that seems to herald the next three years. This time two years ago, or last year? I was busy – putting class dates, assignment due dates, into my diary. This time around? Nothing. I have induction dates. I have a date in 2019 when my funding runs out. I have a date in 2020, when I HAVE to submit my thesis by. Beyond that… nothing. The pages of my diary currently gleam as cleanly as they do on January 1st.

Having said that, I’ve been doing some reading over the last few days – of University regulations, mostly – and I’ve gained a much better idea of what is expected of me as a result. I have to pass a probationary review in a year, which involves writing a probationary review report (only 5-10k words) and face a probational review panel. I will have monthly supervisory meetings, and at the end of the second year (and third, if I have not submitted by then), a progress review report (2.5k words) and panel. I am expected to undertake a certain amount of skills and career development training – exactly what, is left to the student. And that doesn’t account for any additional things that I need to do as a Midlands3Cities student. It’s clear that I am the one who has to take responsibility for driving my learning, not just in terms of showing up, not even in terms of organising meetings (which I will have to do) but in terms of leading the meeting, in terms of being the one doing most of the talking, in terms of making sure the project Gets Done.

I can’t wait!

Next week’s induction promises to be busy. I am lucky, at least, in that it’s on familiar ground; I know where to go and I won’t be one of those people peering at a map wondering where the *bleep* XYZ room is. Monday is the initial introductory session with the Postgraduate Tutor. Tuesday I head to Birmingham, to the ICC, for a two-day residential school with M3C that promises to be extremely exhausting and SO MUCH fun! Thursday I’m back at Leicester, for more training and a school social, then Friday for yet more training and New History Lab (expect to hear more about the fantastic Lab over the next few years). The following Wednesday sees the Graduate School Induction, and then the week after, the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities Induction.

And then the project begins. I’ll have my first formal supervisory meeting, probably with all three of my supervisors, so we’re all on the same page, marching to the same drum, etc. (I’m thinking of bringing cake. 🙂 You can’t go wrong with a bit of cake, can you?). I expect to be told to go away, work on research questions, construct a timeline, begin a lit review, think about what training I need. Then report back in a month with where I am. It’s scary because it’s totally dependent on me to drive it. You have to have self-discipline in spades to do this, and it’s something that I’m going to have to learn to do (I’m not, I freely admit, very good at self-discipline. I am, on the other hand, TOTALLY excellent at procrastination). But I do have some powerful motivators for doing this and I think they’ll see me through. Help me to sit down at my desk and keep bashing at my keyboard even when it’s the absolute last thing I feel like doing.

I’m not sure, at this point, what form the blog will take over the next few months. I want to try to keep writing here; not just to share my thoughts on what I’m reading/discovering, but also to keep a track of my progress. That sort of reflective thinking, understanding where you’ve come from as well as where you’ve got to go, and where you are now, is crucial, I think, in keeping mentally healthy. (Of course, there’s more to keeping mentally healthy than just this but hey, this PhD ain’t about mental health…!) I do know one other thing though.

It’s going to be a hell of a ride. 🙂



Nose to the grindstone

My supervisor fired the gun on the MA dissertation last week; he wants a draft chapter by 5th July (and its been suggested that we submit our worst chapter). Erk. Note to self: next time he asks me when I’m thinking of submitting… say the deadline, idiot, not the middle of August!

[although, seriously, I do want a break before the PhD kicks off; I’ve got a talk to give in early September which I have to write, and a wedding to attend (not mine) as well as a 2 day training course at the end of September – I think a break will be much needed and highly valued. And if I’m honest with myself, this deadline is what I need. I work better to deadlines.]

So I’ve dusted off my PDFs of primary sources that I collected ages ago and taken an evaluative look at them. These are consistory court records from Herefordshire (from Herefordshire Archive and Record Centre or HARC, to be specific), from the 1670s, where a number of Foulkes’s parishioners took him to court over his affair with Ann Atkinson – this was in the years before the calamitous events that occurred in London and which led to Foulkes’ execution. There are ten PDFs altogether; the largest has 120 or so pages, the smallest just one. Altogether, there are something like 800 pages, which is an awful lot to try to read in a short space of time (especially given that they are handwritten). However, I do have some advantages; some 100 or so pages are in Latin and are likely to be official court documents. These I will leave for now, because a) my latin is pretty awful (at the moment) and b) I’m not sure how much is to be gained by wading through them that I cannot get from the other documents, which are all in English. These are things like lawyer’s records, notes that were passed between various people in the court (quite a few from Foulkes himself) and many, many depositions. The writing is pretty awful – I’d post a sample, but copyright does apply and I’d need to get permission from HARC – so, I thought, time to brush off the palaeography how-to notes from a module I did last year with the MA.

Surprisingly, I found that I could read something like 75-80% of the clearest document  (start with the easier one, always – it takes time and practice to ‘get the eye in’). I’ve worked through a couple of lengthy depositions from that collection, which is twenty six pages of depositions by eight people. These are what we would today call ‘statements’, with a few latin phrases, dated and signed in some way by the person giving the deposition. The first, by a chap called Richard Hopton, was one of the members of the ‘combinators’ (as they called themselves) bringing the case against Foulkes. He refers to Foulkes as ‘very contentious and quarrellsom’, says that Foulkes ‘disturb[s] their peass and quiett’. He goes on to say that Foulkes ‘had a bastard’, which was ‘begotten by him on the body of Ann Atkinson’. The second, that I have worked through so far, was by William Hopton, younger brother of Richard. He starts out by referring, like his brother, to Foulkes as ‘a quarrellsom and contentious spirit’ who was ‘endeavouring to disturb the peace and quiet of this neighbourhood and parish by threatening and abusive words’. He said that Foulkes called him ‘a sonne of a whore’, and that Foulkes would often refer to Ann’s mother, Elizabeth, as a whore and an old baud. Lovely!

There’s no real conclusion to this; other than that to reflect that the Hopton brothers seem determined to paint Foulkes in the worst terms possible (perhaps understandable, given that they were part of the conspiracy against Foulkes). There’s a but, though. There are words that I am currently unable to read; and because of that, I don’t fully understand everything that has been said in the statement. Less than ideal, obviously and a situation that I have to correct, fairly urgently.

I’ve arranged a meeting with my supervisor early next week because I think many of the words I can’t read are either abbreviations (Early Modern clerks adored abbreviations – it saved paper and ink!) or latin phrases, and I think he’ll be able to help with that. Beyond that though, its a case of nose to the grindstone to try to get some of these documents read. Not necessarily transcribed, just read. At the moment I am, of course, making notes as I go along, but that’s different to transcription, which is a word for word, letter for letter copy of exactly what is on the page but in a print format (some of the conventions adhered to by transcribers can be seen here). Transcription will have to be done eventually, as I think I will return to this case again and again – the material from this case can be used in a number of different ways. But for now, with that deadline looming, its a case of getting as much read as I can, so that in a few weeks, I can crack my knuckles and bash out a draft chapter of my dissertation.

So for now, keep reading, trying to make sense of what I can, and make notes as to the bits that I can’t read. It keeps life interesting, anyway!

… daily PhD?

… maybe not. Not so sure that particular style is working for me – as evidenced by the lack of daily posts. There is only so much one can say about reading articles after all (I may as well post my notes), and I suspect at this point that won’t change until the second year of PhD studies.

Quite how this is going to shift, I don’t know. But it is a young blog, and blogs often take a while to find their feet, to settle down into their style. I’m not too concerned about that. Maybe a weekly post would work better. Let’s try it, for now:

Monday morning was primarily spent away from my studies, catching up with a few necessities like food shopping and so on. I still have to eat! I spent the afternoon working through a few ideas for increasing the social media use and engagement of a project that I’m going to be working on, in preparation for a meeting on friday. I started to read through an article, but had to leave to collect my partner from the station before I could finish it, unfortunately. In that respect, its a forced ending to my day – 6.15pm or so, is when I more or less have to down tools. I can’t decide whether that’s a blessing or not – I suspect it both is, and isn’t.

Tuesday… Tuesday was amazingly productive actually. Every single thing on my to-do list was crossed off, plus some additionals, making for a very positive end of the day. I finished reading, and making notes on, the article from Monday. I use the Cornell notes method at the moment, which helps a lot in terms of not only getting it straight in my head what the article is about (active, rather than passive reading), but also helps me to relate the material to my own research topic. Then I made some rough notes, starting to draw together the plan for the lit review, starting to think about how to frame and position various historians and theories with relation to my research topic.

I got quite a few emails done as well, in a veritable blizzard of productivity. Some of these I had been putting off for too long, but they got back to me fairly quickly, and they turned out to be relatively painless. I did a little housework (such as the ever-eternal washing up!) and prepared for a trip to the Record Office in Wigston, on Wednesday.

Wednesday… the planned trip to the record office. I’m doing a little voluntary work as part of the Charnwood Roots Project, where I’m researching the history of stage coaches and small carriers in parishes in the Charnwood Forest area (to the North West of Leicester). I’m well overdue in doing work on this, but I’ve been looking forward to it for a while, so … time to knuckle down. I managed to make serious inroads on the trade directories, which I think will be the main source for this project, starting from 1794 and I managed to get to 1849. It seems that although the stage coaches died fairly quickly after the introduction of the railways, the small carriers, going between the parishes and the towns, survived much longer – serving the equivalent of the rural bus network today. It will be interesting to trace the services for each parish, see how much continuity there was. I’ve already seen that with coach builders, there was a continuing trade from one particular street in Leicester, for example, although the actual business changed hands at least once. I suspect, that for parishes where the same person/family did this role for decades, they would have been seen as of key importance to the parish, like the parish clergyman or school teacher – if they weren’t disreputable in other ways. I have found evidence in local newspapers, later on (latter part of the 19th Century) that the carriers sometimes had a relationship with alcohol that was, well, lets describe it as less than healthy! Anyway, I’ve scanned/photographed the relevant pages with my phone and camscanner (more about that in another post), so what needs to be done now is a) extracting the relevant information out of the trade directories into parish format, and b) organising the photographs so that they’re ready for turning over to the wider Charnwood Roots project, ready for someone else to incorporate as part of the parish histories. So that will be a day or two’s worth work – probably starting next week.

One thing that I should really note is how good it felt to get into the record office and back into primary sources. I reflected on this in a comment on this post, by someone else who is doing a DailyPhD style blog, although in the sciences rather than the humanities like me. Stewart commented on how he got ‘far too excited’ because he was doing real science (for a change, rather than other stuff) and it immediately struck home for me, because I felt the same way in the record office. Nothing quite like the smell of a record office in the morning… (!) but in all seriousness, I think most people who work as serious historians will recognise what I mean: the excitement that comes when handling old documents, primary sources, of figuring out how to make them relate to your theory, of the implications of them… For me, however, there’s the ‘ding’ moment when you find a document or something that completes the puzzle, makes your theory work, makes you understand something that you were trying to work out… how it contributes to the ding isn’t so important, but the ‘ding’ moment is this moment of incredible clarity where the world, just a little bit, a tiny little bit, suddenly makes sense, or more sense than it did before, and I just feel on cloud nine when I get that. I don’t know whether other historians feel the same way – its not something that I think most people would feel comfortable discussing!

Anyway, back to the week’s review. Thursday, I uploaded the photographs and PDFs (of the trade directories) from my phone to my laptop, so they’re in a better format for working with next week. This was easier said than done as previously I had done this on a one-by-one basis – not suitable when you’re dealing with several hundred photos! So I had to research, investigate and download a suitable app for downloading large amounts of material, and finally found one, then had to sort them out – what with one thing and another that took most of the afternoon. I also did some final preparation for Friday’s meeting, then rounded off the day with a little reading of an edited book.

The meeting on Friday went well – that was discussing a new job that I will be doing, very part time, working as a social media officer for the Leicestershire Victoria County History project. This is something I’m looking forward to getting involved with – even did a little work on it on Friday afternoon and was very happy to see results immediately, so that’s good news. I’m also hoping to put in for another part time job doing research – it all looks good on the CV and its something I enjoy doing, so why not?

Next week: More work on the social media project, applying for that other research role, more work on Charnwood Roots, starting to pull together that Lit Review, more reading, and more research work in the record office – can’t wait for that day, at least! My mother is dropping by for a cup of tea tomorrow, on the way past, so it will be good to see her too 🙂