struggling a bit

Part of the problem with studying like this is the isolation. Perhaps it’s self-imposed to a certain extent. I mean, I could choose to go into the university library and work there but I’ve never liked working in libraries very much. I prefer to get what I need asap and get home again. But at the same time, I do need a certain amount of human interaction – which puts a fair bit of pressure on my partner to be nice when he comes home, and if he comes home all tired and grumpy (as last night) then I can rapidly wind up spiralling into a down mood.

After a weekend off, yesterday was spectacularly non-productive in studying terms (productive elsewhere though). Today has been a tad better; I proofread a really good introductory chapter for a fellow MA student, and then did some reading around the issue of communication support at conferences; this is a particularly hot topic at present given that the International Congress for the Education of Deaf People has, once again, not supplied deaf delegates with interpreters. You would think, 135 years after the 1880 Milan Conference that slammed the door shut on the use of sign language for educating deaf children, that nothing has changed. Well, perhaps it has – changes are afoot and that can only be a good thing, and I watch with interest.

I also signed up for an online discussion on the subject of public participation for researchers, they have a panel which they will ask a range of questions from the audience and which they are filming, all done through google’s hangouts. A sort of combination of TED and AMA. Very cool, all done through I contacted the organiser to ask about deaf access, she offered – at the very least, the transcript (which I was happy enough with) and, prompted by a new awareness, started digging into technological solutions that might help to improve access for deaf people. Makes me feel better about the academic world when I get a response like this – a ‘Can Do!’ rather than a ‘will not’.

I also did some thinking about how to address the question, which almost inevitably will be asked, in response to my PhD proposal, why should we fund this, given that there are already existing studies covering the same subject in different areas? What is different about yours? I realised that I can’t answer that in the sense of “its different because the results will show XYZ” – because, clearly, I can’t do 3 year’s research in several months. But what I can do is to examine the differences between the counties that the existing studies have focused on, and Herefordshire, and try to ascertain if there’s something special, unique about Herefordshire, that may allow me to reasonably argue that the outcome will be different. So. That’s another thing to add to the to-do list – bone up on Herefordshire, everything from the landscape to the underlying geology, economic structures, people, cities/towns…. and so on.

And now to collect my partner from the station and then come home and do dinner. Another day almost gone…!

one step in front of another

I’m finally at a point in Coward where I feel like things are falling into place much better. The big questions of the period – Was the Civil War inevitable? What were the causes? – are becoming apparent, and the principle theories are slowly revealing themselves. What is also slowly revealing itself are the reasons why I have struggled with this period previously. Before now, if anything was mentioned post 1603, my mind just shut down, and I stopped thinking, learning, engaging. Anything to do with James or Charles or Cromwell or the Civil War.. nup. not interested. Bye bye….

And now all I can think of is how incredibly short-sighted I was. I think part of the problem may have been Children of the New Forest, the 1847 classic by Captain Frederick Maryyat. This was a much loved book as a child, and I always condemed the nasty roundheads for taking away the Beverley children’s home and parents, and killing that heroic King Charles! It firmly prevented me from even wanting to understand the parliamentarians, much less the Godly (aka Puritans), and I never really looked past the stereotype of kill-joy, aescetic boring bible-thumpers.

However, I’m now pushing that to one side. I understand the Godly better, why predestination was so key to them (which always seemed slightly ridiculous to me, the whole idea of the Elect and the Damned, it just didn’t seem to give people any kind of incentive to behave well, you know? and now I get it – if you behaved badly then you were the Damned anyway, because the Elect would never behave in that way to begin with). More importantly I understand where it came from, from Ephesians II:8, in a letter by St. Paul: ”For it is by His grace that you are saved, through trusting him: it is not your own doing. It is God’s gift, not a reward for work done’. I understand why the Elizabethan and Jacobean Church was so Calvinist and how this got changed to become the Church of England that we know today. Reading of the battles that they had over the moving and railing off of communion tables, from a central location to the east, where they are now, understanding how that happened, its led a lot of things to fall into place and I feel somewhat happier as a result.

More importantly, I’m starting to fall in love with this period. There’s always a certain element of a hump for me to overcome when I first start researching something. When everything is new and it’s hard work and then all of a sudden you’ve got the basics down, and further reading is about slotting things into that framework and it becomes much easier. I find the fascination, it becomes less of a chore and more of a joy. Today marks the point of the joy (although the chore may well return) and I fell in love with the Stuarts. I’m at that point where I don’t want to put my book down. I’m engaged with the people, the events, and I want to keep reading to find out what happens next. That curiosity.. that is what always drives me as a historian. I want to know – what happened to that little guy who got swept up in the big events? What happened to his wife and children? Why did this happen? What did he think about it, was he supportive, completely behind it or was he forced into action? What did his wife think? The other people around him? Did they agree? History is made up of the decisions of individuals, the beliefs, actions and relationships of people and it is that that fascinates me. That actually brings me on to what I think the other reason why I may have failed to engage with this period before now is to do with how it got sold to me as a child: previously, it had been a very high politics approach – Kings, court, politics. Nothing wrong with that – its that that grabs me about the Tudor period – but … I don’t know. The Tudor period is full of women in one way or another, from around 1509, and it was those that I engaged with – the Stuart period, by contrast, is much more devoid of women. James and Charles just didn’t have the same glamour, the same bling, I suppose, to a restless, hyperactive intelligent child, as Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. It was their relationships that I adored – Anne’s with Henry, Elizabeth’s with Robert Dudley. Yes, I’m a romantic at heart, I suppose!

I had a lovely email too today from a fellow historian, who is working in the medieval period. He’d actually been chatting to a friend of my mother’s who got totally the wrong end of the stick about what I’m doing and what my primary research interests are, and I got a very garbled message to contact this chap on this address about a conference. Although I had to put him straight on what I actually was doing a lovely conversation has developed out of that and he’s now reading some of my work, which makes me happy.

I’m also one month into the two month or so wait for news on whether the journal will accept my article This has developed out of work done for my undergrad dissertation, but substantially improved since then, and I am very hopeful it will succeed (and if it does, it will be published in October). It is also the same subject I am delivering a paper on at the conference in November so .. fingers crossed!

Right. time to have an ice-lolly and write my shopping list – a trip to the supermarket beckons as the fridge is getting a bit empty!

much better

the temperature today has been much better, although I remain very tired due to not sleeping well last night with the heat. I actually fell asleep for 10 minutes this afternoon, sprawled across Coward’s book! I made myself a coffee and felt better. We had a bit of rain and a new front seems to have swept in since around 5pm and it feels much better. Almost cold!

Yesterday, just as I was leaving, I had some bad news – a request for communication support for a conference was turned down. Illegally so, as it’s part of the Equalities Act that reasonable adjustments must be made to allow disabled people to access education. I’ve had to refer the matter to the disability support unit at the university, so I have every confidence that something will be done to fix matters, but it is still upsetting. I felt very angry and disillusioned last night. Thankfully a chat with a fellow deaf PhD student on the subject helped to encourage me a bit, pick myself up a bit, and I feel more determined today. I just have to wait for a few other things to happen then I’ll return to the fore.

I finished 101 Top Tips for PhD Students today. Very short and sweet but a lot of really useful tips. A few I wish I’d known before today but, ah well. C’est la vie. I finished another part of Coward. I feel much more informed now, of the events that led up to the 1640s and what did (and, more importantly didn’t) contribute to the war of the 1640s. Tomorrow I have a few notes to make and then I hope to dive into the British Civil War!

just too hot

at 33*C…. its just too hot. I hope it cools down soon as it’s so difficult to maintain any kind of focus in this heat. I managed to get some notes done on the Coward book; I just need to press on with it.

On the plus side, I did pick up a new PhD-how-to book – 101 Top Tips for PhD Students by Professor Iain H. Woodhouse, available as a kindlebook from amazon (thanks to #DailyPhD‘s recommendation). I’ve not gotten very far through it at this point, but so far its very good, very easy to read and I’ll be able to plough through it quickly I think.  I’m realising the importance of planning – but not just planning. Its easy to say, for example, that for my PhD proposal I need to do some reading, to do a lit review of the material in my field, and that I need to write X number of words on this by the end of July. But this is actually really difficult to achieve because its not measurable, definable. How many books should I read? of what standard? How many articles? What is the aim of the lit review? Given I have just a month left to write it, I think its important that some decisions are made on this. I’m not sure an arbitrary number is a wise choice. I certainly have to include some form of bibliography with the proposal but they are looking for quality over quantity, so reading every single book/article going on the subject would not be smart. I think, too, that different reading patterns need to apply for different books. Books like Spaeth’s Church in an Age of Danger, since they so closey correlate to my proposed field of study, need more extensive reading than, say, J. A. Sharpe’s Early Modern England, and it may be smart to group them accordingly.

I had an email back from the conference organiser that I had contacted to ask about communication support. He made it very clear that they weren’t set up to arrange it but if I knew someone who could come along to interpret, that they would do what they could to facilitiate things – facilitiate being very vague! I’ve had some discussions with the disability support person at the uni, who has made it clear that in this case, and under the Equality Act, the onus is on the institution to sort out communication support, so I’ve written back to the conference organiser to explain that yes, I know interpreters, but they need paying, so… we’ll see what he says. Fingers crossed he writes back with a “no problem, organise it and send us the invoice”, but we’ll have to see.

I never did get that siesta, but since downstairs at home is very much cooler than upstairs (where my office is) I’m going to go downstairs with my new book and relax in the relative coolness … and hope the temperature drops tonight!

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!