One of the best things about the taught MA is that, like a BA, you get to work on a number of smaller projects in the run up to the mighty dissertation (a meaty 20,000 words rather than the 10,000 at BA level). This introduces a level of variety that I, for one, really enjoy. In the last two years I’ve worked on the medieval landscapes of Ludlow and its environs; the relationship between Thomas, Lord Coningsby and the town of Leominster; a project evaluating what a small country churchyard in the south of Shropshire can reveal about the community and culture of the parish it serves; and finally, a project asking what Joyce Jeffrey’s Household Accounts could reveal about her local identity. Each of these has resulted in a document numbering around 5,000 words and each one has been great fun to research and write – the bigger word count means there’s more room to play with and to explore complex themes. Continue reading
As part of my MA dissertation I’ve been researching the case of Robert Foulkes, and I gave a paper on a part of my research at the University of Leicester’s School of History Postgraduate Conference on May 17th. The full title was ‘Every step thou makest in sin, brings thee in greater danger’: The penitential sermon of Robert Foulkes‘, and I’d like to write a little bit about that paper here.
I’ve written about Robert Foulkes before, and his affair with Ann, and the dreadful circumstances that led him to commit murder. In the paper I gave, I focused on two different theories around execution, and explored which I thought Robert Foulkes’s case might be more relevant towards. Continue reading
I’m not doing very much primary source research at the moment. Instead, I’m caught up in a round of presentations of various kinds, and the work that I’m doing on my PhD proposal (along with some background research on assignments I have due). I’m okay with this, mostly because I know that soon I’ll get back to the happy state of working with primary sources (I’m due to dive into the archives in a couple of weeks, in fact). But I want to seize this moment to discuss writing.
Since March 2014, the last 18 months, I have written up the same piece of research in seven different ways. I wrote it originally as my undergraduate dissertation, with an abstract, of course. Six months later, I rewrote it as a journal article. That was rejected, and after some painful review, I began to understand where I’d gone wrong, and I rewrote it, six months later, and submitted it to another journal. To my delight, this was accepted, and after revisions, will be published next January. In October, I presented a short talk on my research to the general public. In November, yesterday, in fact, I delivered a conference paper based on it, to my peers and superiors. In a few weeks, I shall be delivering an extended version of that to a local history society, at their AGM. A few days after that, I shall deliver a second, slightly edited round of the general public talk. I have been asked to do at least two more public talks to larger audiences as well, over the next year and a bit.
While I am very happy that my research, and presenting style is such a hit, I’m not writing this in a congratulatory sense (well, maybe a little bit. Can you blame me?). Rather, what I want to explore is the ways in which these pieces of writing are so different from each other, despite all being on the same subject, and how I have deliberately adjusted each bit of writing to match the audience expectations, knowledge, and also the demands of the piece.
Part of the process of studying at this level is gaining a great understanding and mastery of self, in a number of different ways. This can mean things like the skills that you will gain that are transferrable to other situations (e.g. research skills). It can also mean a greater understanding of what makes you as a person, tick, and gain more self-confidence and selfworth.
I think I wrote before that a request for communication support for a conference had been turned down last week. While that situation is still not resolved, I finally realised last night quite why that has affected me so badly (not helped by two nights of very bad, fitful sleep). It very much ties into imposter syndrome: when you’ve spent years quite convinced that at any moment the uni will write, regretfully, that a mistake was made, that you have to leave, anything that provides a setback plays into that. That is particularly the case with this, which is connected to my deafness. There is a very long history of deaf people being told that we cannot do things (we can’t read, we shouldn’t sign, as doing so makes us look like performing monkeys, and so on), and being told “no” in such a way really plays into that history. In addition, it comes at a time when I’m waiting to hear whether a journal will take my first article and when I’m trying to pull together a PhD proposal. Right now, I’m getting achingly close to being able to achieve my dreams. When you’ve spent so long, and worked so hard on, trying to achieve those dreams, the thought of actually not achieving them is incredibly threatening. I really cannot overemphasise that.
Understanding this is half the battle; I am now putting things into place to try to stop it having quite such an effect on me, including having the above picture on the wall above my computer. What also helps is that yesterday I received an email from a contact in Herefordshire, asking me to come and deliver an hour long talk on an aspect of my research into Leominster’s history at their AGM in November, to 60 people. This will be the first time I’ll have spoken this long and it was with a lot of trepidation this morning that I wrote the email accepting his offer. And yes, I have declared my deafness (although I think they knew already). There will be room for questions afterwards so I had to. I’ve given them two options, one fun and informal (and cheap!), the other costly and more formal. We’ll see which they go for.
So today has been taken up with admin this morning, chasing people for various things, and this afternoon I’ve been getting into civil war politics in Coward. Fun! One foot in front of the other and keep b*ggering on, as Churchill would say.
Sometimes its all you can do. Pick yourself up after the knock downs.. and.. keep b*ggering on. I should have that printed on a T-shirt!
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!
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!
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!
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!