… 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 🙂

best intentions

Well… I started out with good intentions at least! Today has proved to be a bit of a bust. My partner woke me at 4.30am, telling me he needed to go to hospital. Thankfully, after some discussion, we agreed that he didn’t need to go after all, that he would wait and try to see the doctor at 8.30am. I tried to get him comfortable and eventually managed to get another hour or so myself, but it wasn’t really enough. As a result I’ve been struggling to stay focused more or less all day – and partner being here all day, and with him needing to be looked after, meant it has not been the most productive of days.

I managed to do some reading on my current book, Church in an Age of Danger: Parsons and Parishioners, 1660-1740, by Donald A. Spaeth. I’m not sure it was the best book to start with: my knowledge of the religious situation in the post restoration period isn’t that great – in fact, my knowledge of the religious situation post 1603 isn’t great, never mind 1660. I’ve got a lot of work to do to feel as proficient in the period 1603-1740 as I do in the sixteenth century. Having said that, its a good book. Spaeth writes well and he’s introduced some of the issues, explaining how different historians have seen the church in the period, and in the immediate period after 1740. His work is useful, too, for chasing down other historians and what they’ve written. I’m not sure I’m going to get all the reading done before the PhD proposal needs to go in, but then, there is always another book to read, a source to chase. However, what I’ve read so far has triggered some thoughts about the way that the Reformation and religious history is viewed by different historians, the different takes on the established Church. I need to do substantially more reading but it seems to me at the moment that it is a mistake to try to view religious changes in a short space of time – that it is necessary to view the changes over the longue duree – even if the focus remains on a relatively small area. I’m sort of envisioning, at the moment, clergy-parishioner relationships through time, like two boats on a river held together by a pole. Periodically one or the other of the two boats will be subject to forces, either pulling or pushing, from either side of the ‘river’, which will place the pole under pressure, and may send the boats spinning chaotically while they try to absorb the impact of the forces. Sometimes a pole snaps, and a boat sinks – to be replaced by another, but you rarely get one boat alone. Hmm. that’s a useful analogy. I may have to rememeber that one – although, of course, it is very possible that my view of it will change as I read my way through the literature.

I also did a little bit of job search today (updated my CV, that sort of thing), sent a couple of emails, and checked out an issue with a paper I have to give in November – I suddenly wondered, last night, whether you have to actually submit the written document that you plan to present at a conference to the organisers. It seems that’s not the case, but I’ve got some useful notes out of just checking it wasn’t – they’ll come in handy come September/October when I’m preparing for it. I had an email to say that an article of mine has been accepted – not an academic article, but a general one for a blog site that has nothing to do with my academic work, but I’m pleased with that. My writing is getting credited, so its all good news.

Otherwise, a friend popped around with his small son. It was good to see him, and have a chat – although more time away from the books. But I don’t mind really – today’s been such a bust that it didn’t make much difference. On another day I might have been more abrupt.

I was going to go to the Uni library tomorrow but today being such a bust means I’ve changed my mind. I’ve a routine appointment on Wednesday morning at the hospital so I’ll probably go in after that instead. See if a friend wants a coffee and a natter. I feel that I need to get out and have a chat with a fellow academic at least once a week – it helps keep the spirits up, keep the focus where it needs to be. I’m determined to finish Spaeth’s book tomorrow – that way I can look at getting some of the books that I’ve earmarked from his footnotes that I think may be useful.