How not to finish a chapter

A quick picture about my current silly state of affairs. Not scanned because why buy a scanner and scan things nicely when you can just take bad photos on your phone.

Always blame your problems on Poseidon

You could also add ‘desire to draw pictures about this’ to the list.


When monographs attack

Quick note: I spent ages trying to think of an appropriate title, and I couldn’t, so I defaulted to a tried-and-tested formula. Apparently I’m not allowed to use said formula for the title of my thesis, which I feel is unfair.

I’m an idiot, perhaps this is why I can’t read books

Let us imagine a book. The book deals with some very interesting texts and makes some fascinating points about them. The author displays impressive depth of knowledge and their research is very thorough. This book is, I’ll be honest, a real book, and I’m getting the nice stuff out of the way so I can devote the rest of this blog post to why I hated it.

I do feel bad about this. I’m not going to name the author, publisher, topic, etc. And like I say, there were some damn good things in it. But what frustrated me, what led me to scrawl angry pencil all-caps notes on my notepad (being temporarily computerless in the library due to an unfortunate but comical tripping-over-while-carrying-my-laptop incident) was the fact that said good stuff was buried under a mountain of bloody obfuscation.

The writing was not good. Lord knows, this is not a crime, and I’m not prepared to start throwing stones in the direction of another person’s academic style without good reason. What annoyed me about it was not its occasional clunkiness – man, at times my writing is so clunky it reads like travelling on the Hammersmith and City line on a Saturday – but the ways in which it seemed purposefully difficult. The style was very self-consciously ‘academic’. Rhetorical terms and philosophical concepts were not always explained. Sentences were long and loopy. Most notably, the writer quoted extensively in multiple languages. As well as long quotations, there were a flurry of short embedded ones in the body of the text. No translations were offered. 

I’m used to early modern authors doing this, but this was published a few years ago. Mate, this ain’t the Republic of Letters, and you’re not Erasmus. I am glad you are comfortable and confident operating in multiple languages. I am impressed, and I wish I was as good as you clearly are. Such evident skill must be a boon to you as a scholar. But if the point of your book is to communicate your ideas, rather than simply to demonstrate your abilities, I don’t think your ‘no translations’ policy helps.

I know, I am a terrible colonialist eejit and showing my privilege, etc. But look, the book was in English. If it was in French or Urdu this objection would still apply. It seems like basic good practice to me: if you quote something in a language other than the one your work is in, offer a translation of that text into the language your book is in. If your book is in Swedish, translate it into Swedish. If your book is in English, translate it into English. Include the original as well, so people who have the skills to read it can do so (and, y’know, judge you). By writing in English you send out a message that this book can be read by people who can read English. If you have objections to Anglophone cultural hegemony (which would be perfectly reasonable), write in a language of your choice. This particular book was about English texts, so it made sense for it to be in English.

It would be great if all of us who embark on studies of early modern texts could fluently and confidently read, and communicate in, the varied array of languages that our subjects do. I think it’s absolutely key to think of early modern texts in terms of international, multilingual contexts, where texts and ideas and people are all moving and changing and being translated… And I am well aware that native English-speakers, especially those from Britain, are proverbially rubbish at operating in other languages. Not all of us, that is – hello fellow native English-speakers, many of you are brilliant at other languages – but there’s a stereotype that we’re bad at this, and that stereotype’s not entirely untrue. Full disclosure: I find languages difficult, and I get hideously embarrassed by my own failings in them. I mean, when you meet people from other countries, and they speak English, and then they apologise for not knowing a word or something… gawd. I want to drop to my knees and cry ‘Please forgive me, I can’t even order a beer in your language without making an almighty tit of myself.’


Such failings are often blamed on our frankly risible approach to language teaching in this country, of which my school career could be seen as an undistinguished example. I didn’t study French at secondary school because my school took the practical approach of dividing the year in two when we arrived and teaching half of the kids French, half German. Hence why I can yammer ungrammatically in German to reasonable effect but get nervous when I have to order a sandwich in French. Really nervous. Especially in Paris, where they look at me with deep-seated loathing and then fill my baguette with tuna regardless of what I thought I ordered. This is not a euphemism.

I certainly didn’t study Latin or Greek. I don’t want to get particularly class-war about this but just to note that if you learn something as a child that makes you more likely to be confident approaching it as an adult. I’m not going ‘oh woe is me my school didn’t offer classical languages’ because 1. I know it’s heresy but I reckon learning how to decline Latin verbs is probably of limited use to most people, and 2. Given how we reacted to quadratic equations I have a really vivid idea of how well my classmates and I would have taken to ‘Quintus est in horto’. But just to say that, when I studied Latin during my Master’s, those who had studied it at school were leaps and bounds ahead of those of us who hadn’t.

This isn’t unfair – they had worked hard and deserved the skills they had. The onus was on us to improve, as it should be. I don’t want to blame my rubbishness at languages on my perfectly good secondary school, because I believe I have more responsibility for my education than that. As an adult I’ve worked to get better, especially at things I need for work. In practice, this means that I’m far better at reading other languages than speaking them (fairly standard, I think) and I use a dictionary and grammar a lot when I read. I’m not arguing – at least, I hope I’m not arguing – that I don’t think people should write in a particular way because it’s inconvenient to me and people should dance to my monolingual, Anglophone tune.

My point is that it is quite likely that someone picking up a work of history may well not have had the same education that its writer had. Just as my excellent Latin teachers made their teaching accessible to us Latin dunces as well as challenging the star pupils, the writer may need to include supportive apparatus to open up their work to those who have a different knowledge base to themselves.

Is that possible? Of course it’s not always possible. When you’re deeply into a topic it’s easy to forget that others may not know and may not even care what the Schmalkaldic League was and thus that just dropping in unglossed references to it is not a particularly nice thing to do to, e.g., your flatmate who has agreed to read your chapter. You need to balance explaining what needs to be explained without patronising or irritating your readers. But you’ve gotta think about the readers, right?

The problem is that when you publish something, you’re addressing unknown numbers of readers with unknown sets of skills. It is not out of the realms of possibility that someone who cannot read a particular language might pick up this book. Especially as it purports to be on English texts. And it is not out of the realm of possibility that that person might not care enough about what the writer might be saying to work out their own translations. And I would argue that that’s not some terrible failing on the part of the reader. They probably have other stuff to do. They may not have all the skills and prior knowledge that the writer has, but they probably have some the writer doesn’t. The writer should have just added the translations they are clearly capable of doing.

Quality image editing there

Quality image editing there

I’ve chosen the translation issue because I think it’s the most visible symptom of a general sense I got from this book – that it was aimed at people with a particular range of skills and prior knowledge, and not at anyone else, and that it didn’t need to be like this because argh why. Very basic changes – including translations, explaining terminology – could have made it far more accessible. The ideas contained within it are powerful ones, and the texts discussed deserve to be better known than they currently are. This book was not the best means of communicating either, in my view. More than that: whether the writer meant to or not, they very clearly included some readers in their intended readership, and excluded others. Opening a book and finding that one cannot even read the main body of the text, let alone the longer quotations, without knowledge you don’t have or at least several dictionaries sends a clear message: that this book and this topic is not for you. I’m not saying that academic work should be ‘dumbed down’ to appeal to some cackhanded notion of a lowest common denominator, but that writing clearly and accessibly should be part of what we, as academics, do. I read the book. But I’m a stubborn 4th-year PhD student fairly sure of what I know, with some knowledge of the languages quoted and a long history of reading overcomplex prose. I would not have reacted the same way if I’d opened that book during my MA.

Gonna put this on the first page of my thesis.

Gonna put this on the first page of my thesis.

I griped about all this to a friend of mine who said, rather reasonably, that it was the publisher’s responsibility to make sure edits were made. I don’t, in honesty, think the publisher was particularly proactive. There were a LOT of typos. There were some funny formatting issues. In short, it didn’t appear that much editing had been done.

I know that publishing monographs is the thing you’re expected to do in order to have an academic career. But the idealist in me persists in believing that, as well as getting on that ol’ professional ladder and contributing to the REF and all that malarkey, you do this because you want to communicate ideas. Isn’t that what we do? Isn’t writing a communicative exercise? Do we value the demonstration of cleverness, or do we value what that cleverness lets us communicate? And when we communicate, do we just want to be talking to ourselves  and to people with similar skills and educational backgrounds to ourselves – or to people who know different things and bring different prior knowledge and understanding to their reading? In other words, are we gatekeeping our own little ivory towers, patrolling the boundaries of our own academic discourse and engagement, or are we opening the gates wide and whacking down the drawbridge and going ‘Hey! Come on in! We’ve slain that dragon you were worried about and we’re going to have a feast! You’re all invited’? It is possible I have run far too far with that metaphor.

My point is, though, that we have a choice, both in our own writing and how we approach others. I’ve fallen into the trap before of being intimidated by ‘difficult’ writing and the display of skills I’m less than confident in, when in actual fact many of the most accomplished people I know are fantastic at communicating complex ideas clearly and accessibly. It is not that hard to communicate things without being scary or patronising. It isn’t necessary, if you know something or can do something, to implicitly punish your readers for not knowing it or not being as good at it as you. Just help ’em out. Open things up. Your reader might be so fascinated by what you have to say, and/or by the texts you’re quoting, that they might go away and have a go at them themselves (I’ve done this more times than I can count). But you need to get them interested in the first place, not scare them off.

At the heart of this is the main issue you face as soon as you step beyond the boundaries of the familiar, whether into another discipline, or another vernacular, or simply into more detailed exploration of issues you haven’t investigated before. Basically, there are many things to know and a lot of skills to gain, and you will probably not be able to gain them all. My PhD bibliography is crammed with books that represent years of people’s lives – skilled, brilliant people. The notion that I could possible ‘master’ all the topics they work on is insane – Casaubon-from-Middlemarch-insane – and monumentally arrogant. The work of other scholars has opened up history and literature for me and made it possible for me to work on my little corner, and for me to be able to relate my little corner to bigger things. I’m madly grateful for the books in my bibliography (not to mention the people who have taught me, because that’s a whole other hugely long post) because everything I do, I’m able to do because people with levels of skill and knowledge that I don’t have have used those skills and communicated that knowledge in ways I can access.

Mainly because he is eminently attractive. I mean, c'mon.

Mainly because he is eminently attractive. I mean, c’mon.

In order for scholarly progress to be made we need to bring our various skills to the table and share them and use them, but in a way that aids our peers rather than scares them off. Scholarly progress – especially now that we’re all interdisciplinary – requires co-operation, and it also requires awareness that very few people can hold in their heads all the skills and knowledge they need to do such work to the level that they need them. You do better interdisciplinary and international work if you don’t try to do it all yourself but share your knowledge and expertise with others and encourage them to share in return. Academia does not consist of people with identical sets of skills – and academic writing should reflect that.

Just what the internet needs: another rant about the Oscars

Quick note: sorry there aren’t illustrations. I actually can’t bring myself to draw pictures on the topic that this post is about.

Also, a warning: I swear quite a bit in this one.

So I am being a final year PhD student rather more than a blogger. I probably should’ve  anticipated that. Anyway, no apologies for that, because you’ve probably got too much to read anyway, right? I did have a post all fired up and ready to go, but I keep going away, coming back, and finding I disagree with myself. Which is rather like how the entirety of the PhD has gone, come to think of it.

Meanwhile, this isn’t the promised screed about being in my fourth year and whatever. Rather, it’s super topical, because like 9o% of the internet right now this is a poorly-thought out post prompted by an Oscars ceremony I didn’t watch at the time (I live in England, and damned if I’m staying up for it. I watched clips the next morning, like a sane person). Obviously, because I am a human being with a brain, most of what happened at the Oscars pissed me off. I am extremely glad that I don’t have to explain this whole stupid media circus to any children/alien visitors who happened to land at a really unfortunate time because I do not know how I would explain the logic behind a whole heap of things, including why the Onion were pointlessly horrible and a bunch of mouth-breathers on the internet decided that this was fine because chucking hate-speech at little girls is ‘free speech’ , and why Anne Hathaway won one of the highest accolades of her profession but people were all like ‘waaaah she FAILED’ because the person who designed her dress put some unfortunately-placed darts in it. What the FUCK, humanity. You and me, we’re on a break.

Incidentally, I do not understand the desire to enlighten the world about the fact that you, Anonymous Internet Arsehole, dislike a particular famous person. Um, what? Why would we care? Why do you care? Did Anne Hathaway come round your house in her pink dress and graffiti obscenities all over the walls or something? Why do you have to share an opinion on her? Can’t you just watch her films or not watch her films (and share your opinions on her acting if you have to), but keep whatever issues you have with her looks, or the personality you assume she has, off the internet? If I ran the internet, I would institute this basic rule:

  • Things you can write hateful screeds about: Objects. Foodstuffs. Systems. For example: ‘I really hate the Hammersmith and City line, because it’s always late’. ‘I hate drinking Bailey’s because I feel like a misbehaving babysitter’. Etc).
  • Things you can’t write hateful screeds about: Actual people, or generalisations about people (e.g. ethnicities, genders, sexualities, nationalities, professions, etc). For example: ‘I hate all bankers’ (oh, great. Yes, look, an acceptable bogeyman. Tell me, sir or or madam, have you met everyone who works in, or for, a bank?). ‘Ugh, I really hate Jennifer Lawrence. I know everyone likes her but she’s really fake’ (WHAT THE SHIT, HONESTLY. Have you met her? Or, indeed, to take a different tack: Do you believe that, interviewed by the world’s media, you wouldn’t put on some form of social act? Do you believe that you don’t do this at work, or on the phone? Would you be at the Oscars scratching your arse through tracksuit bottoms?)

Anyway – again, because I am a human being with a brain – I was not impressed with bloody Seth McFarlane and his tiresome sexist shtick. I heartily recommend you read Lindy West’s Jezebel piece if you haven’t already because it’s fantastic, though obviously don’t scroll down into the flyblown post-apocalyptic wasteland of comments below. Seth McFarlane and his goddamn boobs song and joking that Jennifer Aniston used to be a stripper and argh. 

I understand that McFarlane ‘does’ outrage, and that if he hadn’t everyone would have gone ‘They hired Seth McFarlane, and they got Billy Crystal!’ and thought they were really witty for saying it. But I’ve read funnier things carved into exam desks at secondary school. Really, I have. The exam desks at my school were decades-old palimpsests of stoner comedy genius. McFarlane’s comedy was of a level where my peers might have considered carving it on a desk, but eventually decided it wasn’t up to standard. And yes, mocking people is funny, but not ‘ha ha women and boobs right? Huh? They nag! They have boobs! George Clooney shags ’em!’ all blooming night. Someone should’ve reminded him that the Oscars celebrate women as well as men, and not just the two bits of their bodies that stick out from their chests.

Anyway, all these happy happy sexist lols reminded me of something that happened to me, a while ago. Once I was in a meeting with senior professional colleagues with whom I had recently started working, and one of them made a joke which implied I was a sex worker. Actually, it wasn’t dreadful. No-one else joined in or laughed. No-one made me present an award afterwards, or come in a week earlier to film a reaction shot, and no-one wrote snarky shit about my outfit in the next day’s newspaper. Some of my peers were there, and they were nice to me after the meeting ended.

I didn’t do anything about it, for better or worse. I didn’t want to rock the boat, and I got on alright with the man who made the comment who was, I imagine, thinking ‘Ha ha! A joke!’ rather than ‘Ha ha! Let’s oppress this person! Viva patriarchy!’ I remain unscarred by the experience. It didn’t make me feel unwelcome in that workplace, or in the profession.

HOWEVER. It shook me the fuck up. I didn’t say anything in the meeting, and afterwards I had to talk it through with my friends. I ain’t a wilting flower and I live in a city so I hear worse than it when I go to the shops, but it was so blindingly inappropriate that it made me feel, if only for twenty minutes or so, shit and embarrassed and shamed in front of people I respect. By someone I respect. Not because I thought he was being nasty, or because I thought anyone would think his joke referred to my actual life choices (incidentally: nothing wrong with being a sex worker, if that’s your uncoerced choice. It’s simply that it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say). But because he had the power and authority in that room, and I didn’t.

I don’t imagine I’ll attract any bleating ‘men’s rights’ folk to this blog, but I guess if some do show up, they might be going ‘but that’s not a gender thing! Men get put down and bullied too!’ right about now (actually, probably ‘what are you moaning about? Gawd woman it’s just a joke’. But go with me here). To which I’d reply, ‘Honey, I don’t think the man in question would have joked at the six-foot guy sitting next to me about the cheapness of his sexual services’. However, my imaginary men’s rights advocates aren’t exactly wrong. This is, as feminists are insanely fed up of telling people, about power and privilege. Sexist comments are one way to demonstrate that power and privilege, to put people in their place. What you get a lot, right now, as a woman, is constant and insidious reminders that you are essentially worth what a man will pay you for sex, complete with gleeful boastings that he got you on the cheap, or that he ‘saw your boobs’ as a free gift with a cinema ticket. When Seth McFarlane says these things with a microphone on a stage or a colleague says them in a meeting in which he (or she) holds the power they are demonstrating their ability to talk, and in doing so shape the means by which others are judged, and the inability of those others to answer back. Other examples of people abusing their power and privilege are also shit and should also not happen.

Essentially: if you have power over someone, if you can speak in situations where they can’t, or where they feel less comfortable speaking – don’t make nasty jokes about them. Don’t use your microphone or your pay packet or the letters after your name to be an arse to people without microphones, or with smaller pay packets, or with fewer letters after their name.

I mean, don’t be an arse to people anyway. Even if you really hate that one actress. Just get a flipping hobby or something.

Quick extra note: in case you now hate humanity, I have decided to put one picture at the end of this post. It is a picture of Captain Hastings from Poirot, which I drew ages ago. I don’t think I’ve posted it before. I’m putting it here because Hastings is brilliant and watching old-school Poirot is a good way to feel better about people. Aside from all the murder that happens, that is. Er. Anyway!

Let's all try to be nice, like Hastings is

That Fourth-Year Feeling I: The World of Work

OR the final countdown, how people in Hampstead don’t buy nuts, and the tiniest Hobbit spoiler (for the film, that is) you ever did see. Also, an obvious gif.

Firstly, I apologise for the horrible quality of the pictures here. Still no scanning technology (I should probably go out and buy some) so they’re rubbish phone photos. Secondly, sorry there’s so few of them. I got bored, and fed up of stupid brown pictures.

I am in a seriously odd position at the moment. Possibly an unprecedented one, or at least one I wasn’t expecting. I am in my fourth year of a PhD, going into the second term. I still have a whole heap of stuff to do to it. I have plenty of teaching, too. I filled much of the previous term with conference organisation, marking, and illness.

But against all the odds (sorry. I have been watching David Attenborough documentaries this new year and that sort of phrase seems to crop up a lot), I appear to be enjoying my PhD. In this I am being crazy and out-of-character and possibly delusional. I’m sure I will crash down to earth with a bump at some point (probably the point at which someone actually reads my recently-completed, wildly idiosyncratic chapter draft, and just writes a note at the top saying ‘What in the hell?’). I am absolutely certain that I will read this back at some point and go ‘Ohhh, past Kirsty, your innocence is so galling’, and then hurl my computer out of the window of my garret and bury myself in chocolate digestives and sadness.

Don't mind what biscuits just BISCUITS

Don’t mind what biscuits just BISCUITS

Currently, however, I am skating along on the top of such worries, feeling pretty happy because I’ve managed to get Thomas Dekker into my final chapter. Dekker! Four years and I’ve finally managed to get a writer included on actual English Literature reading lists into my English Literature PhD. This is what we were working towards, people. (Actually, it’s a fairly snap decision based on the fact that I am now writing about plague for a bit because plague is interesting and it’s my damn thesis. I might work Donne into the previous chapter, and thus convince my examiners that I’ve only read the parts of the reading lists beginning with D).

Such chirpsiness was commented on during my recent trip to the sodden corner of southwest England from which I hail. As was the unavoidable fact that this whole PhD malarkey will soon be coming to the end (my university, rather sensibly, requires full-time PhDs to be completed in four years, maximum. I’m cool with this, at least, right now I’m cool with this) and that I would, apparently, then be entering the ‘world of work’. ‘World of work’ got repeated a number of times, so much so that I a) had a dream that I had to return to my old job at the same time as finishing my PhD, and couldn’t find my lovely boss even though I looked for him everywhere; and b) the phrase began to take on a similar meaning to ‘World of Warcraft’, i.e. a largely virtual place of no importance to my life, in which others seem to thrive but I don’t imagine I’d be a whole lot of use.

Not that I want to suggest that HR people are trolls, because come on, no. ...oh dear. That went wrong.

Not that I want to suggest that HR people are trolls. Oops. I don’t mean it, HR people, honest.

One of the curiosities of returning to study is that people seem to forget that you’ve done anything outside of it, and start to talk of your future as if you’re a confused window cleaner who’s entered Total Wipeout in the belief that it’s a reality show about your chosen profession. One day you’ll have to leave your ivory tower, hah! And maybe work in an office! With Post-Its and cubicles and ergonomic chairs that are designed for six-foot blokes and give you a bad back! And one day the photocopier will get a paper jam in two different places and then what are you going to do, Dr McSmartypants?

Not sure what the lowest grade I've ever given actually is, but it is not as low as this.

Not sure what the lowest grade I’ve ever given actually is, but it is not as low as this.

OK, I’m jesting, and I’m sorry. There are no easy jobs, except for that time I worked in a nut shop and we had no customers. People who blithely say ‘Oh, if I can’t get an academic job I’ll just go into publishing/banking/teaching’ rile me up from here to Sunday because you’ll ‘just’ do that? Seriously? Have you ever even spoken to a publisher, banker, or teacher? You are everything wrong with PhD students and please can you shut up. My point is not that the ‘world of work’ is easy, but that it’s not alien. Most people doing PhDs have had jobs outside academia in the past, and many have them at the same time as doing a PhD. I may not have had the directorship of a major company or a spot on the Dragons’ Den line up or an abortive pop career, but I have done things and had salaries. I didn’t mess them up, either – the only time I’ve been fired was from putting-away-the-books-after-reading-time duty in Year 3 (I read the books instead of putting them away, in a hugely surprising development. My friend Claire and I then got put on watering-the-plant duty, and the plant died. I have become more responsible since leaving primary school).

Furthermore (furthermore! I am ranting, it seems), a PhD is a professional qualification, and you need to be professional about it. You have to produce specific things for specific deadlines, and more often than not balance these requirements with other commitments (teaching, research jobs, organising events, crying softly into issues of Past & Present). One thing I’ve noticed about graduate study is how professional it is. The academics and graduate students I know don’t tend to conform to the usual belittling stereotypes – they’re not batty elbow-patched teaching-avoiders or drunken Young Ones-esque delinquents (well, aside from that point in 2011 when everyone seemed to be buying elbow-patched tweed jackets and claiming it was ironic). I mean yes, we read books, but everyone seems hurtlingly aware that we have to do things with them and then write our damn own. Most academics I know are not, necessarily, great at the whole work/life boundary thing – but this more often leads to work swamping life than life swamping work. I don’t want to get into a moral tangle here about the worth of the things we produce, or that we teach – because oh, blimey – just to assert that a PhD, or indeed any other academic position, is a job. I know we keep bleating that. It is A Job. Stop laughing.

Again, I do not want to claim that what I’ve said above about work/life balance is restricted to academia. I’d imagine that this goes for most jobs – any job that the person doing it cares about. It certainly goes for most of what I’ve done before (with the exception, if I’m honest, of the nut shop job. Also, probably, that time I worked in a greasy spoon. And probably the pudding factory job. Look, I’ve had some weird jobs). You step up, because you care about what you’re doing, and you want to get it done well – all the bits of it that you have to balance. That’s the most important element in doing any job (OK YES training is, as well. Particularly if you’re a surgeon or something. But go with me for a bit). A PhD is damn good training for this, because if you don’t care about what you’re doing, and if you can’t organise your time between different commitments, you just won’t ever do it. Look! Transferable skills!

So, having argued that academic training is the ‘world of work’, damnit, or at least pretty good training for it, I find myself in what might be a bit of a false position. Because actually, the important part of the whole misty-eyed ‘You’ll soon be entering the world of work!’ thing is not the implicit assumption that I’ve been sitting on my arse making balloon animals for nearly four years, but that – hey! – once I’ve graduated, it’s Job Time. A lovely university will sweep me up into its caring embrace and we will make undergraduate courses and monographs together for many happy years to come. This is what is known as a Charming Academic Fairy Story and it is about as likely as the other kind.

I’ll go more into this in my next post (this was all going to be one post, but then I remembered that this is a blog post and not a three-volume Victorian novel. I cut the scenes in the debtors’ prison and the blacking factory for the same reason). Suffice to say here that as anyone involved with academia knows, the job market ain’t no bed of roses, and happy fantasies of strolling into permanent positions are rarely fulfilled. I have tried my darndest to cushion this blow, to explain that financial security and stability is not necessarily on the horizon, but what cuts me up a little bit is that I’m not sure people actually believe me. I’m probably reading a bit too much into comforting expressions here, but it feels a bit like that moment at the end of Part 1 of The Hobbit (very slight spoiler here for a bit of the Hobbit film that doesn’t even happen in the book) when Bilbo says something along the lines of  ‘If I’m not mistaken, the worst is behind us’. Oh, Martin Freeman! You’re in two more films of this, and not just to eat seed-cake and plan your birthday party! So yes, extrapolate that to the academic job market as you see fit.



It’s the comforting assumption that everything will be alright in  the end. It’s a bit heartbreaking. I wouldn’t train all these years and then not actually get an academic job, would I?

Would I?

More to come in the next post, in which I bite the hand that fed me for three years. Repeatedly. But out of love.

The Permissive Archive schedule

(First off, an apology for not having blogged for ages. I have been super busy, for I follow the Way of the PhD, and my journey is approaching its end. There is a proper post brewing, but meanwhile, here’s something I drew for a halfway practical purpose!)

So we organised a conference last Friday! And I illustrated the schedule for the delegate packs. Which is an entirely normal thing to do.

The conference in question was The Permissive Archive at UCL, celebrating the ten year anniversary of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL). It was a tip top conference! There was cake! So much cake. Thank you so much to everyone who came along – speakers, chairs, and delegates, we salute you all. It was a lovely, friendly day, and I really enjoyed meeting people in between the dashing around that comes with conference-organising. And the papers were most excellent. Archival scholarship, it’s for winners. You can read assorted tweets from the day by searching for the hashtag #permissivearchive – thank you to all the lovely people who tweeted, it means a lot.

In particular, I want to stress how blooming awesome my fellow organisers are. You can find some of ’em on Twitter – Lizzy Williamson (@earlymodernpost), Clare Whitehead (@clareapparent), and Helen Graham-Matheson (@helenjgm) – and t’others are James Everest, Nydia Pineda, Will Tosh and Daisy Hildyard, who will all hopefully turn up twitterwards at some point. They are the loveliest bunch to work with.

Anyway, some of this I made on a train.

I hope I didn’t offend anyone by drawing trite things about their papers. In my defence I hadn’t heard them when I drew it…

For more about what on earth we mean by the whole ‘permissive archive’ business, see my earlier scrawlings.

I’m not sure, but I think I should be in the pub

A quick picture about what writing is like RIGHT NOW. Not inked because it is bad enough that I drew a picture instead of typing things. You might want to click on it to see it properly (or, on the other hand, you might not. I won’t judge).

Woe, woe is me, etc (bloody solipsistic graduate students, etc).

Sometimes I have real anxiety of influence – i.e., I don’t think I’m original enough – and sometimes I think I don’t have enough influences, that I haven’t read all there is to read so aargh. Mostly it’s some unhealthy stew of the two. I think this is pretty standard, graduate student-wise. Unless you’re like, really confident.

I have put a cup of tea in the picture, which I do not currently have. I’m going to make some tea.

[Posted at 11.25 on a Saturday night because I am really good at being in my 20s]

TOWI(the Earl of)E

A quick break from chapter-bothering (sorry for the lack of updates. Chapter is fighting back) to introduce a new ‘scripted reality’ show, sure to be a hit amongst the coveted ‘early modern history geek’ demographic.

His first mistake was clearly to treat Ireland like a Basildon nightclub.

Starring Robert Dever-ohhhh, because please can #earlymodernpornstar trend on Twitter (hashtag invented by Helen, aka @helenjgm)? It’d be boss. Inspired by Lizzy (@earlymodernpost)’s observation that  ‘Devereux was the original Essex boy’.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen TOWIE. Though the picture I based this on makes it look… nah, no, really not something I want to watch. I’m more of a Geordie Shore girl.

Drawing this is a perfectly sensible thing to do when you’re supposed to be writing things.