2017 update

About two years ago, when I relaunched this blog, I wrote that 2016 would be the year of the book.

Instead, it turned out to be the year of Trump, and Brexit, and a somewhat difficult return to the UK. 2017 started well with the publication, not of the book, but at least a book: the book version of the Women’s History special issue that I had co-edited with some colleagues the year before (available here). It’s also been a year of conferences, a short-term fellowship at the John Rylands Research Institute, and a British Academy application. I still believe that I’ll write the book of my PhD – how women’s missionary writing shaped the development of nineteenth century women’s literature – especially now that I’ve been given the opportunity to also edit a volume of primary texts related to my subject.

So it looks like I’ve another busy academic year ahead – follow my blog to see how it goes. Any advice always welcome!

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May’s Tips for Tuesday

In case anyone missed them, here are the pieces of advice (or anti-advice in one case) from Twitter and the blogosphere that I found most helpful in the past few weeks.

First, from one of my most trusted blogs, advice on how to revise a messy first draft: https://patthomson.net/2016/04/25/tackling-a-messy-first-draft/

Some of the advice reminded me of my experience revising a chapter submitted about a year before, that I wrote about here.

And then Will Pooley’s blog post was just what I needed as I struggled over yet another job application: https://williamgpooley.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/the-advice-you-didnt-ask-for/

I love my research, even though it’s a topic that sometime other people sneer at.

I like social media: I think it contributes to my career, and I find it useful.

I applied for jobs people told me I would never get. And I got some of them.

Well I can honestly make the first two statements about my own work and life, so hopefully I’ll be writing similar advice about jobs in a few years time!

April’s favourite blogs

I had three favourite blog posts this month – though really one of them comes from January 2015!

That one was Lucinda Matthews-Jones’s post on Henrietta Barnett’s office, which was re-posted to link with the Guardian Higher Ed’s #MyHEoffice. Despite feeling rather jealous – my ‘portable office’ of a laptop and library gear has to be lugged around with me in a Penguin bag – I’ve enjoyed peeking into others’ work spaces, and this piece on Henrietta Barnett made me think of the physical lives of the professional women I write about, such as Constance Maynard, from a similar time period.

Lucie screenshot

More recent was this post from the Snapshots of Empire project at the University of Sussex: Security, Economy and Education in Mauritius, 1857. It’s not a part of the world that has featured in my research, but the to-and-fro between pragmatism and idealism on the part of the Imperial government was familiar to me from my research on missionaries.

Finally, I really enjoyed Charlotte Mathieson’s blog post on literary tourism in Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels. Brontë, of course, was born almost exactly 2o0 years ago (last Thursday), and I’m looking forward to attending Chawton House Library’s conference marking this anniversary in May – and presenting some of my own thoughts on Brontë and literary tourism.

Tips for Tuesday – advice on publishing

These last couple of weeks I found great advice in a couple of blog posts.

Firstly, Charlotte Mathieson’s story of how she went about writing her book and getting published really spurred me on in my efforts to start writing my sample chapters again:

And then Pat Thomson linked to a couple of her blogs on how to put together a ‘publishing agenda’ and a publishing plan for journal articles. I’ve been in a planning mood lately, so this really helped move my plan from ‘publish some stuff from the PhD’ to something a little more detailed and strategic!

March’s favourite blogs

This month I came across Writing Lives for the first time. Many people may already have discovered this, but it’s a fantastic resource for anyone interested in life writing, or working class histories. The site includes blog posts that introduce the autobiographies held in the Burnett Archive of Working-class Autobiographies, held at Brunel University, and is being developed alongside the project to digitize these and other memoirs into an online archive of working-class writing.

The site is also interesting in terms of pedagogy. The blogs introducing the autobiographies are written by third-year undergraduates. Each autobiography is written about with regard to a number of specific themes – for example, ‘Home and Family’, ‘Life and Labour’, ‘War and Memory’, or ‘Education and Schooling’.

Writing lives

That there aren’t more readily-available (read non-manuscript) sources written by working-class individuals seems to be a perennial problem when writing history. I recently encountered this issue when trying to write about women and their subjective experience of education and religion in the nineteenth century. A couple of scholars, such as June Purvis in her A History of Women’s Education in England, and Meg Gomersall, in Working Class Girls in Nineteenth Century England: Life Work and Schooling, provided tantalizing glimpses of the working-class life writing they had accessed in order to write their histories, but as I wasn’t able to access these, I couldn’t ask any further questions of the material or draw any relevant conclusions for my project.

Jean Fernandez’s study, Victorian Servants: Class and the Politics of Literacy further problematized the form for me, pointing out that the autobiography could only be written after literacy had been achieved, and thus no longer authentically reflected the subjectivity of an illiterate working class life. In her particular example, Janet Bathgate, who wrote Aunt Janet’s Legacy to her Nieces: Recollections of Humble Life in Yarrow (1872 and 1894), Fernandez argues that Janet’s narrative became self-consciously about her acquisition of literacy, written in a form that mimicked middle-class autobiographies. However, I think we can fetishize authenticity, and also – in a rather patronising way – the idea of a particularly illiterate, working-class subjectivity. There can be a tendency to want to find the Otherness of an independent, inviolable working class and a corresponding dismissal of working-class subjects who cultivated ‘respectable’ or aspirant subjectivities as being victims of ’embourgeoisement’.

So for me, Writing Lives is a great resource and I’m already combing through to see how many of the women autobiographers wrote about their schooling, and if they linked it with religion. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to follow up by accessing these memoirs myself.