New book – emotional missionaries

The emotional experience of Victorian women missionaries was something that I tried to research while doing my PhD. But, as with much study of historical emotions, the experience itself was difficult – if not impossible – to examine. All I could access were the written accounts of emotional experience, which were often written to fit an accepted formula or to evoke emotions in a projected audience. I don’t disregard such written accounts of emotional experience completely – just because a feeling is described in a formulaic manner, doesn’t make it necessarily inauthentic – but I did change my focus slightly to think more about how the emotions of my missionaries were textually expressed and how such emotional texts functioned within the Christian community which read them. This approach also made more sense for a literature specialist in an English department!

It turns out, it’s also an approach that makes sense to certain historians studying emotions too, as when I read the publicity material for a new book on missionaries and emotions it struck me that the essays aren’t focusing on how emotions were felt by missionaries, but how they were ‘conceptualised and practised’

Missionary emotions screen shot.

I was thrilled to be asked to contribute an essay for this book, based on my PhD research. The process of revising, post-PhD, what was initially a seminar paper written pre-PhD, has been an interesting one, which I’ll write about in another post. For now, though, I just wanted to share how pleased I am that this fascinating project, long in discussion, is finally coming to fruition. We don’t yet have a publication date, but the book’s appearance on Palgrave’s website is pretty exciting. Exciting to me, personally, because I think it will probably be my first proper print publication. But exciting more generally, because I think its editors, Claire McLisky, Daniel Midena, and Karen Vallgårda, have really made the case for the importance of studying emotion in missionary history.

For more information about the book, see Palgrave’s website.

Post-doctoral

I never know what to call myself. It’s been over a year since my PhD was awarded and, like most of my peers, I’m not yet settled in a ‘proper’ academic job. In fact, just after I finished my thesis corrections, I moved to the States where my husband had got a job in an education non-profit, and where it proved far more difficult than I’d imagined to get permission to work and find a job. As a result, apart from some tutoring, I’m not teaching at the moment. I’m also not currently carrying out any research for anyone. So I’m not a PhD student anymore, not a fully-fledged ‘academic’ yet, not a research assistant, teacher or adjunct. I have to come down on ‘independent scholar’, which I hate for its obvious lack of affiliation with any status-giving institution, but perhaps should learn to love for its comparative freedom.

Anyway, it’s been over a year since I finished my PhD. It’s also been over a year since I last published on this blog.

This last year has been tough at times. Leaving London for me meant the loss of my scholarly community and peer group. I’ve also really missed the British Library and Senate House. I hadn’t fully realised how important these things are for helping ward off self-doubt and inspiring new ideas.

But this year has also been exciting. In May last year I presented at the triennial Big Berks conference on the History of Women, where I felt almost like I was being initiated into their amazing, international, academic (feminist) community. I also had papers accepted at the British Women Writers Conference (held in Binghampton NY) and the Victorians Institute Conference (held in Charlotte NC). I also made six applications last year for grants of various kinds – and got one! So in the next couple of weeks I’m heading to the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin to look at the papers of Charlotte Brontë’s friend Ellen Nussey.

This blog was mainly started as a promotional tool for various conferences I was involved in. While I probably will still use it to promote events and publications, I hope to also use it to curate interesting work on women, religion and writing, and to share my experiences of postdoctoral life and research activities. I’ve found that I far prefer following and reading fellow-researchers’ blogs than scouring Twitter for interesting snippets – maybe for the same reasons that I prefer novels to poetry? – so I’m hoping to discover new and interesting blogs or websites out there in my field.

Even after four years of study, and even a year on from my PhD, I still find myself fascinated by how women writers in the nineteenth century expressed, represented and wrestled with their faith. Religion was part of their emotional as well as intellectual experience, and this can explain why women writers don’t always say what we think they should, or why their characters behave in ways we don’t understand. In the nineteenth century the emotional and subjective experience of being a woman was different from what it is now. This seems like an obvious thing to say, but the ways in which Victorian women’s experiences differed from ours, especially where religious faith was concerned, is still only just being explored. I hope my work contributes to this exploration, and that even this blog in its own small way can be useful to those finding their way through research questions, PhD courses and the postdoctoral experience.