I must admit, in the past I have been a little taken in by the ‘Bletchley myth’ - that during WWII, Bletchley Park was full of geniuses doing really exciting work, something I’d have liked to have been a part of had I been around then. Tessa Dunlop’s Bletchley Girls effectively dispels those myths, and that’s one of the things I like about it. The book is based on interviews with 15 women whose work was either at or linked to the Park, and Dunlop makes it clear that these women were either average or above-average (as opposed to geniuses) in intelligence, and that many of the jobs were mind-numbingly tedious, and it was not made particularly obvious to them how significant their work actually was.
I’ve finally returned from marking hell with some (hopefully) interesting things to blog about. As my other major task over the holidays was to write a paper for a conference I’m speaking at next week (and I see other conferences on the horizon), and blog posts and conference papers are two of my favourite things to write, I thought it would be fun to write a post comparing them.
Not much to report this week, to be honest - currently in marking hell, where I will also be at the start of next week and on the weird days of purgatory between Christmas and New Year’s. I did go to the Terror and Wonder Gothic exhibition at the British Library today though - as well as being extremely interesting, it was nice to see a bit of the library other than the reading rooms.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the ‘Parent-child relationships past and present’ workshop in Oxford. This was an interdisciplinary event that involved people from all sorts of backgrounds, not just talking about history! It’s really inspiring to get out of the ‘history’ box and find out about things you’d never really known about before. I got chatting to more people than I usually do - I knew a few people from Twitter who were going to be there, and it helps when you’ve been to a few conferences/talks because you can talk to people you’ve met before too.
I have a lot of time for sociologist and feminist Ann Oakley. Not only have her 1984 autobiography, Taking It Like A Woman, and an oral history interview with her been extremely useful for my only child research, but I regard her as an example and somewhat of a role model. I love how she extended sociology to include women with her pioneering research into housework, challenged what women were expected to be in the 1960s and ’70s, and she’s written a lot of sense about the issues faced by women and onlies. I wasn’t disappointed by her latest book, Father and Daughter, which is part autobiography, part biography of her father, iconic social researcher Richard Titmuss, part history of social work in general, all the time keeping in view Titmuss’ place in relation to her and the field he worked in.
You know the classic cocaine addiction story, where the person takes it again and again and again to try to match the original, amazing high? My PhD boards seem to follow the same pattern. My first board went really well, and I thought, ‘hey, boards aren’t so bad, people sit around and say nice stuff to me!’. Unfortunately, my second and third boards didn’t live up to that standard, and I don’t think I’ll ever have a board that good again. This week’s board was so disappointing that I’m going to dread them in the future. My emotional trajectory during and since the board on Tuesday hasn’t been unlike the five stages of grief, in fact.
It’s getting towards that time of year when people start putting PhD applications together, and thinking about how they’re going to get the money to do a PhD. When I applied two years ago, you needed an offer of a PhD place to apply for funding, and deadlines for this varied from end of January and end of March, and I doubt this has changed much. Applications mean extra research and writing and revising a proposal several times over, so I would definitely recommend starting around now and making the most of the Christmas break to make your application perfect. I got AHRC funding, which is ridiculously competitive, so hopefully my advice is worth something!
I read a thesis abstract I’d written about a year ago, the other day, and was amazed by how different it was to what my plans are now. Sure, there are basic things that have stayed the same, but I’ve also been required to read a few things I’d never have expected to for this thesis.
This week, I’ve spent a bit of time puzzling over putting together an abstract for a conference, where I want to talk about only children’s experiences of schooling, particularly starting school and going to boarding school, as well as the more atypical experiences of starting school late or being educated at home for long periods of time. I already wrote about boarding school experiences a few weeks back, and today I’m going to write about a few good and bad experiences of starting school from my twentieth-century only-child autobiography collection. This will hopefully help me with my abstract a bit without giving away too much of my talk! The main issue I’ve had has been filling in the blanks in the sentence ‘___ and ___ have written about experiences of schooling, and I want to build on this by looking specifically about only children’s experiences.’ Either I’m overlooking a whole body of scholarship, or nobody has done substantial research on how children felt about their education. I guess if that really is the case, I can say ‘most scholarship about history of education has focussed on policies and implementation, and while children’s experiences of school have featured in edited collections of autobiographies and oral histories.’ And maybe have an idea for a postdoc proposal.
Podcasts from the Centre for Studies of Home are up. You can listen to me witter on with my horrible recorded voice for 17 minutes or listen to nicer-sounding speakers!