Today and tomorrow mark the culmination of nine months of hard work by me and my PhD buddy Nicolle. No,we’re not having a baby - we’re having a conference, which I’m pretty sure is just as joyful and stressful. It’s called ‘Myth and Popular Memory’ (#mythpop if you’re on Twitter), and hopefully it will be wonderful (if I post about some other subject next week, you’ll know I’m too traumatised to talk about it). There have been some things I’ve liked about organising a conference, and some things I’ve not enjoyed so much.
I wrote a guest post for Historical Perspectives. Enjoy!
I took this week out of my studies in order to learn about Big Data at my university’s summer school on the subject. As I enjoy research and am interested by different types of information, and am also trying to expand my skills and get employers to hire me after my PhD, I thought it would be worth going to, and I did indeed learn some new things.
Inspired by Helen Rogers’ great recent post for The Voice of the People online symposium, this week I’m going to write about one of my most complex only children: poet and novelist Cecil Day Lewis (1904-1972). As Helen points out, while Big Data certainly has its place in historical study (and it’s something I’m currently learning a lot about in order to widen my employability horizons), there’s also a very important place for intimate, deep reading of texts. In fact, my thesis is basically a bunch of in-depth case studies formed into a vague order, with commentary, and Big Data appeals to me as a way of starting off with a large dataset, but then focussing in on interesting individual details. Day Lewis’ case shows how what might be deemed typical ‘only-child’ behaviour is a lot more complex than it would seem on the surface, and possibly not even the result of being an only child at all.
By following a few PhD accounts on Twitter, you can’t help but see some excessive-seeming advice, endless lists of writing and productivity tips (some of which appear to have been cooked up by the same people who write bizarre sex tips for women’s magazines), and snark from sensible people like myself who don’t feel the need to work on our PhDs all the time. I’ve had a ridiculously productive week this week. I think that trip to Oxford really fired me up for getting an unprecedented amount of writing done. However, some of my working practices would fill some people who make a living from giving PhD advice with horror. I think the message here is: do whatever the hell works for you.
This week, I hardly did any work at all; I had a nice little break in Oxford instead, where I stayed with one of my best friends, who works in the Bodleian (jealous!). I did some cultural things and less-than-cultural things!
Working on my chapter about parent-child relationships, I noticed a small-scale pattern that, given that my thesis constantly debunks stereotypes, I hadn’t expected: that the small number of only (and sibling) children in intact families who found themselves strongly aligning themselves with one parent against the other, favoured the opposite-sex parent. Although I do have some time for Freud, and probably have to mention him in my thesis whether I want to or not, I always found the Oedipus/Electra complex a bit random and out-there, not to mention unproveable. Besides, I suspect there were many other reasons this could happen, and I’m going to examine those in this post.
Just as my work has turned up mostly only children who didn’t fit the only-child stereotypes - particularly that they were loners, socially awkward and didn’t have any friends, or precocious because they were too indulged by their parents - I’ve found a number of non-only children in my control group who actually fitted the stereotype in certain ways. There were various reasons for this: having a sibling was not a guarantee of good company, individual personality influenced by both genes and environment, and, in my opinion very importantly, treatment by parents. I’m going to talk about four people who were particularly only-ish.