A bit of a break from my normal blog routine this week as I went to the abovementioned conference on Saturday but also want to post a book review on Friday. I didn’t speak at the conference as I couldn’t think of a non-tortured way to get my research to fit the theme, but I found a lot to interest me, but it was lovely to be able to enjoy the conference and not have to worry about giving a paper. As usual, all the papers were interesting, but I’ll talk about the ones that really stood out to me personally to avoid a massive post (also, there were parallel sessions so I naturally only saw half the papers anyway!). It was a very interdisciplinary conference, so I felt like my brain was given a good workout!
And so, back to writing - this time, a draft chapter on only children’s personalities. It makes uses of different sources, it busts stereotypes, it’s interesting (in my opinion anyway) - but I think it may be a bit bloated.
This week, I’m very much back on the writing - specifically, about how only children described the their personalities as children (spoiler: they didn’t fit the stereotypes and there was a lot more to determining someone’s personality than just being an only child!). Before I got to write about the only children themselves, though, I had to unpack the ideas of ‘self’ and ‘personality’ to set the scene. This sent me into the realms of psychology and philosophy. Again.
Call for papers for the conference I’m co-organising has gone live! Please read, register, submit abstracts and share!
I’ve only just got into Charles Dickens. Of course, I knew the stories everyone knows from films (admittedly the Muppet and musical versions respectively). I’m probably quite late in doing so at 26, but then again, having taken them up of my own accord rather than been forced to study them at school, I feel like I can enjoy them. I was initially attracted by repeated assertions that family relationships and the treatment of children crop up a lot in Dickens’ novels, and stuck with the books because they were timeless, very readable, with strong characterisation and subtle (and unsubtle) humour. So far, I’ve read Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield. Something that struck me about all three novels was the proliferation of only children in them - they seemed to be far more prevalent than they really were in the period. Although Dickens’ time barely overlapped with the formation of only-child stereotypes, I reckon he had a better grip on only children than the emerging child guidance writers. While some of his only-child characters display what might be termed ‘typical’ only-child traits and experiences, others are kind, well-adjusted and successful, reflecting my own findings about variety within only children.
There are two questions I commonly get asked. The first, unsurprisingly, is: ‘are you an only child?’, the answer to which is ‘yes’. Another, less frequent but nonetheless pertinent one is ‘how will you avoid putting your own spin on things in your thesis?’ I don’t see it as too much of a problem myself, but I can see why it might be a concern.
The methodology. You’d think that once you’d done most of the work, it would be pretty easy to write. After all, you’re writing about things you did. It’s not like the sources section, where you have to read what other people have said about and done with the sources. You can say ‘I did this, these were the problems, here’s a nice table’. It’s the ‘these were the problems’ part, though, that is a massive pain. It shows your research wasn’t perfect, because there’s no such thing as perfect research. Research is messy.
I spent the bulk of this week in Portsmouth for the annual Social History Society conference. For the uninitiated, this is a very big event in the social/cultural historian’s year - three(ish) days packed with talks, as well as chances to network, talk to publishers and buy discounted books. For each session (typically an hour and a half or two hours long) there are panels in seven ‘strands’ to choose from - I mostly attended the Life-cycles & Life-styles strand, though I also dipped into panels on Economies, Culture & Consumption, Narratives, Emotions and the Self, and Spaces & Places (the other three are Deviance, Inclusion & Exclusion, Global & Transnational Approaches and Political Cultures, Policy & Citizenship - all of which had appealling-looking papers, but alas I cannot split myself in two!). I often found it difficult to decide which panel to attend as so many looked so good! As I listened to 25 20-minute papers (26 if you include my own), it would be highly impractical to write about them all, so this blog is about a selection that really stood out for me for reasons relevant, semi-relevant, or totally irrelevant to my own current interests. If I went to your talk but haven’t written about you here, please be assured that I did find your paper interesting and well-delivered - there was a very high standard!