This week I mainly read Born To Rebel, by Frank J. Sulloway. I probably should have read it a lot earlier, but I didn’t know it existed before, which was kind of prohibitive. Anyway, Sulloway spent 20 years collecting and analysing biographical data about people like scientists and politicians, and found out that, in the main, firstborns tend to be conservative in their outlook, whereas laterborns tend towards radicalism in a bid to carve out their own niche in the family and avoid ‘being kicked out of the nest’ (basically, it’s a Darwinian theory). He also gave a whole bunch of circumstances which create exceptions to this rule, such as age gaps and radical parents (firstborns ally themselves with their parents, apparently). He didn’t say much about only children, apart from that they’re wildcards who can go either way. I can get on board with that one, but despite all the mathematic proofs he gave for the firstborns and lastborns, I spent a lot of the book feeling quite critical and thinking ‘I don’t think I can get on board with this.’
At the beginning of this month, I was sick of my PhD. I’d had no time to work on it over Christmas because of all the marking I had to do, and I had a particularly uninspiring to-do list, the most tedious tasks on which were Nvivo coding (OK in small doses, but not something you want to do all day), and my oral history control group (people’s life histories can be quite interesting, but sitting there WAITING for them to say something relevant when you could be doing something more fun is boring as). My supervisor picked up on my complete and utter boredom and suggested I take a break and do something thesis-related but actually fun - which I interpreted as READING! I saved myself from the tedium not only by dedicating a week of afternoons to reading secondary works, but by building reading back into my everyday work in order to get through the ever-expanding list of books I need to read, but also to get a bit of fun and inspiration back into my days.
A guest blog I wrote for Phdtalk about the gym and self-care.
Last Friday I went to (and spoke at!) the abovementioned conference. It was a day choc-full of thought-provoking talks, incorporating two keynotes and four panels: Children’s Voices, Institutions: Health, Childhood in Time and Space, and Institutions: Religion, Soldiers, Diplomats. My paper was part of the ‘Institutions: Health’ panel, and was about studying the psychology articles published between 1927 and 1949 that challenged existing ideas about only children. Much as I’d like to write about every single paper I listened to, that would make for a very long blog, so I’m going to write about the three I got the most from and say that everyone’s talk was very good!
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.