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!
As it’s Museum Week, and I happened to go to three museums/exhibitions, and I’m a history student, it seems like an appropriate time to blog about museums. Terrible, I know, but for a long time I wasn’t the biggest fan of museums. I mean, I thought they were alright, and I even did some volunteering for a couple of museum services, but I had trouble shaking off the old ‘school’ mentality of having to memorise everything I saw in case I was tested on it later. It’s only as I’ve got older that I’ve moved into the position of thinking about objects in museums, and knowledge for its own sake (incidentally, I also read more non-fiction now).
This post was going to be a summary of all the things I’ve finished recently, but then my to-do list, which had some lovely ticks on it, suddenly got longer. Such is life.
Make no mistake - I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying introvert. I’m the person who relates to all the fridge-magnet pictures on Facebook and cartoons on Tumblr about finding social interaction exhausting and needing to hide in my cave sometimes, while not necessarily being ‘shy’. But my chosen career path requires me to teach, network and speak at conferences, so I can’t hide all the time. And you know what? Even though I’m wiped out by these activities, I’m not bad at them.
Last night I went to Hester Barron’s talk at Senate House about her research on parent-teacher relationships in the interwar period. I found it very interesting, and while it would be daft to recount the whole thing here, there were a few points she made that especially grabbed me.
A lot of the literature I’ve come across, old and new, suggests that only children are/were rather hopeless at team sports, largely on the basis that by not experiencing ‘rough and tumble’ with other children and fair, consistent rules at home before they started school, they were ‘unclubbable’, timid, and resisted games that they didn’t have a higher-than-average chance of winning. My preliminary research using autobiographies shows that while some only children did have this experience, a substantial number reported that they enjoyed school sports, or otherwise had mixed experiences of them. Additionally, some sibling children had negative experiences of school sports that echoed those expected of only children.
I’ve finally read all the control group autobiographies and listened to all the control group oral histories, so now I can concentrate on something I personally find a lot more fun and stimulating - actually analysing my data! In the last few days I’ve been using Nvivo to code the last of the autobiographies and put together my Social History Society conference paper. Some people like it for the charts and graphics you can produce with it, but I prefer to use it as a practical digital alternative to highlighters and sticky labels. So what have I been doing with Nvivo and the autobiographies?
Honest post alert. There are some great things about doing a humanities PhD, but it’s not all eureka moments in the archives. Some things about it are a bit rubbish.