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.
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.