This week I went up to the University of Northumbria, in Newcastle, for the annual Social History Society conference. It was a long way to go, but I heard some really interesting talks and got a lot out of it.
Applications to be a GTA (Graduate Teaching Assistant, not Grand Theft Auto) are coming up, and I’ve had to throw an academic CV together and think about my application letter. For a long time, having felt I was irredeemably hopeless at public speaking and too socially awkward to function in normal society, I saw teaching as a ‘necessary evil’ I would have to put up with if I wanted to research and write, but a chance opportunity has made me think that actually, I might be alright at teaching and enjoy it after all.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been diligently reading through Mass Observation Records - namely the 1944 Family Survey, where Mass Observers went round people’s houses and asked them about their family size and feelings about the future (and sometimes judged how attractive the mothers were and how clean and fat/thin the children were!) and the 1949 ‘Ideal Family’ Survey, which was sent out to panel members by post and given out by doctors and asked people what their opinions on the ideal family size, sex balance and spacing, and why. My online subscription runs out next Thursday, so it’s been my main focus as I’ve tried to read as much as I can while I can! I thought I’d share here some of the things that really jumped out at me.
Last night, I went to Professor Molly Andrews’ talk at the IHR, titled ‘Narrating the Self: Temporality, imagination and possibility’ and based on her new book, Narrative Imagination and Everyday Life. I must say I got a lot from the talk, and will definitely read the book (when I find out where the heck my grant’s got to, it was meant to come today!). As she was talking, my brain was firing on all cyclinders, making connections between her ideas about the use of imagination, not only in oral testimonies but other narrative sources, and my own work. So this blog post is about her three main points about imagination in narrative sources, and how I’ve seen them come up in my own work.
So, I’ve been reading nineteenth century child guidance manuals for a little while now, and next Tuesday I need to give my supervisor some sort of idea of where I’m getting with them. This blog post is an attempt to knit them all together, benefitting myself, but hopefully other people will find it an interesting read! This is very much preliminary, so hopefully I won’t accidentally plagiarise myself when it comes to writing this up for real. Anyway, the real thing will have better-considered language and some stuff about the popularity of the books.
This week has been all about the primary sources, both online and offline. On Monday I went to the British Library to read a couple of books I hadn’t been able to get hold of elsewhere, and transcribed most of an oral history interview. The rest of the time, I’ve been using the internet to find out extra information about the nineteenth-century guidance books I’ve read so far. I’ve also found a couple more such books I want to read along the way, and got a four-week trial for Mass Observation Online, which I’m massively excited about using - it looks so interesting!
Today: read a book from 1913 about how only children get physiological problems. Transcribed interview with healthy 99 year old only child. HISTORY.
I say it’s not a survival guide because there really wasn’t much to survive. At least now I don’t have to worry about future boards because I know that unless I just completely stop working or produce a horrendous paper, it’s going to be OK. Let this be a reassurance to future PhDs, or those who haven’t had their boards yet. This post is a mixture of reflection and advice.