Early Modern Post

Leave a comment

The end of the beginning

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about where I am now, post-phd, pre-job, early career, whatever you want to call it. Post-phd can be a difficult time: you’ve spent the last few years on a single project, embedded in a community of like-minded people who just by their presence give what you’re doing real worth, and then, suddenly, you’re cut adrift, having to make huge decisions about where you want to go next. What makes that worse is that any decision you make is 100% dependent on someone else; I may decide what career I want to go into, but it is someone else who will give me the job (or not!).

I’m also moving away from my department, which makes the cut feel sharper. However, as my friend pointed out, I’m really lucky in that once you are part of CELL, or the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, you are always part of it. I think this is the real measure of a community; if they continue to embrace you after any ‘official’ connection has ended.

My life is following two streams at the moment: I am trying to get a job out in the real world, and I am continuing my association with CELL. The great thing about both doing the PhD and being an active member of an academic community is that it’s given me so many useful skills that range far beyond knowledge of sixteenth century politics; if an application form wants evidence of project management, team work and communication skills, a PhD provides it.

A concrete manifestation of this is the upcoming conference that myself and my CELL/QM colleagues are organising. I’ve mentioned this already in a previous post, but now – excitingly – the day’s schedule is settled, so I thought I would post it here too. If you want to come, please do – just register at http://permissivearchive.wordpress.com/registration/.

So it’s the end of the beginning of my career, and I can’t wait for the meat of the next step, wherever that ends up being. I also feel that the end of the beginning is an appropriate tag for the Permissive Archive conference itself. The title was chosen because we wanted people to think about what archival research permits, what archives make happen and what they limit. It was a question – what is the permissive archive? For a truly inspired visual representation of this question, see the excellent ‘Avoiding the Bears‘ blog by Kirsty Rolfe. I think that plenty of historians and literary scholars understand the point of archival research, and web 2.0/the digital humanities etc have increased access to primary sources hugely. But what’s the next step? What are we taking for granted and how does the way we access our sources and the archive affect our research? How does it affect the questions we ask and the narratives we write? Where do we go from here?

The Permissive Archive

*A CELL/Queen Mary initiative, to be held at UCL, 9th November*


8.30-9.15 – Registration, coffee and pastries

9.15-9.25 – Welcome and introductions

9.30-11.00 – Session 1

Panel 1. The Original Context: the Early Modern Archive

a)      ‘The Early Modern Archive and the After-Life of Letters’ – Elizabeth Williamson (Centre for Editing Lives and Letters)

b)      ‘The File and the Early Modern Letter’ – Christopher Burlinson (Jesus College, Cambridge)

c)       ‘Permissive Archives, Secret Archives: Producing Early Modern Historiography Between Courts, the Republic of Letters, and the Repositories of Writing’ – Markus Friedrich (Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main)

Chair: William Sherman (University of York)

Panel 2. The Digital Archive: Practice and Problems

a)      ‘“Liable to much fallacy”: Order and Disorders in an Eighteenth-Century Medical Archive’ – Jennifer Bann (University of Glasgow)

a)      ‘Visible Prices: Archiving the Intersection of Literature and Economics’ – Paige Morgan (University of Washington)

b)      ‘The Permissive Digital Archive’ – Samuli Kaislaniemi (University of Helsinki)

Chair: Jenni Thomas (Rothschild Archives)

11-11.25 – Coffees and teas

11.30-1.00 – Session 2

Panel 3. The Later Context: What the Victorians Did To Us

a)      ‘Cutting and Pasting in the Archive: the Caroline Revels Accounts’ – Eleanor Collins (Independent Scholar)

b)      ‘“To bring Antiquities, smothered and buried in dark silence, to light”: the Hakluyt Society, the India Office Records, and the Remaking of Colonial History’ – Pete Mitchell (Queen Mary, University of London)

c)       ‘Trapped in the Archives, Freed by a Camera: The Role of Digitization in Understanding Early Modern Women in Politics’ – Helen Graham-Matheson (Centre for Editing Lives and Letters)

Chair: Amanda Vickery (Queen Mary, University of London)

Panel 4. Listening to the Archive: Reconstructing Voices

a)      ‘Voices in the Archives: Socio-Stylistic Approaches to Sixteenth-Century Confessional Manuscripts’: Mel Evans (University of Birmingham)

b)      ‘The Letters of the Knyvett Sisters’: Gillian Weir (University of Glasgow)

c)       ‘Permitting an Intellectual Biography: the Archive of Robert Baillie (1602-1662)’: Alex Campbell (Trinity Hall, Cambridge)

Chair: Nadine Akkerman (Leiden University)

1-1.55 – Lunch

2-3.30 – Session 3

Panel 5. The Personal Archive: Shaping an Identity

a)      ‘The Archive as Mask: Looking Behind John Aubrey’s Donations to the Ashmolean Museum, 1692-1695’ – Kelsey Jackson Williams (Balliol College, Oxford)

b)      ‘A Discovery of Lister Ephemera’ – Anna Marie Roos (University of Oxford)

c)       ‘Writing Lives out of Registers and Registers out of Lives: ‘The Life of Dr Robert Hooke’ and the Royal Society Archive’ – Noah Moxham (University of East Anglia)

Chair: Ruth Ahnert (Queen Mary, University of London)

Panel 6. Writing in the Marginalized: Gardeners, Widows and Common Soldiers

a)      ‘’’The Garden Books’; un-covering the gardens of Arbury Hall, Nuneaton, in Warwickshire from 1689 to 1703’ – Sally O’Halloran (University of Sheffield)

b)      ‘Widows at Law: Searching for ‘Sole Female Plaintiffs’ in The National Archives’ – Katy Mair (The National Archives)

c)       ‘Narratives of Old-Regime Common Soldiers – A Tip of an Iceberg’ – Ilya Berkovich (Peterhouse, Cambridge)

Chair: Hannah Crawforth (King’s College, London)

3.30-4.10 – Afternoon tea

4.15-5.45 – Session 4

Panel 7. Read All About It: Manuscript and Print

a)      ‘Joseph Mead and the ‘Battle of the Starlings”’ – Kirsty Rolfe (Queen Mary, University of London)

b)      ‘The Unsought Privacy of Zachary Boyd’s Dramatic Poems’ – Peter Auger (Merton College, Oxford)

c)       ‘Vellutello’s Petrarch and Tottel’s Wyatt: From MS to Print and Back’ – William Rossiter (Liverpool Hope University)

Chair: Joad Raymond (Queen Mary, University of London)

Panel 8. The Archive in Motion: Fugitive, Networked, and Reassembled Collections

a)      ‘Rethinking an Eighteenth- Century Archive: ‘Miss Bank’s Truly Interesting Collection of Visiting Cards and Co.’’

– Arlene Leis (University of York)

b)      ‘“Out of old bookes in good faith cometh al this new science that men lere”: Locating Provenance and Networks of Learning in the Books of the Chelsea Physic Garden, pre-1740’ – Sarah Broadhurst (Centre for Editing Lives and Letters)

c)       ‘An Exciting Rediscovery in Wiltshire: the Seymour of Berry Pomeroy Manuscripts’ – Ian Cooper (Plymouth University)

Chair: Alan Stewart (Columbia University, New York)

6-7.30 – Keynote lecture

Professor Lisa Jardine (University College, London)

A place at this lecture is automatic for those registered and attending the conference. Those not registered are strongly advised to contact thepermissivearchive@gmail.com to book a place.

7.30-9 – Reception

9-late – Knees-up


1 Comment

Freelance research and the sixteenth century CV

This blog has been the oft-ignored ugly sister to my ADD PhD, the latter always clamouring for more and more attention, and probably pulling the blog’s hair when it thought no-one was looking. Being busy with writing up said PhD, and teaching, and working on projects to make ends meet, was an unarguably excellent excuse for not writing more blog posts.

However, as I confessed in the last post over two months ago, I’ve now finished my PhD. And as you can see from the sub-clause, finishing it hasn’t led directly on to a whole lot of free time.

So, what happened? Like with any all-consuming project, I think you make a deal with yourself that in exchange for ridiculous working hours and vein-popping stress levels, once the project is over you will have free time and instant bliss. And like any promise you bribe yourself with, it never quite works out like that.

The bottom line is, I’ve finished my PhD, and whilst that’s brilliant, I’m now unemployed, and I find myself at the bottom of another mountain to climb. It can take a little while to get your head around that, whilst simultaneously dealing with the real-world demands of paying rent and feeding oneself.

That’s what I’ve been doing since finishing: meeting real-world demands and scoping a route up the mountain.

I’ve been lucky enough to get a bit of freelance work to help with both of these (researching the plague in early C17th London for an American academic – you’ll have to wait for his next book for that, though). That, thankfully, was straightforward paid work; it’s the other time-consuming occupation that I want to talk about today, the route planning and ground-laying for the next step in the academic career – planning that isn’t paid but that amounts to very real work and takes a heck of a lot of time.

To get an academic job, I’m going to have to publish an article or two, and maybe try to publish my thesis as a book, which will absorb a huge amount of work and time, but will not be (in the first instance) remunerated. I will have to keep giving papers at conferences, and review books, to keep my foot in the door and my face recognised. In the academic world, as far as I know, none of these activities are paid, but are rather expected aspects of your full-time, well-supported university post. If you have one.

At my level, the idea is that all this work will be for deferred favour, for an increased chance of a job in the future. And – because this is another mental side effect from doing a PhD – this made me think of one of my thesis chapters.

If you were of a reasonable background in the sixteenth century, an educated gentleman, say, then you might be looking at the church or the law for your livelihood. One possibility would be to get noticed by a patron, and move into politics and crown service. If you were really skilled and really lucky, this might open further opportunities and sinecures. One way of getting noticed was to travel abroad under the encouragement and approval of a patron (not least to get your passport for you), and to send them news and intelligence of foreign lands. In a pre-multimedia, even pre-newspaper, world, the access granted by travel and the skills of researching and writing were valuable, and could land you a job in the Elizabethan polity: to scale that mountain you needed both a patron, and to demonstrate your skills.

Demonstrating your skills and pitching for favour could be done in the form of transmitting regular news, and by writing reports and topographical accounts of the host court and country; like the Venetian relazioni (diplomatic reports), but without the diplomatic salary. Travel and information gathering by the gentleman and nobleman essentially acted as both training for the next generation of political figures, and as an ad hoc intelligence service for the crown, and the best thing was, the crown rarely paid for it.

The problem, for the aspirant at least, was needing to secure patronage in the first instance – they would need to move in circles where they could build such contacts – and of course needing to support oneself whilst essentially working for free, or for unreliable or irregular returns.

Your young gentleman abroad was either supported by well-off kin, or commissioned by a patron, like the earl of Essex supporting Francis Davison in his travels in Europe. If the ‘commission’ was encouragement and instruction, but no money – i.e. deferred favour – then the traveller would be at risk of slipping from information gatherer to intelligencer-for-hire, from gentleman abroad to prison spy. If there was no encouragement and no money, then movement, whether physical or social, was impossible. Elizabethan society was far from meritocratic, but there was sometimes space for accession if one had the right contacts, experience, brains, and luck.

I am certainly not saying that we’re in the same state now – in fact, I just got some freelance work from asking around on twitter (the ultimate example of a move from patronage and closed elites to widened access and opportunity). However, working for free – building and displaying your experience – is still expected if you want to enter certain careers, and no more so than in straitened times. There’s no shortage of recent news stories highlighting the unfairness and social disparity in requiring incomers to an ever increasing number of careers to work for free; you need that well-off kin or patron. Internships and doing unpaid work to benefit your CV is all very well if a) you have support from elsewhere, and b) there’s actually a job at the end of it. I’ll keep you posted.


Leave a comment

A Christmas Commonplace

Before iPads and blackberries, internet bookmarks and intelligent browsers, there was the commonplace book. I might be excising a few paper-based stages there, but the seventeenth century commonplace book was an early modern storehouse of scribblings, reflections and memoranda that I expect functioned not dissimilarly to the more modern technologies one might find in the stocking this month.

The early modern commonplace book was a personal collection of disparate writings: it was ‘usually the work of more than one hand, and in general followed a flexible pattern of aphorisms, financial accounts, medicinal aids, readings from the Almanack, recipes, and verses’.[1]

Mid-seventeenth century

Mid-seventeenth century commonplace book

This entry, like the commonplace book, will be a composite record of a few things I have to share: some reflections on current work, a well-wishing for Christmas, an advertisement.

Donne and the Dobell manuscript

At the moment, I’m working for the Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne (alongside my poor ugly sister PhD). I’m helping to put the sermons online, though the project proper is directed towards an illustrious and extensive print edition. My work involves helping to encode the transcriptions into xml so they can be accessed and enjoyed by (broadband permitting) anyone, any time, any place. I am also transcribing some of the sermons from scratch, and this is where the commonplace link comes in.

Before the then Dean of St Paul’s died, he prepared his sermons for publication, which led to a three volume edition in the later seventeenth century. The manuscript volume I will be transcribing contains a hand-written sermon that did not make it into this early print, possibly because it seemed to support auricular confession and so it may have been judged unwise to print it during the commonwealth.[2] There are three sermons in this manuscript, named ‘Dobell’, one of which (Psalms 38.9) is this excluded sermon.

Though sadly I am unable to view the morocco-bound original in Harvard College Library, I can scroll a microfilm copy. It contains many of Donne’s poems, paradoxes and problems along with the three sermons, and is unique in its mixing of the divine and this significantly more earth-bound material.

It is also a fascinating item because of the insight it gives to reader reception. Though the original compiler of the Dobell volume is unknown, its later seventeenth century owner, William Balam, is revealed in its pages through his extensive marginalia.

William used the collection as his personal commonplace book. Ranging from personal musings, coffee house chit chat and quotation to poetry and legal discourse, there is much to suggest his own personality as well as the social and political climate of the time, all inscribed into the blank spaces around the Donne. It becomes a scrapbook of William’s interests.

The Oxford edition will not be including the marginalia; it does not fit with the remit of the project, and would be a grand task in itself. But I will be browsing it out of personal interest when transcribing the Donne: expect to see some of it in this blog over the next month or so. This side of the manuscript makes me think of one of CELL’s new projects, which may also make it to a more extensive blog post next term…

CELL and marginalia

Here’s a brief follow-up to the Gabriel Harvey post a few months back. Speaking to a colleague a week ago, I was again incredibly excited by the ambition and technological wizardry of the Harvey project. Plans are afoot to encode high resolution images alongside transcriptions to produce a multi-layered, interactive edition of Harvey’s own interaction with his copy of Livy’s history of Rome. Mouse-overs will provide transcriptions of text in context, which is the only way in which his marginalia can make sense – by keeping it attached to what it refers to.

The multi-layered approach of the coding will allow one to choose which layers of marginalia they want to consult: that in Latin, or from a specific time period, say.

And that’s not all: the plan is to widen the project to encompass other volumes that contain marginalia, not just that belonging to Harvey. Other people will be invited to use this tool to make marginalia in early modern volumes accessible for detailed scholarship, in a way not attempted before.

Job Advert

I heard about the following PhD scholarship at Queen Mary just the other day – if you’re interested or know someone who would be do contact the relevant parties or pass it on.

PhD Studentship in the area of early modern textual cultures of Western Europe, jointly with the School of English and Drama. The Application deadline is 31st January 2012.

‘The field of the studentship:

The successful candidate will be jointly supervised by Prof Adrian Armstrong (French) and Dr Warren Boutcher (English). S/he will undertake research in the area of western European textual cultures, in the period 1450-1600, engaging with cultural products in at least two vernacular languages (English, French, Dutch, Italian). Appropriate topics might include, for instance: polyglot emblem books; translations of particular literary genres; the transmission of particular authors or books across countries; or the multilingual output of a single publisher’

For details on how to apply and for an application form, visit http://www.sllf.qmul.ac.uk/postgraduate/#research

Christmas wishes

I wish you a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year. May it bring all you want it to.

[1] Mabel Potter, ‘A Seventeenth-Century Literary Critic of John Donne: The Dobell Manuscript Re-examined’,  in the Harvard Library Bulletin, (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Library), pp.63-89. p.71.

[2] Potter, p.66