Month: July 2016

Week in Review – 24 July

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My object of the week is this book of spirit drawings by the medium Anna Mary Howitt. Now held at Cambridge University Library Special Collections, the drawings – which date to around 1857 – are the subject of a recent blog post.  Interestingly, the post corresponds with the Courtauld Gallery’s current exhibition Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings, which features watercolours produced by the titular artist. As critics have noted, the show is an important subversion of traditional hierarchical histories of art.

Other objects, posts, articles and links that caught my eye this week included:

Ellie Mackin’s vlog on the Academic Bullet Journal. Like Ellie, I’m deeply interested in both the methodologies and materialities of research, and we’ve shared many discussions about notebooks and how we use them. This video provides a great introduction to using the bullet journal system to organise research projects.

Anna Katharina Schaffner’s post on the history of exhaustion: ‘Why exhaustion is not unique to our overstimulated age‘. My monograph project (tentatively titled Home Ties: Materiality, Identity, and Emotion in British Domestic Space, 1750-1840) is deeply rooted in the histories of emotions and feelings, so I was excited to see this critically-engaged discussion of exhaustion. Schaffner’s book Exhaustion: A History, is also out now via Colombia University Press.

The Nineteenth-Century Matters: Chawton House Library 2016-17 Fellowship, which will provide the successful applicant with affiliation in the form of a Visiting Fellowship at Chawton House Library and the University of Southampton.

Pat Thomson’s review of Les Back’s Academic Diary: Or Why Higher Education Still Matters – a fascinating book that adapts Back’s blog documenting the intricacies of the modern academy.

Lily Ford’s beautifully illustrated article for the Public Domain Review“For the Sake of the Prospect”: Experiencing the World from Above in the Late 18th Century.

Heather Bozant Witcher’s lecture, “Written-Visual Aesthetics: The Rossettis and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” at the The University of Delaware Library. Witcher’s lecture explores the dynamic creative relationship between Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister, Christina.

The CFP for the conferenceFailing at Feelings. Historical Perspectives (1800-2000).

The BARS/Wordsworth Trust Early Career Fellowship, which is designed to help an early career researcher not currently in permanent employment to spend a month living, researching and collaborating in Grasmere.

Kelly Christian’s fascinating articleUnruly: Hair, Politics and Memorial’.

The CFP for the special issue of Victorian Periodicals Review on “Victorian Education and the Periodical Press”.


The Sutton Trust History Summer School

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A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to help with the implementation of this year’s Sutton Trust History Summer School, hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s History department. As I realise that not everyone is familiar with the work of the Trust, I thought I’d collect some thoughts and write a brief post based on my experience working on the Summer School, and why collaborating with the Sutton Trust is a compelling means of widening participation.

First and foremost, the Sutton Trust provides access to University. All of the Summer School’s participants come from economically or resource-deprived schools, for many of whose students the realities of educational inequality might well prevent their going to University. With the Sutton Trust’s help, students enjoy teaching at some of the county’s most prestigious universities (including the University of Warwick, King’s College London, Durham University, and the University of Cambridge). Moving forward, it’s hoped that these positive learning experiences will encourage students to apply for university, ultimately resulting in better chances for their futures.

Secondly, the Trust gives students the opportunity to engage with subjects not universally taught at school. In this year’s History Summer School, several of the students were interested in studying Art History, but as the subject is often absent from school syllabi, they expressed concern at not knowing what this would entail. As an art historian teaching as part of the History programme, I was able to give these students some sense of what Art History entails, relating this to their current programme of study as part of the Summer School, as appropriate with the day’s activities.

Thirdly, the Summer School familiarises students with the realities of university life, be they pedagogical or social. Students stay on campus in campus accommodation, and accordingly the Summer School functions almost like an extended campus visit, in which they can both test out university accommodation, while simultaneously getting a sense of what it might be like to be a student in residence. More importantly, however, the Summer School introduces students to the kind of intellectual rigour and critical thinking that is a mainstay of University education. At this year’s History Summer School at the University of Edinburgh, students were exposed to a range of disciplinary perspectives, with sessions drawing on art history, film studies, social and cultural history, and English literature, demonstrating the range of methodologies and approaches that history (and its related disciplines) can encompass.

In the afternoon sessions (hosted by myself and Anna Feintuck) students worked to produce short history-themed documentary films on a range of topics, including Grey Friar’s Bobby (the infamously loyal dog), the development of the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh University’s George Square, the layers of the city of Edinburgh, and Greyfriar’s churchyard. Touching on ideas of death and commemoration, the urban landscape, national identity, the history of education, and notions of historical ‘truth’, the films encompassed many issues central to the study of history. Furthermore, working on films provided a hands-on experience, gave the students a sense of creative and intellectual freedom, and allowed them to work semi-independently as part of a group of their peers, thereby anticipating the type of group work that is a typical pedagogical method at university level.

I was thrilled that many of the students that I spoke to at the end of the week told me that the experience had convinced them to study History at university-level. More importantly, however, they told me that they felt inspired, and it is surely this that is the aim of of any Sutton Trust Summer School.

Week in Review – 10 July

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My pick of the week is the forthcoming exhibition at Edinburgh Museum A Wise Man Knows His Craft: Henry Taylor Wyse and Holyrood Pottery, which explores the legacy of Henry Taylor Wyse – a prolific painter, potter and designer. He was a founder of the Scottish Guild of Handicraft, a reformer of art teaching in schools, and a friend and co-exhibitor of key figures in the art world such as John Munnoch and William Staite Murray.

Other CFPs, journal articles, MOOCs and research positions that caught my eye this week included:

The CFP for the William Morris and Victorian Radicalism conference.

The CFP for Reimagined Meanings: Photographs Repurposed conference.

The new special issue of TEXTILE: Cloth and Culture, on Emotional Textiles, edited by Sally Holloway and Alice Dolan.

Dr Matthew Green’s article in the Public Domain Review on ‘The Secret History of Holywell Street: Home to Victorian London’s Dirty Book Trade’.

The Stereoscopy: an Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography MOOC from National Museums Scotland & The University of Edinburgh.

The recently advertised Postdoctoral Research Fellow position on the ‘Renaissance Skin’ project.

The CFP for the Gay, Lesbian & Queer Studies Area, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference.

Award: BAVS Research Funding Award

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I’m excited to announce that I’ve been awarded a Research Funding Award from the British Association for Victorian Studies for research on my project ‘A Literary Inheritance: Family Histories and Textual Afterlives in the Commonplace Books of Ellen Warter’. The project takes as its starting point two commonplace books made by Ellen Warter, the granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, around 1885, now housed in the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, and will situate these in relation to the domestic literary and material practices of her family, as well as the later nineteenth-century practice of compiling Brontëana. The BAVS Research Funding Award will allow me to conduct crucial primary research for this project in the collections of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where I’ll examine their significant collection of Brontëana.

The Writing Productivity Pipeline

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Like many researchers, I’m both interested and invested in the idea of productivity and the varying methods used to increase it. So it was with enthusiasm that I read Erin Furtak’s recent article My Writing Productivity Pipeline in which she outlined her system for documenting her manuscripts as they progressed from initial idea to published document. The article is well worth reading for Furtak’s encouragingly frank and positive viewpoint alone (e.g. ‘I always view a rejection as a revise-and-resubmit, but to another journal’), but the pipeline itself has the potential to be a real productivity hack.


Quickly implementable in either paper or digital formats [see my version above], the pipeline has a number of compelling features:

  1. Preservation. I often want to record both ongoing and new projects in something other than a list format – the pipeline offers a cohesive archive of ideas either to be immediately developed further or to be followed up at a later date.
  2. Encouragement. The pipeline functions as a compelling visual prompt and reminder that a. you have exciting ideas that you really should take the time to develop for publication, and b. you have A LOT of exciting ideas. Better be getting on with those then.
  3. Customisation. Furtak’s own pipeline is merely a guideline, and in fact the pipeline’s various stages can be customised for both the kind of research you do, and the level of complexity necessary to get each idea worked up for publication. If you thrive on the feeling that you’re making constant progress, break the stages up into smaller levels of implementation, e.g. between ‘Manuscripts in Draft Form’ and ‘Almost Ready for Submission’, add extra stages such as ‘First Draft Edited’ or ‘References Checked’. Likewise, if you’re an art historian you might want to add a stage for ‘Image Permissions Acquired’.
  4. Identification. As Furtak herself notes, one of the key functions of the pipeline is to show where there are blockages. Tellingly for myself, (as I’m sure it is for many) this is between the ‘Manuscripts in Draft Form’ and the ‘Submitted’ stages [see below], which suggests to me that I have a good amount of manuscript drafts that I simply need to spend the time editing. Similarly, I have a blockage between ‘Draft Proposals’ and ‘Proposals Under Review’, which likewise tells me that whilst I have a number of solid ideas, they’re not yet developed enough to be submitted to a funding body. Moving forward from this, I can try to understand the root causes of these blockages, and to schedule time and energy accordingly to ensure their reduction.


I haven’t yet spent enough time with my pipeline to assess whether it has improved my rate of productivity, although what I have noticed is that I’m suddenly very aware of what I’m project I’m currently working on and getting that project moving along through the next stages of the pipeline. It also removes a lot of the procrastination that’s tied to deciding what to work on next, as you have a clear guide of what needs doing to any project at any given point in its gestation. I’ll post an update to this blog post in a few months, by which point I will hopefully be able to see a tangible improvement in my rate of productivity. In the mean time,  I strongly recommend reading Furtak’s original article, and trying out your own writing pipeline.