Early Career Researchers
Over the past year I’ve had the privilege of working on the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s forthcoming 2019 exhibition, Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage. The show features a huge range of collaged images and objects, including medical flap-prints from the late seventeenth century, scrapscreens and scrapbooks, and collaged valentines cards, and is the first survey exhibition on such a broad chronological array of collage to be held in the UK.
Thanks to the show’s wonderful curator, Dr Patrick Elliot, I was invited to discuss the selection of works for the exhibitions room of collages made before 1900; to go on collection visits; and to write an essay on collage made before 1900 for the show’s catalogue. I’ll share more information about the show and the catalogue as it’s shared by the Gallery, but for now, I’ll just say what a dream it’s been to work on an exhibition so closely related to one of my research projects! Truly being valued (and remunerated!) for your expertise doesn’t often happen as an ECR, so this has been such a great experience.
I’m happy to be speaking at the Association for Art History’s annual Careers Day event, which will be held in Glasgow on 6 December. The day is aimed at undergraduate, masters and doctoral students who are studying art, art history or visual culture and are keen know more about careers in the arts, culture and heritage sectors.
The day offers specific advice, experience and expertise from professionals working in different areas and roles in these sectors. This year the day will cover careers in Academia, Museums & Galleries, Arts & Business as well as prospects for Early Career Researchers.
I’ll be speaking about my experiences of being an early career art historian in Panel 4, ‘Academia and Beyond for Early Career Researchers’. A full programme and tickets are available here.
I’m super excited to have had my abstract accepted for the Women and the Arts in the Long Eighteenth Century conference. I’ll be speaking on the topic of ‘Collage before Modernism? Periodization, Gender and Eighteenth-Century Women’s Collage’, abstract below.
Collage before Modernism? Periodization, Gender and Eighteenth-Century Women’s Collage
In the essay ‘Collage: A Brief History’, Dawn Ades writes that ‘when Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque started gluing bits to their pictures in 1912, this had nothing to do with long-standing popular past-times like pasting cut out images onto fire screens, and everything to do with art’. Ades’ statement is typical of existing histories of collage, which tend to figure the genre as the result of modernist innovation, as opposed to a medium with a long and distinctive history. Crucially, the quotation also reinforces a number of entrenched hierarchies within art history: differences between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art forms; divisions of modern and pre-modern; and, most crucially, the gendered separation between artist and amateur. Yet these categorical distinctions pose fundamental questions about the nature of art itself, prompting considerations of how art is defined, of the identities and motivations of those who make it, and of why certain objects have been consistently overlooked by art history.
This paper has two aims, firstly to provide a detailed examination of collage made by women in the long eighteenth-century, arguing for its centrality as a mode of female artistic expression during this period. Secondarily, it will identify periodization as a central evaluative and organisational methodology within art history, arguing that the strict distinction drawn between collage made before and after 1912 is central to the explicitly gendered ways in which collage has been conceptualized, and often dismissed. The paper will address and trouble this sharp division by framing it in terms of the gendered disentanglement of art from craft, whilst highlighting the productive possibilities of a transhistorical approach to collage, which fully takes women’s production of the genre in the long eighteenth century into account.
As it’s November 1st, I thought I’d do a quick #AcWriMo post. AcWriMo posts are something of a tradition on this blog, with 2014, 2015, and 2016 posts on the topic. In 2017, I seem to have forgotten that AcWriMo even existed, but let’s assume I was busy with other things. This year I am trying to get back on the AcWriMo train.
As public declaration is a key tenet of AcWriMo, I’ll be using this post to declare my goals for the month – here goes!
- finish exhibition catalogue essay (5000 words, 1877 written)
- write conference paper (3000 words, 0 written)
- turn conference paper into book chapter (c.14,000 words, primary research complete)
- revise material cut from a thesis chapter into an article (c.8000 words, much of the research complete)
- revise and resubmit an article (tweaking needed).
A couple of notes: my goals are *stretch* goals, and deliberately so – they’re designed to push me beyond my normal writing habits for the month, but the likelihood is that I won’t meet all of these targets. The catalogue essay and conference paper are non-negotiables though, so anything else is a bonus! And the reason my goals can be so, well, stretching, is that I’m currently on a break between postdocs (I start my next position in January), and I have no teaching this month.
In terms of strategy, I’m writing daily, and aiming for a around a thousand words written, or a certain amount of pages edited (I haven’t worked out quite what that number will be yet). I’m also engaging with several online writing groups, via the Slack workspace app. If you’d like to join one of these, then send me an email and let me know, and I’m also keen to discuss AcWriMo progress via twitter.
Finally, as AcWriMo is all about accountability, I’ll be posting an update on my progress in early December!
Joining the Association For Art History’s Doctoral and Early Career Researcher Network Project Board
I’m thrilled to be joining the Association For Art History Doctoral and Early Career Researcher Network Project Board as an Early Career Representative.
The Doctoral & Early Career Research (DECR) network provides a support system and platform for current doctoral researchers and those within 5 years of receiving their doctorate. The network is coordinated by a Project Board which oversees and organises the Association for Art History’s doctoral and early career research events and initiatives.
The Project Board is made of 12-15 people at different stages in their research career who are based across the UK. The board meets 4 times a year and organises the annual two day Summer Symposium, one day New Voices conference, Careers Day for art history and has responsibility for shortlisting the undergraduate and postgraduate Dissertation Prizes.
If you have any ideas for how the Association could better support doctoral and early career scholars, please get in touch with me via email or twitter.
I’m currently on a Short-Term Research Fellowship at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, and next month I’ll be on another at the Harry Ransom Center, at the University of Austin, Texas. These are my fourth and fifth short-term fellowships/research trips sponsored by an institution, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some thoughts and advice about the process of applying for and undertaking these kinds of fellowships.
*n.b. lots of institutions also offer short-term fellowships for maker/creators, although the advice here will probably be most relevant to historians and scholars of english literature undertaking research fellowships in American collections.
Before you go
Although short-term fellowships have been amongst some of my favourite things I’ve done as a scholar, they’re often quite complicated, so plan early.
Like other kinds of research fellowships, often you apply for short-term fellowships for the following academic year, meaning that you need to think about the process as early as possible. Keep a running list of potential institutions, with the dates that their fellowship competition closes, handy. For example, I applied for my current Huntington Fellowship in November 2016, which feels like a lifetime ago (n.b. I could have taken up my fellowship anywhere from June 2017, although accommodation would have been harder to get and travel would have been more expensive at shorter notice).
Also bear in mind that applying for these things can be a relatively substantial undertaking. Most short-term fellowships require a CV, detailed research proposal, and a list of objects/texts/archival materials that you will need to consult during the fellowship. It’s vital, particularly in an age of the digital facsimile, to be able to tell the committee exactly why you need to see these objects in person, and furthermore, why they are essential sources for the completion of this project.
Thirdly, remember that if a short-term fellowship of a month or longer seems like a quite a time commitment, several institutions (such as Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library) also provide travel grants to go and use their collections for a shorter period, usually around two weeks.
Short-term research fellowships are highly competitive, and are offered by prestigious institutions. As research proposals are reviewed by a committee and then awarded funds to complete them, successful applications demonstrate that you are undertaking internationally-recognised, fundable, dynamic research. You may have also heard that fellowships beget fellowships: this was certainly true for me – once I’d received a couple of short-term fellowships, I was awarded two more short-term fellowships, followed by two longer-term postdoctoral fellowships. For postgraduate and early career researchers building their CVs, this sort of progression is hugely important for making you competitive on the job/postdoc market. Perhaps most importantly, the short-term fellowships I received were also vital sources of encouragement and success when it felt like a time of overwhelming rejection, and really made me feel like a valid researcher when I had just finished my PhD.
Although such fellowships are always remunerated, the extent to which this is the case varies vastly. Some institutions provide extremely generous lump sums, some provide smaller bursaries, and some provide a less generous bursaries but will book travel and accommodation for you, or offer the latter free. Depending on which of these is the case for your chosen institution, the amount may not cover the costs of transportation, accommodation, visa fees, and living away for a month or more. Furthermore, payment often comes after the fact, once you’ve been at and maybe even left the institution, so be aware that you may have to pay upfront for things and wait to be reimbursed at a later date. Additionally, not every institution will reimburse for the hidden cost of getting a visa (although some will), and many fellowships are taxed quite viciously (some up to as much as 30%, although getting a Social Security Number will help to reduce this number significantly – many institutions will say you don’t need this, but for heavily-taxed fellowships, like the Huntington, this is well worth it).
On the topic of the visa, again, this can be quite a lengthy process, requiring multiple forms and an in-consulate interview, something that can be expensive if, like me, you don’t live near a visa-issuing consulate. I’d always recommend scheduling the interview in Belfast over London, as it has quicker wait times and accommodation in the city is cheaper. Interview slots are often booked-up a long time in advance, and visa processing can take around a fortnight, so leave plenty of time for this at the other end so you don’t have to worry about not having your visa and passport by the time of your flight!
My final tip for things to do before you go, is to book accommodation as early as possible. If the institution offers accommodation, then it’s good to book this early as they’ll be scheduling multiple scholars into a single residence, and summer will always be oversubscribed due to term-time and teaching commitments. If you’re booking external accommodation, most institutions offer a list of recommended places, but once again the best/nearest places often fill up quickly. As a guide, I booked my accommodation for this trip in May 2017, over a year in advance, and the place I am staying was already nearly full for this Summer back then!
Whilst you’re there…
First few days: plan the trip
Although fellowships seem long – two months away seems like ages – they go unbelievably quickly. As such, I’d recommend preparing for your research trip before you leave. However, this isn’t always practical, and I inevitably end up doing this the first few days after I arrive. For me this means re-reading my application, redoing my collections searches (this is particularly important as the kinds of objects I am interested in has expanded since I first wrote the application), and working out what extra-fellowship things I want to do and see (and eat!). Bear in mind that the first few days are often also taken up with orientations, having to visit the University’s international office, and other kinds of introductory events, so it can often take a full week to feel fully settled in. Finally, I’d recommend getting in touch with any scholars who live in the area who you’d like to meet – this is a great way for ECRs to make contacts internationally.
Short-term fellowships are also a great opportunity to get some serious writing done. I personally find I am the most intellectually generative during research trips, so I often feel inspired to write during fellowships. Although wonderful in other ways, fellowships can be lonely (particularly if the institution doesn’t offer shared accommodation) and the evenings and weekends can feel long and boring. At the same time, they’re also free from everyday work and home-life commitments, making them ripe to be treated as a kind of writing retreat. Depending on the length of the trip, I normally go away planning to make headway on one specific thing (usually a book-chapter or article length project for around two months of fellowship). Don’t be too ambitious with this though, as time always goes much more quickly than you anticipate.
Although it’s tempting to spend all of your time away working (see above), do spend some time exploring the area. I’m currently in California, having never visited before, so I’m currently enjoying weekends exploring Pasadena and LA. If you have twitter, make sure to ask your colleagues and followers for recommendations. Ultimately you won’t be able to do everything that is suggested, but it’s nice to have a plan for your downtime as much as it is your work time.
If you have any further questions, or would like to ask me more about any of the fellowships that I’ve been on, please do feel free to contact me via email or twitter! I’ll keep this post updated with any additional comments and suggestions as I get them.
Lots of people on twitter have asked about the practicalities and realities of taking short-term fellowships with dependents and care responsibilities. In short, short-term fellowships definitely privilege those who can drop anything and uproot for weeks and months at a time, meaning those with dependents and care responsibilities at home are inevitably less able to apply for them. Additionally, the costs of bringing over a whole family are higher, and if you’re on a visa, then you’ll also need to apply for dependents visas for your children. Some institutions, like the Folger Library, the Bard Graduate Center, and Yale Center for British Art, are actively aware of this, and offer family-sized apartments, and other kinds of support necessary, like organising education for visiting children at local schools. The best advice I can offer on this is to talk to each institution on an individual basis to discuss this, and see what they can offer. As a whole however, fellowship-offering institutions need to think about and address this head on, citing how they can provide for families visibly on their fellowship webpages. As noted above, fellowships can be great for career progression, and an individual’s home-life shouldn’t be something that prevents them from undertaking them.
As others have pointed out to me on twitter, the ease of being awarded a J1 visa can differ greatly depending on your race, ethnicity, and even your marital status, so this is definitely something to bear in mind. Be sure to talk to your fellowship-awarding institution about this, and see what advice their international office can give you regarding the process. Remember that often travel grants (eg. those of around two weeks or so) don’t require full visas, but ESTAs instead (if you’re from a country where the visa waver programme is an option), so this might be a way of getting around this.
I’m absolutely delighted to have been awarded a six-month Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art to conduct research for my project Collage before Modernism. When I’ll take the Fellowship will depend on how the next year shapes up, but I’ll do a lengthier post soon detailing what I’ll be up to during the Fellowship soon!