I’m thrilled to have been awarded a Harry Ransom Center Short Term Research Fellowship in the Humanities to conduct research on my postdoctoral research project on collage before modernism. The Harry Ransom Center has a wealth of collections relevant to the project, including the infamous (but rather unstudied) Durenstein! Blood Book, created by John Bingley Garland in 1854 and given to his daughter shortly after. The ‘Blood Book’ is just one object I’ll be looking at during my month-long research fellowship at the Center, which I’ll be taking in 2018.
I’m thrilled to have been awarded a Huntington Library Short Term Fellowship for the 2017-2018 academic year. The award will allow me to conduct research for my postdoctoral project Collage before Modernism. The broader project will provide an unprecedented history of ‘assemblage’ produced in Britain, North America, and British India between 1700 and 1900. Employing an inclusive definition of the term, the project will examine a variety of material and literary forms of assemblage, including paper collage, shellwork, scrapbooking, and photocollage, and will explore how their production reflected the intimacies, interests, and identities of their makers.
The Fellowship will facilitate research for several aspects of the broader project, including an examination of a number of scrapbooks, commonplace books (both manuscript and published), and albums in the Library’s collections. I’ll also be looking at the correspondence of Robert Southey, Charles Lamb, and Elizabeth Montagu, and a number of grangerized books.
This week the Bodleian Library’s John Johnson Collection of printed ephemera tweeted the following question on behalf of their visiting scholar Jill Shefrin.
— John Johnson Coll (@jjcollephemera) January 24, 2017
Shefrin is currently undertaking a major research project on writing blanks, objects which are are ephemeral, yet important pieces of visual and material culture. The post received several responses, unearthing some truly beautiful examples of the genre:
— Stephen Barker (@Stephen25367746) January 24, 2017
— Sandy Rich (@MrSandyRich) January 26, 2017
This got me thinking about my own research into the ephemeral, specifically my postdoctoral project on collage and assemblage before the twentieth century. Aside from the research I’ve completed as part of the project’s pilot study (which I discuss here and here), so far I’ve mostly be concerned with finding out what collaged objects survive in what collections. This has meant many a rewarding hour trawling museum and library catalogues, and has led to some really exciting discoveries that I’m anxious to research further over the next few years.
It’s because of this richness—the huge variety of collaged objects preserved in museum collections today—that I’m convinced that many many more examples must be out there, both in museum and private collections. As the project progresses, I fully intend to follow the John Johnson Collection’s example and use Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media to try and unearth as many examples of collage from colleagues, research institutions, and the public more broadly.
As my research on collage is inherently concerned with ideas of intimacy and identity, I’m particularly keen to learn about personal, private objects – objects that might have passed down through several generations, rich with inherited meaning, yet whose private (i.e. non-institutional) nature might mean that these stories are never heard. Accordingly, I’m becoming increasingly interested in the prospect of creating a kind of crowdsourced ‘database’ of collaged objects, where individuals can submit objects, images, stories, and reflections. The contours of such a project will obviously need further delineation, but I feel like it could make a fascinating counterpart to the more ‘academic’ aspects of this project. As ever, I’ll be posting more about my various research projects as they develop, and stay tuned for a post on ‘the book proposal’ coming asap.
In this final section of my three-part series looking at life immediately following the PhD, I want to discuss research. Not revising your thesis for publication (covered in post one), but starting a new, postdoctoral research project (or a few of them). Some may find the suggestion to conduct new research controversial, and would instead advise sticking to revising the thesis for publication. This is certainly a valid position to take, but not one that would have worked for me. Working on new research has been amongst the most important my post-PhD endeavours, affirming my love of research, ensuring that I had a viable second project when applying for jobs and postdocs, and providing much needed distance from the PhD. When not teaching (i.e. when the entirety of my spare time is focused on working on my monograph) I dedicate at least one day a week to my postdoctoral research project (an exploration of the relationship between assemblage and identity between 1780 and 1914). A central part in developing this project has been applying for fellowships, as discussed below.
There’s an old adage that success breeds success. While cliche, in terms of the academic job market, it’s certainly true that short-term fellowships at well respected research institutions will make you a more competitive candidate. I spent a good part of December and January of 2015-16 crafting applications for such fellowships, and received a travel grant to visit Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library, a Visiting Scholar Award at Yale Center for British Art, and a Short-Term Research Fellowship at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Though a lengthy and often disappointing process (I think I applied for around 15 fellowships in total), revising and refining your research proposal for each of the applications is a great way of developing your ideas for your second major research project. As many note, hiring departments aren’t as interested in what you have done, but what you will do, that is how your dissertation translates into a REFable published work, and that you have an dynamic and engaging idea for a second research project, which will similarly garner publications and funding. As many fellowships require you to work closely with the host institution’s collections, the application process allows you to compile a list of sources to consult during your project, thereby allowing you to develop a fairly specific picture of what your project will look like even at an early stage in its gestation. Furthermore, receiving a fellowship for your project, demonstrates both its viability under peer review, and more importantly, the fact that your work is fundable, something of immense importance to any hiring committee concerned with choosing a candidate who will continue to attract funding once in the job.
My final piece of advice is to track what you do. When you’re managing several projects and teaching concurrently, days, weeks, and months can slip by without any real sense of accomplishment, although this is often an erroneous perception. I like to keep a monthly list of my ‘achievements’ to demonstrate to myself that whilst I have been busy, I’ve also been productive. This is also useful at a broader scale – when I ask myself what have I done in the year since submission, I can list the following: successfully defended my PhD thesis, taught three courses & contributed to the Sutton Trust Summer School, organised a bimonthly research seminar series, ran a panel at AAH, given four conference papers, had two job interviews, received four travel grants and two research fellowships, submitted several book reviews and an article for review, became a peer reviewer for a journal, conducted archival research for my new research project, and just yesterday, I submitted my book proposal (minus sample chapters) to a publisher for feedback. And I still feel disappointed not to be further ahead. I list these achievements not to boast, but to show that the period ‘between’ is a busy, stressful, and productive one, when you’re expected to balance many divergent demands. I’m not sure there’s any way around this, but talking more about the realities of being at this stage, and strategies to deal with this difficult time period, can only be a good thing.
The CFP for next year’s incarnation of Edinburgh’s Eighteenth Century Research Seminar Series is now live. Read it on the ECRS website or below.
The Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar (ECRS) series invites proposals for twenty-minute papers from postgraduate and early-career researchers addressing any aspect of eighteenth-century history, culture, literature, education, art, music, geography, religion, science, and philosophy. The seminar series seeks to provide a regular inter-disciplinary forum for postgraduate and early-career researchers working on the eighteenth century to meet and discuss their research.
ECRS will take place at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) in Edinburgh on a fortnightly basis from January to April 2017. Each seminar will consist of two papers, one from a University of Edinburgh-based researcher and one from a researcher based in another higher education institution, followed by a drinks reception. Non-University of Edinburgh speakers’ travel expenses will be reimbursed up to £100.
Abstracts of up to 300 words along with a brief biography and institutional affiliation should be submitted in the body of an email to:email@example.com
The closing date for submissions is Monday 21 November 2016.
For more information please see our website: http://edinburgh18thcentury.weebly.com/
ECRS is supported by the Eighteenth-Century and Enlightenment Studies Network (ECENS) of the University of Edinburgh.
More information about ECENS can be found at: http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/ecens/
This is the second part of my series on life after the PhD. This week, I’m discussing the importance of an institutional affiliation, and what that means for how you’ll spend your time post-completion.
The Institutional Affiliation
Before I begin, I should say that this advice is in no way meant to deride the significance and contribution of independent scholars, many of whom produce important, innovative work whilst unaffiliated with a particular academic institution. Given the current state of the job market, alt-ac routes are becoming an increasing – and often exciting – reality for many, offering valuable alternatives to the traditional academic route I’m discussing here. For the time being however, I want to draw attention to a few of the benefits of maintaining your affiliation following your postgraduate degree.
Affiliation means having an institutional email address, access to on-campus facilities (e.g. teaching and research rooms, common staff areas, the library, university special collections), and often a healthy printing budget, the benefits of each of which should be self-evident. If teaching at a local institution is not an option, enquire as to the possibility of a non-stipendiary fellowship in your awarding institution/department.
Teaching, which will provide you with said affiliation, a viable way of supporting your research whilst simultaneously adding lines to your CV. Many of you will have taught during your PhD, and if possible, I’d recommend keeping that going, as your familiarity with the courses you’re teaching on will really help you to limit the time you devote to preparing. Beyond this, (time permitting) I’d also recommend seeking out teaching in other departments in your PhD’s host institution – I ended up teaching on courses in four departments and three schools, which, although challenging, has been an unparalleled source of income and pedagogical development. You might also want to think about local alt-ac teaching opportunities – for art history this might include ventures such as The New School of Art – as well as tutoring on subjects related to your discipline.
Being part of a HEI can also provide crucial access to the funds and venues necessary for organising all manner of events, something that can be important both in terms of contributing to current debate in your field, or simply as a way of fostering a continued sense of belonging (which can be particularly significant in the period post submission). The possibilities of what you could organise vary wildly, but between organising a conference relating to your postdoctoral research, a panel at a disciplinary conference, a public engagement event, a seminar series, a reading group, or a postgraduate or early career researcher focused event, there’s bound to be something to suit your needs and the specific demands on your time. I organised a research seminar series – Edinburgh’s Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar Series, which is about to go into its second year – as well as a panel at this year’s Association of Art Historian’s Annual Conference. Organising the seminar series was beneficial in a number of ways: it allowed me not only to meet emerging scholars in my field, but to engage meaningfully with their ideas; it improved my skills in applying for and securing funding; and it encouraged me to build relationships with the Series’ host institution, Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities.
Perhaps more significantly, organising our AAH panel allowed me to think through some key ideas for my postdoctoral research, the development of which I’ll discuss in my next post in this series, which will examine starting your second major research project.
Since beginning my research on the commonplace books of Ellen Warter, I – like their author – have been preoccupied with the Brontës. For Warter, the sisters were the objects of estimation, affection, and interest, and she obsessively documented them within her own literary productions. Made around 1880, and now housed in the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh, her commonplace books are quite unlike ‘conventional’ examples of the genre, which traditionally compile excerpted texts from a broad array of writers upon various topics. Instead, Warter devoted over 300 pages of her volumes to the lives and literature of the Brontës, rendering them more of a record of the family than anything else.
For Warter, commonplacing was an inherently familial practice. The granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, she was part of a family whose own commonplacing and album-making spanned several generations. Warter’s grandfather, aunts, mother, and father all made, or contributed to the production of, such volumes, a literary inheritance that places Warter’s own productions within a longer history and set of material practices. Beyond this familial context, Warter’s specific interest in the Brontës locates her albums within another subdivision of nineteenth-century album making: the production of volumes dedicated to literary celebrities, specifically those celebrating and commemorating the Brontës, a number of which I examined during my research trip to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth.
The Museum holds numerous scrapbooks, albums, and collections of newspaper cuttings chronicling the Brontë family. With dates ranging between 1860 and 1980, the broad range of these holdings suggests the consistency of such practices well into the twentieth century. My research at the Museum focused on those albums produced after the Brontës’ heyday in the mid-nineteenth century until around 1914, in accordance with the chronological parameters of my broader project on ‘assemblage’ in the long nineteenth century. The albums I examined were characterized by the variety of their visual, material, and textual inclusions, which variously included photographs, written correspondence, printed images, dried flora, and newspaper cuttings. Such diversity highlights the variation inherent to nineteenth-century album production, and the dangers of adhering strictly to taxonomic classifications such as ‘scrapbook’ or ‘commonplace book’; ultimately reinforcing the importance of comparing and relating Warter’s own manuscripts to these albums. Further to these material observations, the analysis of around 40 examples of such volumes also revealed a number of emergent themes within their inclusions, with emphases upon: death, commemoration, and memorialization; portrayal and representation; locality; and social and familial relations; many of which are echoed within Warter’s own books. Going forward, the project will situate Warter’s treatment of the Brontës in relation to the albums studied on this visit, as well as the album production of the broader Warter and Southey families, made possible thanks to a travel grant award from the British Association for Romantic Studies.
I would like to thank both the British Association for Victorian Studies and the Brontë Parsonage Museum for making this visit possible. The Museum’s Brontë collection is the largest in the world, and its holdings include original manuscripts, objects belonging to the family, and the records of the Brontë Society, established in 1893. The Museum also houses an extensive research library of primary and secondary sources, making it a crucial repository for the study of any aspect of the Brontë family.