writing

Lewis Walpole Library Research Travel Grant Report

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Thanks to a 2016-17 Travel Grant from the Lewis Walpole Library (taken in April 2017) I was able to conduct crucial primary research for two monograph projects: the first, which develops research from my PhD thesis to think about the social and emotional life of the home in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the second, my postdoctoral project, which is provisionally titled Collage before Modernism: Art, Intimacy and Identity in Britain and North America, 1700-1900. The book will be the first study to focus on the complex relationship between emotion, identity, and the production of collage during this period, and will explore how the asking how its creation reflected and constructed the interests, intimacies, and identities of its makers.

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Specifically, a Lewis Walpole Library Travel Grant enabled me to conduct research for chapters for each project, which variously examine the reception and production of Strawberry Hill in scrapbooks and extra-illustrated texts made within the circle of Horace Walpole, Anne Seymour Damer, and Mary and Agnes Berry; and the familial production of commonplace books and albums in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries. For the first of these chapters, I consulted the notebooks, scrapbooks, and correspondence of Anne Seymour Damer, Mary Berry, Agnes Berry, and Horace Walpole, as well as a number of extra-illustrated volumes of Walpole’s A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole. Examining these manuscript volumes and published texts not only allowed me to unpack and trace the various relationships between this social group, but also to think about how these relationships were constructed and reflected in these collaged objects. I was also able to consult a range of supporting literature, such as the ‘Astley Collection of Strawberry Hill Pieces’, and the ‘Rarities from Strawberry Hill’, which allowed me to place these volumes within a broader context of literary and material production coming from, or centring on, Strawberry Hill. Visiting the library also gave me the chance to examine the famous Beauclerk Cabinet (1783-4), a fascinating piece of furniture, which, like the extra-illustrated copies of the Description, demonstrates how the very fabric of Strawberry Hill was shaped by collaborative and creative endeavour.

For the second of the chapters, I examined the library’s collections of albums and commonplace books, focusing on those that were familially produced, or which particularly pertained to the expression of emotion. The latter included LWL MSS Vol. 18, a manuscript collection of poems, elegies, verses on the subjects of solitude, death, and the nature of humanity, whose carefully selected inclusions will allow me to consider how commonplace books’ excerpted texts reflect and construct contemporaries’ emotional lives during this period. I also looked at the Library’s recent acquisition, LWL MSS Vol. 223, a boxed series of sixty-five manuscript notecards that functions like a commonplace book, bearing several hands and thereby attesting to the communal nature of its production.

I also spent time looking at the Library’s broader collection of commonplace books and albums. which allowed me to conduct important comparative research. Some of these were particularly revealing for thinking through some of the technologies of commonplacing during this period, especially in terms of how contemporaries themselves conceived of these practices. For example, Sir Henry Edward Bunbury’s commonplace book, ‘Omnium gatherum’, comprising original verse, extracts, costume, epigrams, bon mots, traits (LWL MSS File 81), features a highly reflexive, hand-drawn title page, depicting the collector of the volume’s inclusions standing over a pile of rocks labelled with words that evoke the manuscript’s contents.

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Spending time looking at these manuscripts in person was invaluable to my research, as it allowed me to explore issues of materiality, and to think about how these objects were constructed, viewed, and handled at the time that they were made. Going forward, I’ll spend time reviewing and reflecting upon the photographs and notes taken at the Library, researching the manuscripts’ various inclusions further and thinking about the volumes in relation to research conducted at other institutions, such as Yale Center for British Art. I’m hugely excited to utilise my findings as I finish my first book and continue the research into my second, and would like to thank the Lewis Walpole Library for making this research possible.

Week in Review – 26 February

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Victorian hand calling card, private collection.

A slightly belated Week in Review post.

As I’ve noted before, Notches and the Age of Revolutions blogs are amongst my favourite academic blogs, and both present really interesting work in their respective fields. Of late, I particularly enjoyed Notches’ ‘Femme Histories Roundtable‘ series (parts I and II), as well as this amazing post on ‘Disembodied Desire‘, focusing on disembodied Victorian limbs, as seen in the above calling card.

In case you missed me excitedly sharing this on Twitter and Facebook, here’s a Hyperallergic article on Sotheby’s first-ever auction of erotic artworks. I was particularly enamoured with this incredible painted plywood table, a copy after those supposedly held in a secret erotic salon of Catherine the Great. For this and many other fascinating objects check out the auction catalogue.

I hugely enjoyed this article on the history of the colour red from The Paris Review, and was fascinated by this touching article on the epistolary correspondence of two men during the Second World War.

I was keen to watch this webinar on ‘Exploring the Africana Historic Postcard Collection‘, which discusses the African Section of the Library of Congress’ African and Middle Eastern Division’s collection of more than 2000 historical photographic postcards. The collection is an important visual record of Africa and its people during the historically intensive years of European colonialism from 1895 to 1960.

I also really enjoyed Pat Thomson’s thought-provoking post on developing institutional writing cultures. Thomson writes compellingly about the need for rebuilding such collective practices, which is something that strongly rings true for me as a participant in an academic writing group. Thomson’s post was written a few days before my fellow writing-group attendee Lucie Whitmore wrote a post on our writing group for the SGSAH Blog, and they had a lovely synchronicity in my mind. I’m also going to write an update post on my own progress with the writing group at some point soon, so watch this space.

Publications wise, the table of contents for the first issue of the Journal for Art Market Studies (Vol 1, No 1 (2017)), also caught my attention this week, as did this call for book proposals on Gender and Culture in the Romantic EraI was also really excited to see that Joanna Cohen’s book Luxurious Citizens: The Politics of Consumption in Nineteenth-Century America has now been published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. I’m sure this book will become an essential text for me as I expand my research to look at nineteenth-century American material culture.

 The following CFPs and conferences also caught my eye:

CFP: Consuming Gender, Assuming Gender one-day symposium (14 July 2017, Cardiff University)

CFP: Decor and Architecture (Lausanne, 16-17 Nov 17)

CFPFrench and English Rivalries in Dress and Textiles 1700-1914 (Paris, October 13-14, 2017)

CFP: “Emotions, Death and Dying” -PJHS (Winter 2017)

CFP: Queering the Transpacific: Asian American, American and Asian Queer Studies (March 31, 2017)

Finally, I noted with interest that there a number of vacancies on the Design History Society’s Board of Trustees, applications are due by mid-March.

Looking Forward to 2017

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Inspired by a number of reflective end-of-year blog posts (including this and this) I thought I’d map out my aims and activities for 2017. If you’d like to gain a sense of what I achieved in 2016, you can check out my series on being a year post-phd here, here, and here.

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Yale Center for British Art

As always seems to be the case, 2017 is shaping up to be a very busy year.

In January, I’m primarily working on editing my PhD thesis for publication: firstly, I’m editing the sample chapters of my book that will be submitted for review, and secondly, I’m revising an article on needlework and visual culture, which is currently at revise and resubmit stage with a peer-reviewed journal. As a broader research aim, I also want to develop a sustainable daily writing habit during this month.

January is also the month in which I return to teaching, and this term I’m teaching four courses, one of which is completely new to me. I’m excited (and slightly apprehensive) about the challenges of a heavier teaching load, and interested to find ways of balancing my time between teaching and research commitments. Indeed, while teaching and marking dominate the months of January, February and March, I’m also planning on revising another article, this time on the interior decoration of A la Ronde, during this time. In February, I’m working on hosting a public event on Queer Material Heritage to tie in with this year’s LGBT History Month theme.

In April, I’ll be finishing off some marking, but more excitingly I’m off to Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library for a two week-research trip. I’ll be researching an exciting mixture of things for both my monograph project, as well as my postdoctoral project on collage in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Directly following on from this, I’m spending the month of May as a Visiting Scholar at Yale Center for British Art, during which time I’ll also conduct research for the collage project, this time on composite albums, botanical paper collages, and a number of mourning objects.

In June I’ll be travelling to Umeå, Sweden for the International Society for Cultural History 2017 Conference, which this year is on ‘Senses, Emotions and the Affective Turn: Recent Perspectives and New Challenges in Cultural History’. My presentation, ‘Lost Objects & Loss Objects: Intersections of Absence and Presence in Eighteenth-Century Material Culture’, will hopefully provide the perfect opportunity to tease out some of the key issues for the Introduction of my book.

In July, I’m off to another conference, this time in London. At Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period, I’ll be presenting my recent work on Romantic commonplace books, which has functioned as a sort of pilot study for my collage project.

Finally, in August, I’m spending a month as a research fellow at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. Other than providing a gorgeous setting for research, I’ll be using the Wintherthur’s library and museum collections to conduct research on a form of paper collage known as ‘scrapbook houses’. I’ll definitely be posting about all my research trips so stay tuned!

I’ll also be running Edinburgh’s Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars again this year (with the first session on Jan 25th) and Katie Faulkner  and I are hoping to develop a project from #WaysofSheing, which will look at the contribution of female art historians across history – watch this space.

From September onwards, things are a little more hazy, although I’m a hundred per cent sure that I’ll be working on publications as much as possible, having kept various articles and the book ticking over during the first 8 months of the year. So 2017, let’s do this.

Kind of an #AcWriMo post – Writing Groups

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Each year I try (and usually fail) to participate in #AcWriMo, and write a corresponding post on this blog. You can read 2014’s and 2015’s posts here and here. This year, I had a vague #AcWriMo plan. As ever, I wanted to write more, but I didn’t have specific goals and I wasn’t at a point in my research process where I could spend a full month writing many thousands of words. What I did end up doing this year however, ended up being even more important than my previous frustrated attempts at participation. Inspired by a twitter conversation with @LucieWhitmore we set up a weekly writing group, something that has completely changed my attitude towards writing.

I’ve written before about being a habitual binge writer. Someone who spends vast chunks of time writing and revising in advance of an ever-looming deadline. I don’t write daily. There’s always a valid reason: too much teaching prep, too many emails, too many job applications to do instead. And this term has been no exception – I’ve been teaching five classes a week on two different courses, and have fired off numerous job and fellowship applications since October. What has made the difference however, is the writing group, which has made writing a non-negotiable part of my week. Like teaching, writing is now deliberately and specifically factored in to my week. I can’t not attend, as I’ll be letting my fellow group members down. I can’t do anything else whilst there but write, thanks to the gentle peer-pressure that attendance exerts.  It’s this non-negotiability that is so important. Writing was always the first thing to go, but now (thanks to twice weekly sessions) I know I have dedicated writing time each week.

The group roughly employs the format from TORCH’s own Academic Writing Group, which you can find more information about here. There’s a lot of great literature on starting you own academic writing group available online, but this post on Pat Thomson’s blog Patter is an excellent starting point.

For me, our little Writing Group has fixed an issue that I was long trying to achieve via my participation in #AcWriMo – establishing better writing routines. And while I’m not quite at the point of maintaining a daily writing practice, this seems more achievable than ever before.

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.

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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.

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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.

#AcWriMo 2014

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For many academics, the most challenging aspect of the writing process is just that: the writing. Between the mountain of books that are always left to read, the fear of not living up to the material which you are discussing, and the various other engagements we all have, writing can be an intimidating and daunting process.

Thanks to the thriving online community of academics however, I know this is something in which I am not alone. As we become more comfortable with discussing issues of anxiety, mental health, and the huge amounts of work expected within academia, it seems that we are simultaneously becoming more comfortable with discussing their practical effects and manifestations, in this case, how such pressures can inhibit or even prohibit writing. At the same time, members of this online community are collaborating to find possible solutions to these problems. One of these solutions is #AcWriMo, or Academic Writing Month. Inspired by #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), AcWriMo was established by Charlotte Frost of PhD2Published, with a view to encouraging participants to establish better (and less stress-inducing) writing patterns for their future academic research. Coming from the ‘little and often’ school of thought, AcWriMo is motivated by the belief that writing every day will not only make you a more productive academic, but a better writer in the long run.

For those of you who are new to AcWriMo, the guidelines are as follows:

1. Decide on a goal – This might take the form of hours to be spent writing or a number of words to be written per day/week, or could more generally be a list of the projects that you wish to complete during AcWriMo.

2. Declare it – AcWriMo is an inherently social undertaking, which takes advantage of a variety of social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, in order to create a community of engaged and supportive academics. It is to this audience to whom you declare your AcWriMo goals, providing accountability for either meeting (or not meeting) them. The best way to do this is to sign up on the AcWriMo spreadsheet, which includes spaces for your name, twitter handle, goals, plan, achievements and a daily progress log.

3. Draft a strategy – Deciding how and when you are going to write is crucial to succeeding during AcWriMo. Personally, I prefer long, clear spaces of time in which to write unimpeded, which, thanks to the administrative and pedagogical demands of academia, often means that writing gets pushed to the bottom of the to do list. However, one of my AcWriMo goals for this year is to learn to write whenever I have a free moment, even if what I come to write isn’t a perfectly polished piece of prose by the end of it – what matters is that I’m writing every day. One of the great things about AcWriMo is that it actively encourages its participants to be experimental – to write outside of your normal habits and timeframes, and using new techniques to do so. My favourite productivity hacks that I’ve discovered in previous AcWriMos have been the famous Pomodoro Technique, and PhD2Published’s own PhDometer2, a downloadable application which tracks and marks your writing progress.

4. Discuss progress on twitter – As well as declaring your goals publicly at the beginning of the month, regular updates via twitter will help to keep you accountable, whilst at the same time letting you know how everyone else is getting along. Use the #AcWriMo hashtag to find updates from fellow participants and to publicise your own progress.

5. Don’t slack off – This seems relatively obvious, given that this is a month dedicated towards making you as productive as possible, but it’s an important point to remember throughout the month. With marking, teaching prep, and various applications to get done this month, it’s tempting to think that you’ll just write tomorrow. However, the whole point of the exercise is to highlight that there’s NEVER going to be a good time to write, but if you’re committed to even a small amount every day, it will soon mount up, even when working on all of those other, similarly pressing, projects.

6. Declare your results – Announce your results at the end of the month. As the guidelines state on PhD2Published, we’re all human and will have varying levels of success during the month, but knowing what didn’t work is as important as knowing what did.

In the spirit of things, at the end of the month I’ll publish another post on here discussing my AcWriMo 2014 experience, including my goals and whether I met them, the methods I used during it, and what I’ll be taking forward into 2015. Good luck writing!