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Turning the Tables

February 2, 2017

I’ve turned the tables on my dissertation! What was once a study of Edward I is now focused on the people of medieval Dublin – their experiences, social circles, what and how they remembered, how they perceived themselves and their communities. This project was in danger of becoming a dry institutional history, but I’m seeing now how it has transformed into a (hopefully lively) social history – definitely a change for the better. I was actually dreading my return to chapter 1, which desperately needed revising because it lacked an interesting argument (well, any coherent argument at all, to be honest) but writing it was just so boring I kept postponing revision. This involves much more than revision, actually; it is a massive (and massively time-consuming) rewriting, but in the end it will be so completely worth it. As I rewrite I’m seeing how my dissertation’s new angle (orality and social memory) is somehow breathing new life into this chapter. I’ve written medieval Dubliners back into the story, and my feelings toward my dissertation are much more positive because of this change. This project has taken so many twists and turns (it’s strange to think that, once upon a time, it originated as a study of burial culture!) but now I finally feel like I’m grounded, I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I’m really proud of what it has become. I just hope the right words come together very quickly so I can defend and move on to the next steps (turn it into a book? maybe?).

Evolution, labels, and Things

January 5, 2017

It just occurred to me that the work I’ve been doing in the past (too many!) years represents a turning point in my personal evolution as a historian. I first identified as a literary historian with my Master’s thesis, which charted conceptions of the Otherworld in the earliest written Irish and Welsh literature. Then I presented myself as a cultural historian in my Ph.D. coursework and earliest iterations of my dissertation. Today I realized that the work I’m doing is best described as socio-political history. What’s next, I wonder? And do labels really matter all that much in this discipline? I’ve never really subscribed to them. My work has taken many weird paths and, as a result, incorporates literature, psychology, anthropology, archaeology, and cultural geography. It’s all fascinating to me, and I don’t really see the need to neatly compartmentalize. Today I’m a socio-political historian, tomorrow…? Who knows! But I can’t stop to think – or write – about it much longer, my only job right now is to get this Unwieldy Thing* written.

*This is my new official term for the dissertation, but sometimes the nickname ‘Beast’ seems more appropriate



via New Tab

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” ~Frank Herbert

December 16, 2016

A long overdue post in which I offer jumbled thoughts about my internship. There’s no time to edit; I just need to get some words down. I can’t promise they will be coherent or interesting! Yesterday, I closed a very fulfilling chapter in my career as a historian: my internship in the curatorial department of the Worcester Art Museum. This was my decision; I would have loved to continue, but I now need to focus on finishing this dissertation of mine. This weekend, our revamped medieval galleries will open, and I will finally see the many projects that I contributed to, and one interactive display that I conceptualized (if you visit, look for the map of medieval trade routes!), brought to life by our design team. I’m unbelievably excited about this, I’ve even been dreaming about the big reveal! (in one dream we sold potato chips in the galleries, but don’t get your hopes up – I don’t imagine medieval art and Doritos mix very well.).

15542083_10154772123228834_709736722055916403_nI’ve had conflicting feelings about this internship. I’ve loved the work that I’ve done, and I’ve learned so much about curating, conservation, and producing interpretive and educational content for a broad audience (in contrast to my extremely narrowly focused dissertation work). My goal was to gain experience, and this I’ve accomplished. I’m hoping that this internship might be the start of something big for me – maybe, just maybe, my dream museum job will come along in the near future, and having a doctorate in combination with this internship will be enough for me to be a serious contender (I don’t have a museum studies degree that many jobs require, and the idea of committing to MORE schooling…oy. I just can’t do that anymore). But at times, I’ve been frustrated because this internship took valuable time away from my dissertation, and it was a nonpaying gig – and because we had to pay for our babysitter on museum days, we ended up operating at a loss. But I viewed this as a short-term loss for a longterm gain. Would I have been much further ahead in my own work if I hadn’t seized this opportunity? Definitely. Finished, no, but I would certainly have had more chapters completed, and the road up ahead might be a little smoother and less riddled with anxiety.

But my days at the Museum were an escape from my daily stresses. This was a chance to immerse myself in medieval history without having to grade any essays or wrestle with syllabi or deal with hostile teaching evaluations. It was a chance to learn about the museum world, something I knew nothing about. And it was a chance to contribute my ideas, language, and expertise to a permanent exhibit – my work will be there forever, or at least until the next gallery revamp (considering this last happened in the 1950s, I’m pretty sure this new iteration will stay around for a while!). So do I have regrets? Not one.

I ended my internship the way I began it: polishing a full suit of armor (a reproduction of fifteenth century combat gear) for my supervisor to wear for this weekend’s festivities. But this time, as an added bonus, I got to wear it! It took two people to get me kitted out (yes, squires are an absolute necessity!). And it was painful! I could feel it crushing the vertebrae in my lower back. Walking was pretty tough. But this is, apparently, a right of passage for every intern, and so wear it I must!

This whole experience was, above all, unforgettable. It’s back to the books now, in a race to finish up this dissertation by the end of the academic year. It’s time to focus ALL of my time and energy  on writing, which is (happily!) also something that I love to do.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

August 25, 2016

(Some necessary background, since I guess I neglected to post this bit of news here – I have been an intern at the Worcester Art Museum since the end of May, working with the curatorial team to prepare for the medieval gallery’s re-installation in December 2016)

Sometimes I think taking on this curatorial internship wasn’t the most brilliant idea I’ve ever had – not because it isn’t wonderful (it is! But more on that later…), but because it takes coveted time away from my dissertation. I went into this thinking “it’s only for the summer, it’s a short term loss for a long term gain – this internship just might give me the experience I need to land a permanent non-academic job.” But silly me, even after this acknowledgement, I decided to take up the curatorial team’s offer to stay on until the medieval gallery opens in December – which means taking significantly more time away from a dissertation that is already moving at a snail’s pace. Ugh.

This week, I felt the effects of this dilemma even more keenly. I relished having two full, incredibly productive writing days earlier this week, and somehow I managed to whip my introduction into fairly reasonable shape. It’s still mostly a jumble of notes, but now – huzzah! – it’s a mostly organized jumble of notes! So I was naturally a little bit reluctant to step away from my writing for a full day at the Museum and lose this much-needed momentum. As I drove to the museum and arrived in the mostly-empty museum offices early this morning, I contemplated giving my notice. I need to focus on my academic work, I need to graduate and let my family settle down somewhere lovely and move towards our new future, I need to be DONE. Surely they will understand!

But then I started to dig into my ‘to-do’ pile, and realized that I just plain love this work. Of course there is the practical angle – this is valuable professional development and experience for the CV, yeah. All of that. But this is the crux of why I love it here: I get to immerse myself in medieval history and material culture, engage with art history and conservation for the first time, contribute to producing an amazing permanent gallery, and best of all I don’t have to finagle with syllabi or lesson plans, and I don’t have to grade a single essay! Time management is still a significant challenge, and always will be, but as of today I have zero regrets. This is the kind of work that my soul needs right now.


Wee baby steps

August 2, 2016
My dissertation title has changed, again!! I’ve decided to revise it to better reflect the evolution of my project. Space and landscape are no longer the central themes; my new title reflects my new focus on pragmatic literacy. And the new title is:

A Documentary History of Death:
Custom, memory, and literate practices in colonial Ireland, 1272-1307

In other news…there is no other news, really, just a handful of wee baby steps. But enough wee baby steps do add up to significant progress, right? I’ve tackled my reading stacks, and that feels pretty damn good. I’m embarking on the first full draft of my Introduction, and I’ll need loads of good mojo for that – introductions are really tricky!! But I think it will help me to better connect my remaining chapters to each other in a consistent and coherent way, and maybe…just maybe…a central argument will emerge…one day. Progress is still quite slow, and I often get overwhelmed with everything that’s on my plate – dissertation, internship, job applications, home administration, making time for family and friends. This is the main reason why I’ve neglected this wee bloggie; when I have a spare moment, it’s often spent meditating or reading. But one amazing perk of my internship is, I’ve found the perfect reading spot beside two Monet paintings. It’s inspiring, it’s peaceful, and it’s productive. And so, off I go. I’ll try to record my progress a little more frequently, but to be honest it’s pretty low on my list of priorities. I have decided that this will be the year I graduate. This will be the year I tack a ‘Ph.D.’ at the end of my name. This will be the year I land my dream job. Huzzah!!
Update 08/25/16: Advisor no. 1 found my title problematic, and the reasons he gave me made perfect sense. And so I’ve arrived at this:

Dying in medieval Dublin:
Custom, social memory, and literate practices in the reign of Edward I

(highly likely to change again, of course!)


March 1, 2016

I have been (intentionally) neglecting this wee bloggie because I am pouring every ounce of my focus and energy into writing this dissertation and crawling towards that hazy light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been feeling rather stretched thin lately, so I’ve needed an extended break for my own sanity mostly. On top of recent life challenges and dissertating, I also have one conference presentation coming up (I’m revisiting Arthur’s Avalon for that one!), and more importantly I have to prepare for my UConn Humanities Institute presentation in April. That one has me really nervous!

I do have loads of new updates composed in my head, though, so those of you with ESP may be able to learn what I’ve been up to! In short, the biggest update is my change of focus: I’m stepping away from landscape just a little bit to explore interactions between oral and literate practices in Edwardian Dublin instead (think M.T. Clanchy’s classic study of literate modes applied to colonial Ireland – he is the giant upon whose shoulders I am wibbly-wobbling). Landscape still plays a significant role in all this, but it is no longer the organizing framework for my project. I’m really happy about this change, it has given me new confidence that all the pieces will come together just swimmingly (eventually)!

But, writing any more here means I’m not writing my chapters, so updates will have to wait for a bit. In the meantime, I am posting snippets from my social media post about my recent research trip to the Dublin archives, minus a few personal details. Holding these manuscripts, smelling them, puzzling over them…I felt like a real medieval scholar for probably the first time in my life. It was an incredible experience, and one I hope to write more about when the time is right (with photos!).

Posted 25 January 2016:

I spent the last week and a half immersed in the Dublin City Archives, diligently transcribing from a collection of late medieval civic records known as the Liber Albus Dubliniensis (White Book of Dublin). Really tough work, and mentally taxing, but it also felt pretty amazing to be entrusted with such ancient manuscripts! I learned quite a few things about Dublin, and about myself, along the way:

1) You haven’t really written a proper history of medieval Dublin until you’ve spilled Irish Pale Ale all over your Latin transcriptions. Oh yes, there were pub lunches. The Irish pub lunch will get you through ANY paleographical road block.

2) In Ireland, purple Skittles aren’t grape, they’re black currant. Replacing lime Skittles with green apple rightly sparks international outrage (they are still lime in co. Wexford, for the record).

3) My Latin paleography skills are no longer totally abysmal, only slightly so! There is hope!!

4) When you are the temporary Keeper of the Liber Albus, there are no snack breaks. There are no bathroom breaks. There is only you, and the Liber. And it’s exhausting.

5) Apart from my first semester as a student and teacher at UConn, this was the single hardest task I’ve ever accomplished. I wanted to quit every single day. (But I didn’t).

6) I can’t resist a full Irish brekky. Or a 12th century pub. Full Irish brekky in a 12th century pub? HEAVEN ON EARTH.

7) I was greatly disappointed to discover there are no oompa loompas at the Guinness Storehouse. Who actually makes the stout, then? I still have no idea. But I can now pour the perfect pint! I’m actually certified!

8) Dublin buses are insane. You can get into the city centre, but you can never get out. Which made me feel a bit like Alice in Looking Glass World.


Cracked, but not shattered

December 8, 2015

Still here. Still writing. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work I still have ahead of me (complete chapter three, rewrite/revise all other chapters, draft an intro and conclusion, incorporate LOADS of secondary literature) but I am determined to defend in May. If I don’t, it’s not the end of the world, I do realize that. But I have been training as a historian for slightly more than a full decade now, and I am so ready to actually start my career. Finding the time to devote to the dissertation has been quite challenging, and that’s why I have neglected this wee bloggie; I have other priorities at the moment. So this is really just a placeholder. I’ll have more to write about after my big research trip to the Dublin City Archives in the new year. I also hope to have some happy job news this spring, but again it’s not the end of the world if it’s simply not the right time for me just yet. My dreams – of finishing up grad school, of launching my real career, of permanently settling my family somewhere that’s just right for us – are still within reach. They may crack a little under pressure, but they will never shatter!