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I recently bought Eleanor M. Harris‘s historical map of old Edinburgh, and have now had a good chance to look through it. I developed a strong interest in urban history, and Scottish urban history in particular, thanks to my PhD supervisor Professor Charles McKean, and also the taught PG Masters course I did beforehand in Cultural and Urban Histories 1650-1850. Plus being born in Edinburgh I was always going to be interested in this map!

Layers of Edinburgh folded map

Eleanor did all the artwork and wrote the text, including the calligraphy work, herself. It’s impressive how much she has squeezed in. The map unfolds to open with a so-called “short history” of the city, but it’s full of detail, from the earliest dates through to the 21st century, and gives a good potted account of developments over time.

Layers of Edinburgh short history

But the bulk of the content is on the map proper, on the other side, accompanied with notes about specific places and people. The emphasis is very much on the Old Town, so there isn’t for example any content on the map from Princes Street and further north, the area developed so much in the 18th century. What is there though is generally well presented, with colour coding to show different dates of development, as well as numbers which can lead to further information in the notes section on the back of the map.

Detail of Layers of Edinburgh map

If I have one criticism, it’s a small one, but much of the text on the map is written at all different angles, which can mean you need to turn it around a lot to read the contents. But that’s sort of necessary, given how much information has been squeezed in. And I don’t think it would be a problem using the map in the field so to speak.

For anyone with an interest in Edinburgh’s history, or urban history in general, I strongly recommend that you get hold of this map. If you can use it on the ground, and explore the streets with it to guide you, all the better. Copies of the map are available from Eleanor’s Etsy shop.

I’ve recently been working through an 1820s Scottish trade directory, for a journal paper I’m developing. On the way through, while looking for book trade references, I spotted other interesting things. For example Prestwick in Ayrshire had a “florist & bird stuffer” – what a combination of jobs!

But two of the most interesting people, for me anyway, that I spotted were early telescope makers. One was listed as such in the directory: James Veitch, maker of telescopes, microsopes etc. at Inchbonny, Jedburgh, Roxburghshire. As a Borderer with an interest in the history of science I’d heard his name before, but hadn’t looked into him too much. But doing a little more online research discovered that he made wood tubed telescopes, and his customers included fellow Borderers Sir David Brewster and Sir Walter Scott.

The other telescope maker I found listed in the 1820s directory was in Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. Not only did Thomas Morton build telescopes to sell, but he had even built in Kilmarnock what was described by the directory as “A very fine observatory, some valuable machinery, and excellent telescopes”. He was still making telescopes as late as circa 1860, and his had very impressive looking metal tubes. The National Museum of Scotland has quite a collection of them.

I wonder if there were other telescope makers working in Scotland in the 1820s.

A year in recap: 2013

Just before the old year ends and a new one begins I thought I’d do a recap on how things have gone for me in the last year, particularly academically.

My honorary research fellowship was renewed again. This is from History in the School of Humanities at the University of Dundee. After I finished my PhD in 2010 I asked if I could get an honorary fellowship, to help me continue to access vital resources like electronic journals, which are typically only available to current staff and students of universities subscribing to them. This is particularly important as more and more university libraries switch from subscribing to print copies to e-journals, which, generally, are restricted in who can use them. I’m a life member of one local university library, and have another one nearby, but neither opens up their e-journals to people who aren’t staff or students. So this was important to allow me to keep up to speed with current research and new developments. And the fellowship has been renewed every year since. It’s also nice that when I give a conference paper or publish a new academic journal paper it provides some kudos to the department which has supported me so well.

Over the year I’ve submitted more journal papers. I learned early in January that another paper had been accepted. It’s derived from part of my PhD thesis, with new additional material, and will be published in Library & Information History in 2014. Another prize-winning paper is due to be published at some point in the Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society. And I was asked to do my first academic book review, for the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, and it was published in November 2013. Other papers are with editors, or at various stages of development. And I was pleased to see two of my past academic papers became freely available online, under open access rules.

I took part in four academic conferences this year. The first was a conference for archivists, where I gave a talk about my experiences as a disabled user of archives. This was held locally, in a hotel in Dundee, so was easy for me to get to, but I was very weak from the neurological disease that day, and it was something of a struggle. But I wanted to present this important view, and was glad to make it. I blogged about both my time there, and the topic I was talking about.

In the summer I attended one day of a conference about the Middle Ages in the Modern World. This was at St Andrews, my former university, actually very near to where I was once a science undergraduate and postgraduate student. This was much fun. Again my husband was with me on the day, to help me manage everything in my wheelchair, and I blogged about my time there.

The third conference was that of the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland. Their autumn conference, in September, was held in Inverness, and focused on the topic of Rural Scotland. I gave a talk about my postgraduate Masters dissertation research examining Melrose regality court records (local court records for Melrose and the surrounding area) in the late 17th century. I am currently looking to publish this as an academic paper, and got very good feedback and had a very rewarding time there.

The fourth conference was held in late October to celebrate the work of my PhD supervisor who died a month earlier. It had been planned long before he died, and was a conference of mixed emotions, but ultimately positive.

I also had another flying visit to the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. Not academic at all, but a wonderful celebration of books and reading, and I was very glad to be able to go again.

In November I took part in Academic Writing Month again. My goals were more modest this time: resubmit a revised journal paper (done), and submit a paper to the SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) 2014 conference in Antwerp (also done). Whether my paper for SHARP is accepted or not I will be there. I’m also planning on going in 2014 to a book history conference at St Andrews in the summer, and will be flying down to London to attend the Worldcon World sci-fi/fantasy/etc. convention at the Docklands.

Another major interest of mine is genealogy. I run a Cavers one-name study, researching all families with this surname, particularly before 1900. Developments on this in 2013 included me starting a new Y-DNA study to use DNA to look for connections between different Cavers lines. I also gave a talk about my Cavers one-name study at a Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth. A version of this is online, with PowerPoint slides and my audio delivery.

I also run two one-place studies, where I research two parishes in the past. Both of these have a particular focus, for practical reasons, before 1820. The two parishes are Coldingham in Berwickshire, and Melrose in Roxburghshire, both Scottish Borders parishes with family connections for me. I continue to transcribe and develop online resources for these studies, and in 2013 this included adding a person index of about 9000 names for Melrose court participants between 1657 and 1676. Likewise for Coldingham I put online a list of 19th century prisoners from the parish.

I’m a roleplayer, and play Call of Cthulhu online at Play@YSDC. This works well for my neurological disease, meaning I can play as and when I’m able to. It also means I get to play with people around the world. In 2013 I started a new game in our ongoing campaign of Doctor Who / Call of Cthulhu crossover games. And I also started a game set on the Bass Rock, hopefully the first of many games (if our characters survive!) set in Scotland. Sadly I also dropped out of a game for the very first time – it was proving too unreliable in terms of keeping going, with long periods of inactivity by the keeper which I couldn’t keep up with – but I hope that won’t happen again for a long time.

Continuing the roleplaying theme I’ve been writing more of a series of crossover history/roleplaying articles, which I plan to compile into a book, probably in digital format. This is slow-going, but I hope to make more progress in 2014. Likewise I have been continuing to develop my very long-standing interactive fiction (text adventure) work in progress – a whodunnit set in Hermitage Castle in the Scottish Borders, about 500 years ago. Again another thing to work on in 2014.

My neurological disease continues to be a problem, but is being a bit better behaved at the moment, and may have gone into remission or need less daily chemotherapy and steroids to control it. I’m still left with the legacy of brain damage from the past, and wide-ranging disability that this causes. But I hope for a bit of a break from too toxic a cocktail of daily drugs. And maybe I will be able to get more done in 2014 than I have for a number of years. It may be just a temporary respite, but I want to make the most of it.

Anyway I’m looking forward to 2014 in an optimistic manner. Hopefully it will be as productive and rewarding as 2013 was.

A year of reading

I’m a keen reader of books, and have been since a young age. So it made a lot of sense that for my history PhD I studied reading habits in Scotland in the past. But it was often a case of searching for a needle in a haystack, with reading habits largely invisible and typically unrecorded. So when I found any record of what someone had read, or what reading meant to them, it was important to make the most of it, both for that single reader, and what it told us more widely.

So in that spirit, here’s a post recapping on my own reading over the last year. Oh if only I had something like this for more of my historic readers! I have in the past blogged about books I’ve finished each month, at my LiveJournal blog, but will probably discontinue that now, in favour of an end-of-year update. So this may be the first of more to come in future.

I record my reading progress in Goodreads, and so far in 2013 I’ve completed 72 books. Most of these were read on my Kindle, which I can manage much more easily now than in print, due to the brain damage and significant reading problems it causes.

Generally I read last thing at night, before sleep, sometimes for up to an hour, but more usually for half an hour. So it can take me quite some time to finish a book. I also like to have multiple books on the go. Typically I will be concentrating on one novel, but also have various collections of short stories on the go, and non-fiction works. Most are on my Kindle, so I can easily flit between them as the mood takes me, and carry them around, for example to coffee shops, easily. I’m long-term ill, with a very nasty neurological disease, which can mean that often for days or even weeks I’m too weak to read at all, even for a short time. So my reading lapses at times, but then when I’m stronger again I pick it up again.

In terms of genres my reading is quite varied. I like fantasy a lot, and horror, and mysteries. I’m less keen on hard science fiction, or too realistic crime. I’m also not generally a fan of literary fiction. Oh and I like historical novels a bit, and like steampunk a lot, and also graphic novels, which I find generally to be really easy to read, and rewarding.

I’m a member of an online book club. The book club members take turns choosing the book to be read each month. We have quite similar tastes in many ways, but throwing open the choice like this throws up some surprises for us as well.

In Goodreads I rate books finished on a 1-5 scale. 5 means it is the very best of all; 4 I enjoyed it a lot; 3 I enjoyed it but with reservations; 2 significant problems stopped me enjoying it; and 1, well I can’t go any lower than that.

I’m pleased to say that only 2 books this year rated 1: Alan Moore’s Nemo: Heart of Ice graphic novel, which was barely coherent for me, and Eoin Colfer’s First Doctor e-short for the anniversary Doctor Who short stories by children’s authors – bad for me, because the Doctor’s characterisation was so off. Another 4 books – including 2 more of the e-shorts – rated 2/5. And 16 were scored 3/5, moving into the enjoyable territory. And 32 at 4/5, i.e. very enjoyable.

18 books were rated the very best of all. These included Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I hadn’t read before, but was finally able to, because it was available for the Kindle. A much older book that I rated just as highly was Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop, a mystery set in Oxford, and a rollicking good read. A third memorable book was The History of the Beano: The Story So Far. It’s a history of the long-running children’s comic, and is full of old strips, as well as articles and other information about Beano history. I borrowed this book from the local university library, but was able to pick up a bargain copy for £5 at the Edinburgh Book Festival (RRP £25), so have my own copy to keep.

Another book that lingered long in the mind was Whitstable by Stephen Volk. This is a fictionalised tale of Peter Cushing encountering a real-life horror, and was wonderfully written, very moving, and quite powerful stuff. Thoroughly recommended. Likewise I hugely enjoyed Keith Miller’s 2-volume collection The Official Doctor Who Fan Club, which tells the story of this 1970s fanclub and its accompanying fanzines, including lots of facsimile reprints of the latter.

It’s been a good year for reading for me, and hopefully 2014 will be likewise. Again I expect to read mainly on my Kindle, but I’d also like to make an inroad into my academic books backlog. And if my paper is accepted for the SHARP conference in Antwerp I will also have some preparatory reading to do for that.

I’m an enthusiastic user of Twitter, mainly using Tweetbot on my iOS devices. As well as tweeting myself I follow other tweets, including using search terms to find things. And over the last year I’ve used a number of searches repeatedly, saving them so I can search for them again later. And I still have these saved terms, and they provide an interesting overview of my year in the past. Here they are, in chronological order.

#dwsr

This is short for Doctor Who set reports, and is used for tweets including updates and photos from people who witness filming. I used this search tag to follow filming for the anniversary special. I look forward to using it again in 2014 to follow what’s happening with the new series and new lead actor.

#watertown

Twitter can follow breaking news as it happens, and rarely was this more evident than during the manhunt for the Boston bomber. News agencies were trying to play catch up themselves using Twitter. There was some concern at the time that members of the public tweeting updates were compromising the search, but as someone observing the events play out it was riveting.

#archaccess

I participated in the “Democratising or privileging: the future of access to archives” conference held at the Apex Hotel in Dundee in April. I could only attend one day of the conference, the day I was speaking, and used this Twitter hashtag to follow what was happening on the other day, as fellow attendees live tweeted what was happening at the conference, and their impressions of other talks. I blogged about my day at the conference.

#edbookfest

Each year in August the Edinburgh International Book Festival is held in Charlotte Square. I’ve attended it a number of times, including in most recent years. I could only go briefly this time, on one night, but used the hashtag to follow what was happening on other days. Again I blogged about my time there.

#sherlock

I’m a big fan of the modernised TV version of Sherlock Holmes produced by the BBC. I’m eagerly looking forward to it returning to TV on New Year’s Day, but earlier this year I used the search hashtag to follow filming, and news that was coming out about the new episodes in production.

#royalbaby

I’m no royalist, and would prefer a president. But I do have a soft spot for one royal couple, who attended St Andrews University, like my husband and me, and met their future spouse there, again like us.

#sharp13

In 2012 I attended my second SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing) conference. In 2012 it was held in Dublin in Ireland. This year it was in Philadelphia in the USA, too far for me to go. But I was able to follow the conference via Twitter and this hashtag. Again a number of attendees were live tweeting their impressions of the papers as given, which was entertaining to follow. I plan to attend the 2014 SHARP conference in Antwerp.

#ennies

I’m a roleplayer, regularly playing the game of Call of Cthulhu. The ENnie Awards are some of the biggest awards in the gaming world, and again I was able to follow the awards as they were announced via Twitter.

ebay down

Not a very exciting search term, but useful for when eBay went down for quite a prolonged period. As often happens I could find out more information about what was going on via Twitter than official sources.

hawick

Often I’ll search for tweets referring to my home town.

flodden

This year saw the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, a disastrous battle between Scotland and England. It is not as well known as other British battles, such as Culloden or Bannockburn. But for Borderers it is an important part of our shared history.

charles mckean

My PhD supervisor died earlier this year. In the weeks after his death I used this search term to search for obituaries and other references to him. I blogged about my own memories of him.

“missing episodes” and #missingepisodes

As a Doctor Who fan 2013 has been a big year, with the 50th anniversary of the series’s start. But one of the most exciting events for me was the announcement of the recovery of 9 lost Patrick Troughton episodes. Before the news was confirmed the Internet was awash with rumours. There are still rumours that there may be more recovered episodes yet to be revealed. Marco Polo perhaps?

renaissance conference

About a month after my PhD supervisor died a conference to celebrate his work was held at Perth. He was a noted scholar of Scottish Renaissance architectural history, and the conference, which had been planned by him before he died, celebrated both his work in this field and that of other scholars inspired by what he had done. It was an event of mixed emotions, but ultimately positive in its outlook. Again I blogged my thoughts.

#ifcomp

I’ve played text adventure games since 1980. In the 1980s I was a huge fan of Infocom, as well as British companies like Magnetic Scrolls. In the 1990s a series of text adventure creation languages became increasingly popular, and in 1995 the first Annual Interactive Fiction Competition was held, and has been held ever since, in the autumn. Each year I try to play and judge as many games as possible. This year was no exception, and I used the hashtag to see other people’s responses.

#anAdventureInSpaceAndTime

Another Doctor Who hashtag, this time for my favourite part of the main anniversary celebrations: the docudrama telling the early history of the series. There were quite a few hashtags around, including the much shorter #AAISAT

@RBS_Help

It has not been a good year for Royal Bank of Scotland customers, with some major system failures. We have had enough, and will be changing bank early in the New Year.

#scotstorm

Early in December saw another very bad storm. Affecting among other places Scotland, it led to this hashtag, which provided updates, including pictures of the (now infamous) trampoline which a train hit between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

#lostbear

One of the most heartwarming stories this year was that of a little girl who lost her cuddly toy on a train, and the quest of a woman via social media to reunite the toy with its person. Luckily it had a happy ending, just in time for Christmas.

It’s the last day of the month now, and my Academic Writing Month of 2013 is drawing to a close. I thought I’d reflect here on how it’s gone, and lessons I’m taking from it for the future.

This year I had fairly modest goals. Last year I had more goals, but this year I had two main ones: finish revising an academic journal paper that’s been lingering since the summer, and write and submit a conference paper proposal (CFP deadline 30th November 2013) for a book history conference next year. Although they were just two goals, they were big ones. The journal paper was about 10,000 words long, and needed quite significant revisions before resubmission, and that couldn’t be done in a hurry. Equally the conference paper proposal was slightly outside my comfort zone, so I needed to familiarise myself with existing research and writings, before selling my pitch.

I’m pleased to say that both goals were achieved. The conference paper proposal was submitted mid month, and the revised journal paper resubmitted towards the end of the month. I started tackling both of them as the month started, and nibbled away at them, working steadily, as and when I could, until both were finished. So that was really good, and a big result of AcWriMo for me.

Another goal that I added part way through the month was related to my Melrose one-place study, and this was to put a person index, about 9000 persons (names, occupations, addresses, any relatives recorded) who were involved with the Melrose regality (local) court between 1657 and 1676. Although this was primarily a genealogical index it arose from my MPhil dissertation research a decade ago. Again I’m pleased to say this was done, and I blogged about it here.

More minor goals included judging the IF Comp games this year (done, at least 10 of them played, judged and rated), and to move my own text adventure writing project onwards (done: lots of player interaction added and coded up). I also wanted to move on my urban history research, and immediately after I resubmitted my journal paper I started planning a new one, that develops considerably on just a couple of sentences in my PhD thesis, combining book history and urban history in rather a nice mixture. It’s early days, but I will be able to take this forward in the coming month or two.

One thing I didn’t manage was to write any more of my roleplaying / history crossover articles which I am building into a book. But that’s ok, this month was primarily for academic writing projects, and I can tackle that next month. In December I will also be doing another piece of less formal writing: analysing and reviewing the Sapphire & Steel annual for my third article for an upcoming fanzine about the series. Fun.

So overall it’s been a very successful month for me. Although I set myself slightly more modest goals than last year, at least in terms of number and quantity, they were individually ambitious and time consuming, and it’s a big achievement to have managed all the big ones. This helped me finish one project that had been hanging around for too long, finish another that was urgently time critical, and set myself up for the next research project and journal paper I’m working on. And starting working on the AcWriMo projects from the beginning of the month, and blogging my progress week by week, got things done. I never spent a huge amount of time in the week on any one project, but kept working steadily at it, and that way progress was made, and things finished.

All going well I definitely intend to take part in AcWriMo 2014. Looking forward to it. In the meantime I hope to continue the momentum I have built from this year.

A couple of days ago I submitted a revised version of a journal paper that had a revise and resubmit option on it. The revisions were quite considerable, but also surgical in a way. The hardest thing was to get my brain into gear to make them properly, and to make big enough changes. Fingers crossed.

Anyway carrying on the momentum in what remains of Academic Writing Month I am now starting a new journal paper. And it is so much fun, and reminds me just how much I enjoy this stage of the process.

This paper derives from some research I did for part of my PhD, but it only ended up being a couple of sentences in my thesis. But there was far more behind the scenes, which deserves further analysis, so I’m now tackling that. And it’s another thing I can easily work on at home, which is good.

I outlined the article idea in a recent email to a colleague, so used that as my starting point last night. And then, as I always do now, I created a new mind map in iThoughtsHD on my iPad for the article in progress. In particular I’ve developed the opening intro / contextualisation section, although I can see that I need to tie into more historiography there, but that’s easily tackled long term. And then looking over my past archival/research notes I have plenty of material for the middle main section, and should be able to do a nice job.

This article is going to take some time to work through and develop properly, and certainly won’t be finished this month. But it’s nice to move straight on from finishing one journal paper to starting a new one. And rather exciting.

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