Archive for December, 2012

As we near the end of another year and approach the start of a new one I thought I’d blog about my academic goals for the year ahead. This is partly inspired by Academic Writing Month, where I found stating goals very motivational for completing them. Hopefully the same technique will work on a year’s rough goals.

I’m going to list the goals below. These are very rough specifications of things I’d like to do, usually without any specific timescale. I’d like to view this is an aspirational list, a menu that I can pick and choose things from as I am able to.

  • Complete chapmen paper by March and submit before 1st April 2013 if of suitable length and quality.
  • Write possible talk for archivists’ conference in April, whether my proposal is accepted or not.
  • Complete kirk session library borrowings transcribing and use this as basis for a pilot study for a possible future larger-scale project linking library borrowings to rich genealogical records from the 19th century such as census returns. Aim is to see how practical it is to work with the records in this way, in terms of time and complexity, and what sort of results it might offer. Will write the results of this process up in the form of a paper and aim to submit it.
  • Catch up with academic reading: I have a huge backlog of some very important things I need to read, both shorter papers and longer books. Reading print is quite a challenge for me now, due to the progressive neurological disease, but I must try to reduce the to-read pile in 2013.
  • (Related to above) Update my EndNote database of things read. As a historian I don’t find EndNote at all useful for automatically generating references in footnotes or endnotes – it gets the formats wrong, and even when I make up my own special styles to suit in-house styles it’s still not flexible enough for many of the things I need to refer to. But it’s fantastic for remembering what I’ve read – way better than me at it – and I use its rich database potential to type up notes about things read, and categorise by keywords. I just need to add some things I’ve read more recently and not put into EndNote.
  • Complete paper based on the dissertation project in the family & community history honours course in my Open University BA degree. I think this is publishable, with some extra contextualisation. I’m going to give it a go anyway.
  • Tidy away my piles of research material from my PhD. These are still taking up space in my study, years later. I need to sort through them, extract anything useful, then file them away (if they fit!) in a cupboard.
  • Attend more history departmental research seminars at Dundee. I’ve been too ill over recent months to attend any, but there are some particularly interesting ones coming up, and it’s too good a chance to miss to catch up with recent interesting research. There’s one that’s particularly appealing soon, that ties in to my recent paper submission to Past & Present.
  • (Possibly, if I’m still strong enough to tackle this afterwards) Send my husband to a local archive, with digital camera, to photograph a large run of 19th and 20th century library borrowings, which I’d like to transcribe and analyse. This would be for the bigger project following from the kirk session pilot study, and is rather contingent on how well that goes.

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At the start of the month I blogged about my research and writing goals for the month. They have moved forward partially, but I’ve been very knocked out, so not able to do as much as hoped.

The chapmen paper has moved on a bit, with me having started to write it up in the WriteRoom app on my iPad. My goal there is to sketch out the overall structure, see where the gaps are, and fill those in. That made progress in spite of everything, and I hope to continue to work on it in the next month, still with the aim of submitting it for publication before 1st April 2013.

The kirk session library borrowings transcribing has not moved on at all, but that is not urgent, and can wait for a longer-term project and when I am stronger and have more time.

In positive news I submitted a proposal for a talk at a conference for archivists about democratising access to archives. As a disabled user I have an unusual but valuable perspective on this, and have spoken about the subject before to trainee archivists. I hope that I will be able to present my experiences and suggestions.

And another positive thing this month was that a previously-accepted journal paper is now moving forward with the editor, and will hopefully see publication in 2013.

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Charlotte Mathieson has written an excellent blog post about Open Access, based largely around a panel discussing it, including representatives from RCUK and other bodies. It is well worth reading, not least for the alarming picture it paints of RCUK refusing to engage with academics who have concerns. In particular Charlotte writes:

The response to these questions, particularly by RCUK’s Thorley, was strikingly dismissive and refused to engage in any debate from the floor. As I tweeted at the time, it seems that any real consideration of these issues will be retrospective, the key message now being “we’re going to transfer what works for STEM subjects, see if it works, and if it doesn’t then maybe we’ll start to take these issues seriously”. While I’m not unwilling to accept that many of the concerns raised might turn out to be easily addressed during transition period, it seems wholly irresponsible to be entirely unwilling to engage in debate. If vast numbers of arts and humanities researchers are raising concerns about OA, then surely dialogue and discussion around these issues is more productive than shutting the door on these questions.

Truly alarming, and shows the need for continued campaigning and complaining by researchers who are concerned.

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Really insightful article about some of the problems with the planned UK implementation of Open Access.

The Disorder Of Things

This is the text of a document prepared by Meera and me on Article Processing Charges as currently understood and the serious risks we think they pose to academic freedom and funding, broadly understood (previous discussed by severalcontributors toour openaccess series). It is also available as a pdf, and we encourage academics to think carefully about the issues foregrounded, and to act accordingly.

Applegarth Press


  • The Government is pushing academic publishing to a ‘pay-to-say’ model in order to achieve open access to publicly funded research
  • This ‘gold’ route to open access, which levies Article Processing Charges (as proposed in the Finch Report and taken up by RCUK and HEFCE) poses a major problem for academics in the UK:
    • It threatens academic freedom through pressures on institutions to distribute scarce APC resources and to judge work by standards other than peer review
    • It threatens research funding by…

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I’d been hoping to move a rather urgent paper on this month, another PhD-derived one that really needs to beat the 1st April 2013 submission deadline, otherwise I’ll have to pay dearly for it to be published due to the new UK Open Access rules. But I’ve been rather knocked out of late, and haven’t finished the transcribing I’d hoped to do. I have my own microfilm machine at home, and the relevant records on film, but haven’t been well enough of late to sit down and work through them, which is not good.

But to move things on despite all this I’ve been looking tonight at developing other parts of the paper. Some time ago I had made lots of notes in a text editor, jotting down ideas for a rough structure. But I was struggling to see beyond these, and to properly see the bigger picture. So tonight I turned these linear notes into a mind map on my iPad, using the iThoughtsHD app. This allowed me to sketch out the overall structure more dynamically, and to fill in details of the other sections, as ideas occurred to me.

Chapmen mind map in iThoughtsHD

I now have a detailed structure that I can develop, and while part 2 of the paper (the part related to the microfilm transcription) is a little on hold I can develop the other parts, particularly parts 1, 3 and 4. I can also work on a bit of part 2 that is derived directly from a section in my PhD thesis. That leaves the rest of part 2 to finish after I’m better able to do the microfilm transcribing, and likewise part 5 – the conclusions – to work on at the very end, though I have sketched out a likely structure for that already.

So my paper is underway again, not quite in the manner I’d planned at the start of this month, but it’s making forward progress. And since I am aiming to submit before a looming deadline that is a good thing. Mind mapping has proved to be very effective for me tonight. Usually I’d mind map at an earlier stage than this, but in this case I was able to take a rough very linear set of notes and turn it into a mind map to make sense of and develop the bigger structure. And that was an enormous help.

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I’ve just been revisiting references I found to the start of street lighting in 18th century Dundee. Street lighting spread throughout Britain from the 18th century onwards, with larger towns and cities tending to acquire it sooner. In Dundee street lighting started in the winter of 1752, and the lights were powered initially by whale oil. References to the street lighting can be traced in the records of the town council treasurer. Here for example is the account from 1766-1767:

By Cash paid for a Tun of oyle drawing off bought at the Whale Fishing Warehouse – 6 6
By do paid the men bring down the Lamps & cariing them up to the Town house – 2 –
By do paid the Three Lamp lighters for the Season 4 10 –
By do paid James Syme for a Tun of oyle 23 3 –
By do paid for Tow for Cleaning the Lamps the Season – 10 –
By do paid John Thomson for his accot of mending & Cotton wick 3 10 –
By do paid for Casks to draw off the oyle in – 15 –
32 16 6

Street lighting was one of a number of improvements that started in 18th century Britain, and can be used, along with other things such as paving and changes to street layout, as well as increased provision of cultural facilities such as theatres and assembly rooms, as a measure of how much a specific town had improved living conditions for its inhabitants. In England much research and useful writing on town improvement in this period, the so-called urban renaissance, has been carried out by Peter Borsay. In Scotland less has been done, especially below city level, although the pilot study into Angus burghs that I worked on for Dr Bob Harris was followed more recently by a larger study looking at small towns in this period through Scotland. This has led to a number of academic journal papers sharing the results, and may lead to a book in future too.

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Charlotte Mathieson posted a useful blog post today reflecting on what she’d achieved writing-wise in Academic Writing Month. Even more valuable, I think, are her thoughts there on learning from the experience and taking it forward. In particular she writes:

So the first thing I’m taking away from AcWriMo is planning my writing month-by-month as a way of focusing on more concrete, realisable targets. At the same time, the above goals make clear that being flexible is crucial; we can never entirely predict where a piece of writing or research will take us, and that’s natural. What was important about having the overall AcWriMo structure in place was keeping the end-goal in sight, and being realistic about how I could still have a solid outcome from the month whilst adapting to the changing needs of my research.

I totally agree with her thoughts here, on the value of planning writing month-by-month, and the need to be flexible. When I started November I declared my goals and a strategy for completing them. But in the end papers were finished in a different order from that originally anticipated, depending on how well they were going, what I wanted to do next. It was very much a case of reaching the end goal, not mattering quite in what order I got there.

Like Charlotte I plan to continue to state my goals month by month, and see if I can carry the momentum forward. This applies not just to writing, but to research in general. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring more projects to fruition more effectively this way.


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