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Archive for November, 2013

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.

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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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A very important part of my personal cultural history is that I’m a Doctor Who fan. I have been since I was 5, in 1978, and started to watch the series, starting with the first Romana 1 story, The Ribos Operation. And I was utterly hooked. This was the Tom Baker era, and for many years he was “my” Doctor, my favourite, though I watched and enjoyed all of the 80s Doctors Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.

Then the series went off air in 1989, and my fandom slipped. I stopped reading Doctor Who Magazine regularly, and it fell off my radar. And, though I’m really not sure how I managed it, and boggle now looking back, I even missed the 1996 TV movie broadcast on the BBC with Paul McGann in the role.

Fast forward to 26th September 2003, and the announcement that Doctor Who was coming back to TV, under the helm of Russell T Davies. I read that news on Ceefax, and years of suppressed Who fandom hit me like a tidal wave. Suddenly I was a fan rediscovering the show again, buying old DVDs, buying books to read, and even trying Big Finish audios. On our first day in our new house, while my husband helped the removal men, and I stripped old wallpaper from the walls, I listened to The Chimes of Midnight, with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. And boy, wasn’t it good!

And then it came back to TV proper in 2005. I was hopeful that Christopher Eccleston would be good. I was more worried about Billie Piper. Stupid me, I shouldn’t have worried. Both were superb, Billie a very pleasant surprise. I was sad to see Christopher Eccleston leave, but delighted with his replacement, who I’d watched in Casanova. And David Tennant soon became my all-time favourite, ahead of the mighty Tom, with wonderful audio (even if rubbish TV movie) Paul McGann third. And over the years companions came and went, and then there was Matt Smith. And now we have a Twelfth Doctor coming soon, whose casting is so exciting I am still pinching myself, not quite believing it can be true.

For the last few months my husband and I have been doing a weekly anniversary watch, picking a story from each Doctor to watch (or in the Eighth Doctor’s case to listen to – his audios are *much* better than the TV movie was). Here’s what we watched:

  1. The Edge of Destruction
  2. The Invasion
  3. The Sea Devils
  4. Genesis of the Daleks
  5. Mawdryn Undead
  6. The Mark of the Rani
  7. The Curse of Fenric
  8. Seasons of Fear
  9. Dalek
  10. The Fires of Pompeii
  11. Vincent and the Doctor

And then on Friday evening we watched a recorded version of An Adventure in Space and Time, the docudrama telling the origin story of Doctor Who. Oh that was glorious. Loved it. And tonight we have the 50th anniversary special to look forward to. I have a small bottle of champagne ready, and my Somerset husband has a bottle of cider ready to open. Bring it on!

And just in case all this isn’t academic enough I recently submitted a proposal to an academic conference to talk about the changing relationship of Doctor Who and its fanzines over nearly 50 years. And I’ve also in the past written a book history piece reflecting on one of my favourite TV stories.

But ultimately today is one of celebration for the fans of a wonderful TV institution. Long may it continue.

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Checking in after another week of the month, and really pleased with progress in the last 7 days.

Conference paper proposal for the SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) 2014 conference in Antwerp has been finished and submitted online. Was really easy to do. They even asked for my Twitter handle in the submission process! My proposed talk is titled “Fanzines and British TV series Doctor Who, and their changing relationship over nearly 50 years”. I’ll find out by mid February if they’ve accepted my proposal, but I’m going whatever.

And I’ve almost finished my other big goal, revising and resubmitting an academic journal paper this month. I finished scribbling my many changes to the text a few days ago, and last night spent a very productive hour typing them into the Word document. When I originally submitted the paper it was 9999 words long – yes the journal did allow 10000! And I’m amazed that even with all my additions and clarifications the new version isn’t much over 9900 words. Though I did hack out quite a bit of text in one section, including a lengthy table the anonymous reviewer thought was superfluous. I’ll easily be able to finish and resubmit this paper by the end of November, which is superb.

IF Comp also finished in the last 7 days. In the end I played and judged 10 games out of the 35 total, which given my other time constraints I’m quite pleased about. And I now have all the other entrants, including the eventual winner, to look forward to playing more slowly.

I also resumed writing my own interactive fiction game. It’s a whodunnit / mystery, set in a Scottish Borders castle circa 1500. Much of the game involves talking to other characters, to try to figure out the clues. The other night I filled out more of the Inform 7 conversation tables for this, which is great progress, that I’m really pleased with.

So good progress. Alongside finishing my journal paper revisions in the next 7 days I’d like to do more urban history research / thinking, and also roleplaying / history crossover articles for my book in progress. Will see what happens!

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Two of my history journal papers recently went online freely under green open access rules. Prompted in part by that I thought I’d look back on the first of those.

Entitled “Glimpses into a Town’s Reading Habits in Enlightenment Scotland: Analysing the Borrowings of Gray Library, Haddington, 1732-1816”, this paper was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies in 2006. At the time I was about half-way through my part-time history PhD. Every year the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland runs an essay prize for postgraduate students, with a money prize, and the winning paper published in their journal, the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. History postgraduates at Dundee were encouraged in my time to enter. I wrote up my then research, but didn’t complete it in time for the competition deadline because of being particularly ill at the time, causing a delay. But I sent it in anyway. The then editor, one of our Professors, asked me if I’d like him to hold it back for the competition in nearly a year, but I said no, please just consider it as a journal paper submission now. With my life-threatening condition I was keen to get on with things sooner rather than later, and a delay would not help.

My paper was accepted without any revisions, which is rather rare in academic publishing. With hindsight I think it gave me an unrealistic impression of journal publishing as an easy thing to do! I’ve certainly found it harder since, not least as I’ve aimed for more and more ambitious journals. But it at least gave me confidence to try more publishing, and it was a delight to see my research in print, only halfway through my PhD. I remember how thrilled I was to hold the print issues. Even the digital PDF was exciting. I had earlier co-authored publications from my computer science time, including some published after I had to leave that full-time PhD as my neurological illness struck. But this was the first time I had a sole-authored history journal paper, and it was a huge achievement.

The paper was based on research I was doing as part of my PhD on Scottish reading habits. In particular it looked at the borrowing records over 80 years or so of a free town library in Haddington, East Lothian. It was very unusual to have a free library at that time, and one that was open to the whole inhabitants of a town. It opened up all sorts of possibilities for contextualising the borrowings, and also researching the borrowers further.

The core part of the research involved transcribing the Haddington library’s borrowing registers and building up a database of library borrowings. For this I used the relational database system MySQL, drawing on my computer science degree and training. I had three linked tables: one recording the details of borrowers, one recording books in the library, and a third table linking the two, recording details of borrowings. And then I could write SQL queries to interrogate the database, and quickly produce answers to different questions.

For the borrowers, about 700 of whom could be identified, I researched in other local records to find out more about them. Parish registers, both Church of Scotland and other denominations, were useful, as were tax records, wills and inventories, later census returns, and so on. For this I was able to draw on my skills as a genealogist, used to working through such records, and was able to discover significant new information on over 240 of the known borrowers.

This extra information, such as occupation, age, family connections and so on together with the relational database allowed me to analyse the borrowings in a number of different ways. A simple analysis was to look at the numbers of borrowings over time, or, having categorised the library books roughly by subject, the changing subjects borrowed by the library users. Another analysis let me pull out the most popular titles, borrowed the most frequently, in specific decades. But I could also analyse the borrowings of specific occupational groups, or, for example, young girl borrowers. All were easy to pull out using the database structure I had built, allowing queries that would be impossible otherwise.

Results, such as differences between male and female borrower choices, could be compared with findings of other scholars elsewhere. And because I knew so much about many of the borrowers I could also write meaningfully about them. For example I was able to identify a watchmaker father and his daughter borrowing books together. As an added bonus this pair were my own direct ancestors.

I was able to show borrowers working through a multi-part title in sequence, getting hold of successive volumes as best they could, and clearly reading them. Clearly there was often competition for different volumes in the same sequence, but I could trace readers trying their very best to borrow the next volume they needed, and this wasn’t an isolated example. Some other book historians, particularly those associated with the Reading Experience Database, are sceptical about the use of library borrowing records as evidence of reading. But I would argue that the records I studied, with their clear evidence of reading sequentially like this, are very much evidence of that, and should not be dismissed so readily. Significantly they also cover a very sizeable local population, which permits a much greater range of analysis than a single isolated reading reference can.

Another nice thing that the Haddington library records showed was the extent of female reading. Many other Scottish reading institutions at this time were restricted in their membership, and often dominated by men. But the Haddington library was open to all genders, and asked borrowers to indicate when they were borrowing a book for someone else. So there are many loans recorded for female readers, allowing a comparison between male and female borrowing choices – and there was quite a difference – and, as noted already, a study of young female readers, who seemed to congregate in the library, particularly on Saturdays.

Overall I’m very proud of the paper, and still think that the research it presents stands up to scrutiny. I’m also pleased that I was able to use my computer science training in building up the databases that it relied upon. And although it gave me perhaps an overly optimistic view on academic publishing, I think without its experience I probably wouldn’t have gone on to do so much more.

The open access PDF copy of the paper is available from my publications page in my personal website.

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Another seven days down, and checking in once more on progress so far.

I’m really pleased with how the week has gone, though initially I moved away from the two main goals. For the conference paper proposal I was still waiting for some more academic textbooks on the subject to arrive, some bought, some borrowed from university libraries. They’re now all here, in house, so I’m going to have a good look through them over the coming week, and look at producing my final paper proposal, tweaking the first draft I produced earlier this month.

I also put the journal paper revising a little to one side, to give me more brain time to ruminate over things, before tackling it properly. I’d annotated the first submission PDF on my iPad, and printed that out 2-up with a blank side on the back for scribbling new versions / revisions. And I’ve been carrying that printout about with me, in an envelope in my bag, ever since. So when husband and I found ourselves in the Old Union Coffee Shop at the University of St Andrews yesterday, I was able to spend a good few minutes, with cup of tea on one side, working through my revisions.

I have 13 items on the revisions todo list. There are now just 2 left to do. In the last few minutes, sitting up with my printouts and a pen, I worked on the 4 hardest items that I’d been putting off until I’d figured out how to tackle them. Once I got my brain into gear it was really easy, and I wrote out new text for the relevant parts of the paper very quickly. I should definitely be able to finish this in the next week or two, and certainly resubmit the paper in November. Yay!

Another thing I’ve been doing this week is putting up a person index to participants in court cases in the Melrose area of the Scottish Borders between 1657 and 1676. This is a massive index, of nearly 9000 names, including often occupations, addresses, and names of relatives. I compiled this in the process of building a database of the local court records for this area. And I’d been meaning to put the index online for other genealogists and local historians to use. It’s now online, so massive I had to split the web pages for the name index into three sections, and I blogged about it here.

I’ve also been doing more IF Comp judging. Still not as much as I’d like, and judging closes tomorrow. But I’ve now raised the number of games I’ve judged and rated from 5 to 9, which is quite an improvement. Still a bit of a drop in the ocean out of 35 games total, but I’m happy. I may manage another couple between now and tomorrow night.

Something else that’s been good this week is that two of my old academic journal papers have gone freely online, under green open access rules. Green open access is very rare in humanities, so I was very pleased to get confirmation from Edinburgh University Press that I could put the final as-published PDFs of both papers in my personal website. I blogged about this. It also gave me a bit of a boost while I’m preparing more journal papers for submission, not least that one I’m currently revising.

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I’ve blogged here a number of times about my concerns about the new UK Research Councils’ policy on Open Access. I’m in favour of Open Access, but have concerns about the way they are implementing it, particularly the effective push towards Gold Open Access. This is where the author pays the publisher an APC or article processing charge, effectively to compensate them for loss of income from people downloading the article for free. APCs can run into thousands of pounds, and are a particular problem for independent unaffiliated scholars like me. The other form of Open Access, Green Open Access, is virtually unheard of in humanities, unlike in sciences where it is widespread. In this form of open access there is no fee paid by authors up-front, and instead they are allowed, sometimes after an embargo period, to put an online version of their journal paper in an institutional repository, or a personal website, or a central one like ArXiv.

Well I am delighted today to say that two of my old academic journal papers are now available freely online. This is thanks to Edinburgh University Press, which is one of the few humanities publishers which supports Green Open Access. I double-checked their rules with them, and got the go-ahead today to put the final as-published versions of my papers online in my personal website.

One paper was my very first history academic journal paper, published way back in 2006, long before Open Access in its modern form had even been dreamed of. This was derived from part of my history PhD, then still in progress, and looked at the borrowing registers of Gray Library in Haddington, East Lothian, from 1732 through to 1816. This was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies.

The other paper that’s just gone freely online was published a year ago, in Scottish Historical Review, probably the most eminent Scottish history journal, which was a real coup for me to get a single author paper into not long after completing my PhD. This paper, too, developed work studied in my PhD, this time examining books in people’s houses, using a case study of after-death inventories in late 18th century Dumfriesshire.

Both papers, in downloadable PDF form, are available via my publications page in my personal website.

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