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I was interviewed recently by Geneabloggers for their “May I Introduce To You …” series. The interview focuses in particular on my background as a genealogist, and my genealogical blogging, but also covers academic issues too.

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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.

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In the last few days I’ve had one journal paper accepted (yay!) and another rejected (nay!) – though the latter wasn’t a big surprise, because I was aiming it at a very ambitious general interest journal. Its readers recommended two more specialist journals I could aim it at instead, so I’m going to try one of those next. However that, together with the accepted paper which has to be slightly revised in line with its readers’ comments, gives me more things to focus on in the short term.

So, mainly for my own benefit, I’m drawing up here a list of things I need to work on in the immediate future. It’s sort of roughly in order from most urgent to less urgent, but the order is somewhat fluid.

  • finish and submit chapmen paper – before 1st april 2013 (costly open access deadline), cos it’s partially based on research council funded PhD research (more partial as time goes on and do new research, but still falls under open access rules)
  • revise and resubmit melrose paper – preferably in next month, certainly next two (not open access concern, cos it was from a self-funded pg masters, but i’d still like to get it out of the way and submitted in a timely manner)
  • revise accepted professionals paper – waiting for timescale from editor, which might bump it up above melrose in priority
  • write talk for archivists’ conference – before end of march, for conference to be held in april

Then I can refer back to this list as a guideline to what I need to do, and get it done. I have space to finish off these things, in the limited good patches I have to get on with things, but the sooner they are out of the way the quicker I can get on with other tasks.

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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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I’ve just created this blog as a repository for my general musings on academic issues, historical research things etc. I have quite a few blogs already, to do with my genealogy interests, such as for my one-name study and my one-place studies. But I haven’t had anywhere dedicated to blogging about my academic research and writings, and I think it would be good to have that here.

I will be blogging occasionally, as the mood strikes me. I’m not planning on sticking to a specific pre-planned timetable. And I’ll also be blogging on a variety of issues, from academic writing as I turn my research into more journal papers, and research in archives, and time management etc. So rather a mixed bag.

My historical research specialises in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and is a mix of social, cultural and reading history. I also have a postgraduate taught Masters degree in cultural and urban histories, so there may be some urban history touched on here too. My PhD looked at reading habits in Scotland circa 1750-1820, using a variety of sources, such as evidence for reading in the context of daily lives (particularly diaries and memoirs), library borrowing records, and evidence for book ownership.

I’m getting increasingly intrigued with the modern digital revolution in publishing and reading, and may blog some thoughts about that here. My PhD specialism is much earlier, but I’m interested in all aspects of reading history, and the current changes are quite exciting from an academic viewpoint, as well as a reader’s. This growing interest of mine also ties in with my prior computer science background, where I was a graduate and postgraduate student before studying various history degrees.

So that’s my introduction. Shortly I’m going to resurrect a couple of blog posts that I’ve made on my Google+ account about academic-related issues. After that though it will be new material here, as and when I feel like writing it.

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