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Posts Tagged ‘court records’

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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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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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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Before I discovered the joys of book history and researching historic reading habits, which I studied for a PhD, I did a part-time taught postgraduate Masters (an MPhil) in Cultural and Urban Histories 1650-1850. This was taught at Dundee University, mainly by Professor Charles McKean, ably supported by other members of staff, and was superb. The closing part of the Masters saw students do a dissertation on a topic of their choice. And I chose to study the local court records of Melrose in Roxburghshire between 1657 and 1706. These had been transcribed and published, and so were easy to work with. I built up a very large database of cases, pursuers and defenders. There were thousands of cases heard at the Melrose court in the period, and huge numbers of the (small) local population involved with the court. It was a very unusual type of local court, dating from the pre-Reformation Abbey control of the area, and provided low-cost convenient access to legal solutions to problems.

The Melrose court went through a lot of upheaval in the 1680s, after the Earl of Haddington who controlled it refused to agree to the Test Act, a measure by King Charles II to try to reassert royal authority, which was resisted by many peers in Scotland. As a result the control of this court passed to the Earl of Roxburgh, who appointed as his bailie-depute, in other words the sitting judge, local man George Pringle of Blindlee. Pringle would become one of the starring characters of my dissertation, as I showed how he changed the purpose of the Melrose court to now be primarily to root out conventicles, secret meetings for worship by people opposed to the imposed Episcopalian religion. And significantly Pringle also used the court to line his own pockets, as he fined the local population heavily, and seems to have taken deliberate steps to – wrongly – keep the money for himself.

So it was a delight to discover a contemporary poem written about Blindlee’s appointment to the Melrose post. It’s held in the National Records of Scotland, and as the catalogue says it’s called ‘A strange truth, a recommendation of Blindlie by the laird of Meldrum to the earl of Roxburgh, to be his depute in Melroseland’. The poem is undated, but looking through it looks to be pretty authentic to events of the changeover of 1682 as I know them already, and presumably was written by someone who knew the facts well.

I’ve started to transcribe the poem. It’s lengthy, not great poetry, almost McGonagall-like in places. But the rhyming helps as I battle to read the faint handwriting. I’m hoping to publish it in the form of a journal paper in future. I already have a paper with reviewers based on my Melrose court research in general, and hope to get that published in a good journal.

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I recently had to buy a new printer, after my old one (which had lasted over a decade) finally caved in. Clearing out the old printer and making room for the new one prompted me to deal with a backlog of printout odds and ends which I hadn’t dealt with properly. Most are just scraps and can go into the paper recycling box, but I found a couple of interesting things tonight.

One was the notes for a talk I gave during my PhD to fellow postgraduate students about the difficulties of identifying individuals in the past. This came out of my Masters dissertation, where I had built a very large database of pursuers and defendants in 17th century court cases. There are many references to people with the same name, some would be to the same person multiple times, but more often than not references are to different people, but it’s really difficult to figure out from them who was who. This is despite the very helpful habit in the locality concerned of using nicknames, sometimes based on where the people lived, sometimes to do with their physical description, sometimes genealogical, and so on. Anyway the talk notes, which are accompanied by a spreadsheet page of similarly-named people from my court cases database, make some interesting points. Maybe I should write it up into something more formal? Even a blog post would be good.

The other useful thing I found tonight in the pile of printouts was my initial plan/notes for an essay from 2006. I think this was part of a training exercise we did on writing skills, and we were advised to break down our writing task under certain headings, to focus ourselves more. The piece of writing I used to practice this technique on was part of Chapter 6 of my PhD thesis, and what would ultimately turn into my recent Scottish Historical Review journal paper.

The headings that the essay plan is broken down into are really helpful:

  • Title and summary:
  • Title
  • What is the focus of this essay?
  • What is the purpose of this essay?
  • Deadlines (start date and 1st draft due date)
  • Research:
  • What is the essay about?
  • What is the focus of this essay?
  • Why is this topic interesting or relevant to me?
  • What is my working hypothesis?
  • What questions or conflicts need to be resolved?
  • Audience:
  • Who is going to read this essay?
  • What does my audience know about this subject?
  • What do I want my audience to learn from this essay?
  • What am I trying to tell the readers about this subject?

And under each of those subject headings I have a short paragraph expanding on my thoughts accordingly. Often in ways I had since quite forgot. I mean I had a working hypothesis at that point?! And thoughts about conflicts?! If I was planning a set of questions like this myself now I’d add other ones, for example to stress my contribution, and why it is of interest to other people not just me. But they are a very good start, and could be really helpful when planning a piece of writing, or indeed research. This technique would also work well with my mind mapping technique for breaking down ideas and fleshing them out. I wish I hadn’t forgotten it over the last six years. But thankfully I rediscovered it tonight. And will aim to apply to my academic writing in future.

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