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Early this morning I sent off the revised version of an accepted journal paper to the editor. So that’s taken care of. Good. But I thought for my own benefit I’d make a note here of other things I’m working on, as an aide-memoire.

I’ve agreed to write a book review for a Scottish history academic journal. I was approached for this, because of the specific book, and my research interests. So that’s next on the list. I have the book in the house – my own copy actually – and just need to read it, and pull together some thoughts. That shouldn’t take too long, fingers crossed, and should be fun. The review is needed by the end of this year, but I should easily finish it many months ahead of then.

In September I’m hoping to go to a Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth, and have offered to give a short talk about my Cavers one-name study. I’ve jotted down some ideas in a mind map already, but need to finish writing it, including the PowerPoint presentation I’ll use.

I’ve a series of articles ongoing that are a cross between historical pieces and roleplaying game ideas, and need to resume writing these. They were put on hold, as I battled the illness and completing other things. I’ve done seven articles so far, and am part-way through one on Montrose, with more planned. I’m hoping to publish them as a PDF booklet, once completed.

My interactive fiction game work in progress needs to be picked up again. I’d completed the prologue, and was at a point where I was going to start coding up the main middle section. I should be able to make good progress with this. I find writing the dialogue and interaction quite hard, but the coding side, in Inform 7 – a natural language programming language – is much easier for me. It’s funny, I can’t do much computer programming now, since the brain damage got really bad. But I get on well with Inform 7 – yay!

I have two other academic articles currently with journal editors and reviewers. One was derived from part of my PhD, the other from my MPhil. And I could hear back about those at any time. With luck I’d be offered some sort of revision, even a revise and resubmit would be good. But even if these editors reject the pieces outright I’d want to revise them myself before submitting them to a different journal. So I need to allow a little bit of space to be able to work on that.

I need to put together a proposal for the Community Libraries: Connecting Readers in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850 project. I can’t attend the colloquium in Chicago, about digital approaches to library history. But I hope to be able to attend the London colloquium in 2015, which is looking at libraries in the community. I could put together a good discussion piece for that, based on what I did for the library in Haddington, researching the readers using a huge range of genealogical and historical records, to be able to contextualise their borrowings properly. I’m also planning similar research in future for the Balquhidder Parish Library in Perthshire, and to that end am currently in the middle of a small-scale pilot study of another set of library borrowings. But I need to put something together for the London meeting, and submit it before the September 2013 deadline for abstracts.

I recently blogged about the 17th century poem I’m transcribing. I’d like to publish the transcript in an academic journal, with a suitable introduction and text contextualising it. So that’s another paper idea I’m working on. But I need to finish transcribing the poem first. For the record it’s massive. Three pages of two columns of tight text. Many many lines of poem.

I have another couple of paper ideas in progress, but they are at early stages, and unlikely to reach editors anytime soon.

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I do a lot of my research planning and writing on my iPad. For example I’ll always have a to-do list on the go there, of things I want to work on, of all sorts, ranging across academic history, through genealogy, miscellaneous writing, and computer game design.

To do list on iPad

And whenever I start a new research project I will brainstorm it, again in iThoughtsHD on my iPad.

But I was struck today by some of the advantages of an old fashioned pen and paper approach, even in a digital age.

I carry a red notepad with me all the time. It’s like a Moleskine, but a fraction of the price, lovely texture, and nice to write in.

Notepad with pen

It’s compact, and easily fits in my bag that I take out with me. So it’s always there, which is more than can be said for my iPad 2, which is too big for me to carry around all the time, though it’s great for working on at home. So when today I had a few minutes in the supermarket cafe, with a cappuccino beside me, I took out my notepad and had a look.

The first thing I spotted was a set of notes I’d made on a similar occasion, but hadn’t transferred to my iPad, and had totally forgotten about! These are notes of genealogy things I want to work on soon, such as transcribing a court case for my Cavers one-name study, and digitising the many paper receipts I have from around the wedding time of my great-grandparents at Melrose in 1905. I must get on with these!

Genealogy notes in notepad

After that initial shock, the next step was to use the notepad to develop new material. I’m writing a series of articles at the moment that are a sort of crossover between historical pieces and roleplaying game ideas, and once I’ve finished my current one about Montrose I’ll want to move on to the next couple of places. One of the upcoming articles will be about Inchtuthil in Perthshire, a Roman fort. So I took the chance this afternoon to brainstorm some ideas for this. I will move this planning at some point to my iPad though, into iThoughtsHD, and then write up the piece in WriteRoom.

Inchtuthil notes in notepad

I really like working with a pen and paper notepad like this, but I must make more of an effort to transfer the notes to my iPad, to work on them in future, and not completely forget them. Of course this brings to mind the integrated Evernote/Moleskine notepads. But I don’t think I want one of those, even though I use Evernote a lot. I think I just need to be a bit more organised about opening up my notepad when I get home and have my iPad to hand, and transferring the ideas from one to the other.

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I’ve just been reading an article in The Observer about university lectures, where two academics debate their pros and cons. And a few weeks ago I read a blog post by classicist Mary Beard on the same subject.

I was a full-time undergraduate science student at St Andrews University between 1990 and 1994. We had very variable lectures. Some were massive, hundreds of students in the lecture theatre, particularly in earlier years before students specialised for honours. Others were smaller, often a few dozen students, or even in the case of one of my honours courses just me and the lecturer!

The biggest problem I had with the traditional large-room university lectures is that they varied hugely by quality of lecturer. With an experienced lecturer they could be a lively stimulating experience, inspiring the student and communicating ideas effectively. Although the student could still end up at times fleeing from the room, running to the nearest academic bookshop to buy a textbook so they could further understand the subject! I remember doing that after the very first cosmology lecture in my first year astronomy course with Dr Carson. But with poor lecturers, especially beginning ones, it could be very different.

In my second year computer science course a new lecturer, not long after finishing his PhD, was assigned to teach the C programming course. In many ways this was the most fundamental course that we studied that year, the one we would need to understand best of all to be able to prosper in the subsequent honours years. And the lecturing was appalling. The new lecturer mumbled all the way through, and did not project himself to the class, who were only sitting a foot or two in front of him. We couldn’t understand what he was teaching, and we were not learning how to do C programming. As always loads of us had to rely on textbooks, me buying Kernighan and Ritchie to teach myself. But we should not have had to do this. In many ways I’d have been better if I hadn’t sat through those lectures – and I never missed a lecture in any course – and just taught myself.

Indeed the experience was so bad that it led to a student rebellion in the 1991/2 Second Year computer science class. A few students, me included, acted as spokespersons for the whole class, and sat through a debate (which was quite intimidating) in the John Honey building with all the computer science staff, putting our concerns. I think they took on board what we were saying, but by then it was too late for that year of students, and masses who should have carried on to honours computer science switched to other subjects instead. As a result there were only 3 honours students in my class: 2 single honours, 1 joint honours with another subject. That was the lowest number of computer science honours students at St Andrews for a very long time.

Another bad experience with lectures is where the lecturer – and this happened in one of my senior honours computer science courses – forbade us from taking notes, saying we would get the lecture slides at the end. He was really insistent about this. And of course he didn’t give us the slides, until we went round and demanded them, explaining he had promised them, and had told us not to take notes. He’d completely forgot about it. Well again what was the point of sitting through those lectures? Did we really engage properly with what he was saying?

After leaving St Andrews I started studying history part-time with the Open University. I couldn’t even attend many tutorials held locally at Dundee, so was managing on my own at home. And although the teaching there had to be primarily through pre written course books, I found it to be of generally a much higher standard than the variable lectures in my science degree.

Now small seminars, they’re a totally different matter. I’ve sat through excellent examples of those, including in teaching context, in my postgraduate history Masters at Dundee University. There you can have good quality interaction between teacher and students. But the numbers must be small. Even with a relatively poor lecturer the students can help to stimulate the discussion.

But I guess I’m not a fan of traditional one to many lectures!

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I attended the Democratising or privileging: the future of access to archives conference yesterday. It was run by the University of Dundee’s Centre for Archive and Information Studies, and was held at the Apex Hotel beside the River Tay in Dundee. The conference ran over two days, the Thursday and Friday, but I could only attend one, due to my severely disabling neurological disease. And since I was speaking on the Friday that was the day. Even then I had to miss the opening talk, which was apparently a doozy, so I would still be strong enough to speak come the time of my talk at 1pm.

My husband accompanied me as my helper / wheelchair pusher, and we arrived about 10.10am, and parked in a disabled space in the hotel car park, near to the entrance. Once inside we registered, and had a coffee outside in the bar area, before wheeling in at the first coffee break at 10.30am. I was able to meet quite a lot of people I know through Twitter, and when the conference resumed at 10.50am we were able to get a good seat near the exit. My husband, a research fellow in computer science / space technology research, had his laptop with him, and happily worked on various things on there while I enjoyed the conference.

The next panel, from 10.50-12.20, saw three speakers talk, variously on privacy concerns, copyright and digitisation, and the archives situation in South Africa. I was particularly intrigued by the last talk, and the state of archives in a nation of political and social upheaval.

Then my panel was 12.20-1.30. All of the speakers sat at the front table, with Caroline Brown from the university archives who was chairing it. The first speaker was French Canadian, talking about the horrific archives experience in Canada at the moment, as the government slashes budgets and sacks archivists. I thought the next speaker, also Canadian, would be talking about a Canadian topic, but she talked about her PhD research in Edinburgh, using the NAS and Edinburgh City Archives. For the latter she praised the knowledge of the archivist and stressed how important it is to talk to archivists. But I just found it terrifying how that archive doesn’t have proper catalogues, and that only one archivist knows their collection inside out. What if something happens to him? And he must retire sometime.

Whereas every other speaker walked over to stand at the podium, I stayed seating on the front table, and used a portable microphone. I was quite weak, and struggling at times, but I got through, and inside my 20 minute slot. I managed to cover almost everything in my plan, and remembered to advance the PowerPoint slides. I think people particularly appreciated my list of recommendations for archivists to help them support disabled users better: I was told afterwards that some people were scribbling frantically at that point. And I had quite a few questions from the audience afterwards, who were really engaged with my talk. One was about archives and how they can support blind users, which isn’t something I specifically addressed in my talk, but had thought about, because of a blind student friend I have in America, who wants to trace his family history and wonders how he will access archives. So I was able to field that question.

After that it was lunch. Many people came up to me on the way to lunch, or there, or at coffee later, to thank me for my talk. They included archivists from Hawick, St Andrews (who sat by Martin and me over lunch), Aberdeen, Perth, and London. And also the former Keeper of the Records for Scotland (also Registrar General), who greatly appreciated my praise for the wheelchair lift they installed at General Register House. The archivist from Hawick, who now works at Edinburgh University, likewise appreciated my praise for the help their archive had given me during my PhD. I was also able to chat to Robin Urquhart from the NRS who helped me in various ways to get access to digital records, both in the past and now.

There were two main panels in the afternoon. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of Dr Karl Heinz from Austria, talking about international archival cooperation and specifically the Monasterium.net project to digitise medieval charters. I asked him afterwards, using the portable microphone to talk, about who could make changes to the meta data in their database, and how it was curated – via submission for moderation, by an expert.

Another inspiring talk was that of Amanda Hill, a Brit now living in Canada, talking of how her archive, Deseronto Archives in Ontario, has experimented in outreach through means such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, blogs and so on. All on a shoe-string budget, but highly effective. Should be a big lesson to better funded and larger archives.

After a quick coffee break, it was time for the closing panel, where final thoughts on the conference were presented. Then Caroline wrapped up with final closing thoughts, and we were done.

I was very weak by the end of the day, but pleased I had been able to stay for the entire afternoon session. Overall I’m very glad I was able to attend the conference. It was an eye-opening experience for users of how the archivist’s side of things work, as well, I hope for archivists of user issues, such as those of family historians, academic historians, and, in my case, disabled users. It was also nice to see such a strong Canadian contingent of archivists at the conference, particularly in a time of massive upheaval for archives in their country. They got a big cheer / clap at the end. It was also great to meet various Twitter friends, and to meet so many archivists who had helped me with my research and access needs in the past.

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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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