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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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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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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 spent an enjoyable day today at the first day of the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland conference at Inverness. Sadly due to my neurological illness I was only ever able to contemplate attending the one day, but am very glad I managed what I did.

The conference theme is a two parter: on the one hand economy and society in rural Scotland, and on the other a tribute to the late historian Malcolm Gray. I regret to say that I wasn’t as familiar with Gray’s work as I should have been. But now, largely thanks to the keynote opening talk by Eric Richards, I know more, and plan to read more of his work. I also discovered that I need to reference him in a journal paper I am working on at the moment, even if it concerns a very non Highland location.

There were eight other talks today. Another that I particularly enjoyed was Alistair Mutch’s talk, very much a work in progress project, about architecture of north east Scottish home farms in the 18th century. He used as some of his reference material the architectural guides written by my former supervisor Charles McKean, which was nice.

Another talk that related more closely to my work was Elizabeth Ritchie’s paper about Gaelic and English literacy and teaching, and the consequences for reading and wider life. My history PhD looked at reading habits in Scotland at the same period, but regrettably with rather a blind spot when it came to Highland, let alone, Gaelic reading. So it was eye opening to hear Elizabeth’s research into this, and I look forward to reading the resulting published article.

Yesterday in Leakey’s secondhand bookshop in Inverness I bought Haldane’s classic history of drove roads in Scotland. So it was timely to hear David Taylor’s paper about the cattle trade, on a gigantic scale, in 18th century Badenoch. Trying to visualise now remote hills covered with thousands of cattle was a challenge!

My own talk was to be last, but we rejigged the order a bit, so I was the penultimate speaker. I was also the only person on the day speaking about southern Scotland, talking as I was about my postgraduate Masters dissertation research into 17th century local court records in the Melrose area of Roxburghshire. I was really worried whether I would be strong enough to speak by the time my time came. Last time I spoke at a conference I was very weak, due to my illness, and struggled to talk, even with a microphone to help. This time I had no microphone, so had to project my voice. But adrenaline or something got me through, my talk came in on time, and the audience laughed at the appropriate moments and seemed to enjoy the topic. I also, not to plan, dropped in terms like “CSI Melrose” and “Murrrdddeerr” as in Taggart! My conference talks are always rather improvised and unpredictable, and that was certainly the case here. I had some good questions at the end, and also got a good reference to a relevant work which will help me improve the paper I am working on based on the research, which I am targeting – with a revise and resubmit offer already in place – at an eminent British-wide history journal. So all good.

It was also an enormous help that the conference organisers allowed my husband to attend free as my helper. I was using my wheelchair for most of the time there, to keep me going for as long as possible, and would have struggled with the doors and things without him to help. So thank you very much.

My only regret is that I can’t be there tomorrow. But I had a wonderful time today, and am having a lovely visit to Inverness.

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Another to-do list for my own benefit. I find it helpful to make a note of things in progress, not least because it gets my thoughts and plans in order, and records it somewhere I can find it again in future.

My immediate priority is to write a talk for an academic conference in a month’s time. I’m speaking about my taught postgraduate Masters dissertation research into Melrose regality court records of the late 17th century. I did this research a decade ago, and have completed a part-time PhD on a quite different topic since then. So it is a little bit distant for me now, but I should be able to prepare it well. Actually squeezing it into 20 minutes is something of a challenge, but will be fun, and I hope the audience will enjoy it. I gave a longer talk (about 90 minutes) about the same research in Melrose years ago, and that proved popular.

Alongside that I have a revise and resubmit offer on a journal paper based on this Melrose research. I should get on with that, and perhaps tackling the journal paper revisions alongside the talk writing might kill two birds with one stone. I’m aiming at quite an ambitious journal. They may yet decide to reject me, but things are promising at the moment, and I always regard a revise and resubmit offer as a good one that must be followed up on. Basically you have your foot holding the door open, and it would be silly not to try to get to accepted.

Another priority for me is to write my talk for the Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth in just over a month’s time. I’m going to be talking about my Cavers one-name (surname) study, which I’ve been doing since the late 1980s, and has been registered with the Guild since the late 1990s. We can use PowerPoint at this meeting, as I will do for my Melrose talk, and I’m hoping to cover a lot of ground that will be of interest to other Scottish one-name studiers.

My planned book of strange history / roleplaying articles continues, slowly. I tend to lurch at the articles: have a gap for a while, and then complete three or more in quick succession. I’ve completed nine so far, and have two more well underway. I am aiming for fifteen completed ones, and will then see if I want to write more. Lurching my way forwards anyway.

My text adventure game is on hold, but I should resume it in the autumn. I’m in the middle section of the game now, and am still writing the core plot. The coding side of things (in Inform 7) isn’t that difficult. But writing the detective story side of things is more of a challenge for me, and is being done slowly, and carefully.

And I continue to blog, in my various blogs. For example I blogged earlier today about my husband’s turkey poaching ancestors, inspired by a very similar case covered in this week’s Who Do You Think You Are programme (UK version).

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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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A TV series which I’ve enjoyed in recent years is Paul Murton’s Grand Tours of Scotland using an old 19th century guidebook as his guide. I bought a copy of the same guidebook, Black’s Picturesque Guide to Scotland, in my case the 1892 edition, and have been enjoying reading it. It has useful descriptions – often illustrated – of the main tourist destinations, as well as information on lesser-known attractions.

Edinburgh pages in 1892 guidebook

Although it’s hardly the main focus of the book I particularly like the series of advertisements at the back, many from Scotland, but some from other parts of the UK and Ireland too. These include adverts from hotels touting for guests. The one that really made me grin was the thought of buses transporting people from the railway station at Melrose to the George & Abbotsford Hotel. It’s only about 2 minutes walk round the corner! But I guess if you were a high-falutin guest you would not want to walk and get your shoes and clothes – especially skirts for ladies – dirty or wet.

Hotel advertisements from 1892 book

I used travel guides and similar books quite a bit during my year working as a Research Assistant looking at towns in Angus in the late 18th and early 19th century. Such books were a very useful insight into how the different towns were perceived by outsiders at this time. In a similar way I used travel guides in my postgraduate Masters degree in Cultural and Urban History, using them for an essay looking at urbanisation in the Borders, and specifically whether individual places were regarded at the time as towns (with all the appropriate trappings and facilities) or were the lesser-regarded villages.

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