Saturday, 29 September 2012

How To Read

Reading as a postgrad is a unique experience. Gone (already) are the days of gathering information from a book and adding it to a body of mental knowledge. My purpose in reading is altogether different.

What's on my desk (though not what I am reading).

My focus at the moment (and probably for the greater part of this semester at least) is historiography rather than history. I am not currently reading about the historical subjects I am really interested in, I'm reading about the historiography of the early modern period. I've never been especially excited by historiography, as much as I understand its importance. At this point, though, I've got a bit interested in periodization. The challenge here though is to remember why I'm reading these texts in order to get out of them what I need.

Firstly, there is a feeling of having stepped into the middle of a conversation. This shouldn't be a surprise as that's essentially what I've done. I am hoping that there comes a point, a critical mass of reading, when all of it fits together and suddenly the bigger picture becomes apparent. The sooner this happens the better, to be frank. I mean, it would be welcome any minute now really.

Related to the first point, reading anything leads to adding more things to the "I Should Read" list, which, I suspect, is endless. Each author makes reference to the works that have informed their argument and invariable some of them look like they'd be useful for developing my argument (she says optimistic that she has an argument). This leads to further library catalogue checking. So far, I've found most of what I need (though oddly there doesn't seem to be an accessible copy of Joan Kelly's seminal essay Did Women Have A Renaissance? though I have a copy anyway). I've already gone off-list for the first seminar. Maybe this is a good thing? I don't know.

Then there's the academic in-jokes. I noticed this the other day. Some academics throw in a little humour and often it works (Margaret King's Do Women Need The Renaissance? which I was reading this morning springs to mind) but there are the other jokes. Earlier this week I was reading an article and thought "That's an in-joke! He's made some clever reference I'm not smart enough to get!" So on the one hand, I feel thick for not getting it but on the other, I'm slightly pleased that I got enough to notice it in the first place.

Thursday, 27 September 2012


So, with my tooth just about back to normal and an increasing feeling of health, I am back in the swing of things.

The first meeting of Themes and Approaches in Early Modern History was on Monday. We're a small group and everyone's interests seem to be quite different so I think it'll be an interesting year. Definitely a challenging one. The reading for this class alone is huge. Thankfully it's fortnightly.

Today I went to the first of the School of History postgrad skills training seminars. It was on writing essays for the MLitt. It was interesting and definitely useful, but also very daunting. What is expected of us now is so much more than at undergrad level. Although this is hardly a surprise, it's a lot to take on board and a significant upping of the game. We were told, rather kindly, not to be surprised if our first essay mark is crap.

I've spent the rest of the day reading, although still less than I want or need to get through in a day. In preparation for the next Approaches class, I looked at a couple of articles the periodization of the Early Modern. In short, both were arguing that calling it "the Early Modern period" is at best unhelpful. I've spent the day with the gnawing doubt that maybe my period doesn't actually exist.

Good start to the year.

  • Jeroen Duindam, “Early Modern Europe: Beyond the Strictures of Modernization and National Historiography,” European History Quarterly 40 (2010)
  • Randolph Starn, ‘Review Article: The Early Modern Muddle,’ Journal of Early Modern History 6 (2002)

Monday, 24 September 2012


So, after recovering from a mild bout of Freshers' Flu, I started getting toothache. It got worse and worse, as toothache is wont to do, until I went to the dentist on Friday morning. I have an infection in my tooth. The antibiotics are kicking in now and I can once again function as something roughly approximating a human being, but the last 4 days have been deeply unpleasant. Today isn't going to go down as one of the best days of my life either but now I at least feel like I've turned a corner with it.

As a result, I've been back in Edinburgh for a few days. I missed palaeography on Friday which I hated doing but had no alternative. I'm back in St Andrews now but will be going back to Edinburgh tonight. I have the first meeting of the core course shortly which I absolutely did not want to miss and fortunately I am well enough to make it.

I've done virtually no reading over the last few days. My attention span could hardly keep up with A Clash Of Kings, never mind real history. I am hoping that my sanity is sufficiently restored today to do some work.

Not the start to the year I wanted, but better from here, I hope.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Long Tuesday

I never really got started today. I managed to find the bigger out-of-town supermarket so the fridge is now stocked and I had actual, proper food in something approximating a lunch and a dinner.

Managed an hour of reading but I am finding historiography no more interesting now than I found it when doing my first degree. My plan for this evening and probably the rest of this week is to move on to reading history again. I'll probably start with Margaret L. King's The Renaissance in Europe. I can go back to historiography when I have to. An hour a day is just not going to cut it so I need to move to something more to study in order to improve that.

Tomorrow is relatively busy. I have the initial meeting of my Italian reading class. I am not sure if this is going to provide quite as much Italian language as I'd hoped but on the plus side, it's not being assessed so the pressure is off. After that, lunch with a classmate and then the History dept. is hosting a meet and greet for postgrad students. I'm looking forward to this- our informal, Facebook-arranged history postgrad pub trip last week was good.

I'm still struggling a bit with being tired. I think it's a hangover from being ill last week. I'm more or less getting a proper night's sleep now though. Hopefully that will help.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Marxism Monday

No classes today (or tomorrow for that matter) so I've done a little reading on some background historiographical issues, starting with Marxism. I have procrastinated rather a lot today so haven't done half as much reading as I'd planned to, but I suppose the night is young and what better way could there be to spend an evening than coming to terms with Karl Marx's theories of history? I was supposed to go to korfball training tonight but it transpires that I did not, in fact, bring any joggers with me so I am waiting for them to be posted.

I intend do a post on the copious amounts of stationery required to properly plan and organise postgrad study.

I got a purple highlighter and took some photos today (the two are not connected) so the day was not a total waste.

St Andrews shore

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Reading to 16/09/12

Freshers' Week Reading:

  • John T. Brackett, "The Florentine Onesta and the Control of Prostitution, 1403-1680" in The Sixteenth Century Journal Vol. 24, No. 2 (Summer 1993), pp.273-300
  • Peter Burke, "Renaissance Studies" in The Historical Journal Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec. 1979), pp.975-984
  • Diane Yvonne Ghiraro, "The Topography of Prostitution in Renaissance Ferrara" in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Vol. 60, No. 4 (Dec. 2001), pp.402-431. 

I appreciate that this is probably of no interest to anyone other than myself but I am hoping to keep a record of everything I read this year. A normal week's reading list will be much longer than this (unless something has gone badly wrong).

What does an M.Litt in Early Modern History look like?

So, my plan is to be awarded an M.Litt (master of letters) in about a year's time. But what will I have to do to get it?

The course description is here.

Here's what that means in practice (for me- everyone's timetable will look a little different).

Semester 1 (September-December 2012)
Themes and Approaches in Early Modern History: This is the core course which everyone doing this degree will take.
Skills- Palaeography: Historical skills training. This semester it's palaeography- reading old handwriting.
Reading Italian: This course isn't for credit but should help improve my Italian reading skills.

Semester 2 (Jan-May 2013)
Themes and Approaches in Early Modern History: Continuation of the core course.
Skills- Sources: More skills training. This semester we'll be looking at source material.
Directed Reading: Review of important literature on a specific topic. In my case, the topic will probably be something to do with nuns, prostitutes and social institutions for women in 15th and 16th century Italy.
Dissertation: 15000 words on a subject similar to that of the Directed Reading module.

Additionally, there are history and skills training seminars throughout the year. Although my timetable looks light (some of the modules only meet once a fortnight), there's a huge amount of reading to be done.


Hello! Welcome to my new blog.

I wanted to blog about uni, postgrad life and my work but didn't want to sidetrack my existing blog. It seemed sensible to keep that one dedicated to infamous women and start a new one for my new adventure.

A bit of background

I graduated from the University of Edinburgh rather a long time ago and have wanted to do postgrad study since then. For various boring reasons, this wasn't possible until now. In January 2012, I applied to the University of St Andrews and was offered a place on the M.Litt in Early Modern History course.

Last weekend, I moved to a small postgraduate residence in St Andrews. I have a tiny room with a lovely view of a neighbour's well-manicured lawn and lots of garden birds. It could hardly be closer to the history department and the library and its smallness forces me to be tidy.

Week 1 starts tomorrow...