Spring Term

Easter has been and gone and we are hurtling towards the end of another academic year, my final full year as a student. After nine years (on and off) of university study, it’s quite a relief to be almost at the finish line. The glorious spring weather has made my morning walk to University particularly pleasant in the last couple of weeks, with a daily detour via Birchfields Park each day helping to make the long hours sat in front of the computer (slightly) more bearable.

As I move into the final few months of the PhD, I am now heavily engaged in pulling together the last three and a half years of research into some semblance of a thesis, with the intention of writing a chapter or so every couple of months. Each chapter is then submitted to my panel of three supervisors who will comment and criticise on the work, and give suggestions and pointers on how to improve each chapter before final submission.

About a month ago I submitted a chapter which brought together the vast majority of my primary research, a great deal of which came in the form of graphs, tables, and maps. I did feel a little guilty about giving my supervisors a bit of a statistical overload, although they gave some very encouraging feedback and some good advice for future direction and tweaking. I was surprised at how much difference it made to my morale to see the main part of the last couple of years’ work summarised reasonably neatly, and it was heartening to see that I actually have some insightful and useful results to write about. I think that the biggest anxiety that I’ve had over the past year or two is that, in the midst of document transcription, data entry, and data analysis, you can never be sure if you will get anything interesting at the end, and whether the countless hours of slog will be worth all the effort.

Since then I have been getting my notes in order and doing some extra research to prepare for another chapter to be finished in about a month’s time. A good week or two was spent online trawling through about three years’ worth of nineteenth century newspapers for juicy bits of news stories and editorials to compliment my existing research, which has gone perhaps too well, because I now have reams of pages of evidence to sort through before I can write anything up. I probably shouldn’t complain too much as I guess it’s a nice problem to have, a bit like a football manager who complains that it’s so hard to pick his team because he has so many good players.

I have been lucky enough to sort out some interesting work to keep me in beer money over the summer in the shape of a place on the University’s Researchers in Residence programme. Me and two other students have been given jobs working on visitor exhibits to be created for Bramall Hall in Stockport, a Tudor mansion house which is currently undergoing restoration but will be reopening to the public next year. I’m quite excited about the role, which requires me to spend a fair amount of time working with archival documents and then come up with a plan for two interactive exhibits for the Hall, which will then go out to tender to software programmers, to be produced for the reopening. As well as being able to get involved in a bit of local history for a change, it’s a great opportunity to work on a project that will engage the wider public with history, especially considering that most academic theses, journals, and books are likely to only be read by the small coterie of people interested in your small area of study.

This month, I have been mostly drinking: Banks’s Sunbeam in Wolverhampton. A lusciously smooth and grapefruity bitter, perfect for early spring sunshine.

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