Monday, 30 January 2012

carried off on the surging tides of history

Being a postgrad is an odd thing: it is, at times, very hard to measure your progress.  It is also a very bizarre mind-game. 
There are occasional 'deer-in-headlights' moments where you can feel utterly overwhelmed by all the information that you are having to gather, take in, and analyse, and organise.
There are those other 'thesis-to-slash-your-wrists-by' times when the work is either just dull, dull, dull, slog...or the writing is not flowing...or you keep thinking you've found useful primary sources and then realise that you've hit another dead end.
And then, there are those moments of sheer joy: a small click as a light-bulb turns on and you realise you've worked something out; the sources you find are absolutely 'the' thing you're looking for - and make for fun reading as well; the brain is buzzing and the writing is flowing and you find your thesis 'happy place'.  At the moment, I'm delighted to be in my thesis 'happy place': the energy and enthusiasm for the project is back and I am loving the work once more.  This current thesis section was always going to be the fun part: flyting, fighting and feuding.  I am learning a whole new vocabulary of 16th century swear words/ insults, as well as reading up on such cheerful things as swordfights in the kirkyard 'during tyme of sermone' [well, a change from falling asleep during sermon, at least].

As to measuring how I'm progressing...?  I was at an all-day late medieval/ early modern history conference on Saturday at which several academics, at the height of their powers, delivered blisteringly brilliant papers.  It got my brain buzzing in that good, creative, stimulated way.
I found myself utterly engaged all day and following lines of arguments, knowing references made, and thinking of other references not highlighted.... 
I think I was grinning for most of said day as well.
Basically, I just got the stuff - knew the stuff.
How different to the first conference illustrious supervisor had suggested would be good to go to, when I was doing my Masters.
Oh...the horror.
Not supervisor - the conference.
Was akin to spending the day in a fog-riddled swamp being slowly sucked down into quicksand.  By end of that day, my brain had shut down, I was exhausted, and also very depressed.  I remember thinking 'oh gosh, I will never survive this'.  Supervisor did note that she had deliberately thrown me in at the deep end: and indeed, it was a near-drowning experience.  However, perhaps that experience has proved a useful measuring tool re. progress.  I sense I would still struggle somewhat with parts of that very first conference, and certainly the conference just experience on Saturday was more accessible, but I also know that I seem to have moved on somewhat in my knowledge / understanding of the work at hand.
At this point in the work, I might be beginning to believe that I am, perhaps, finally on the way to becoming an historian.
Hmmm, possibly a dangerous thing: dip your toes in the water and you can find yourself being carried off on the surging tides of history...and at the moment, I am very much enjoying going with that particular flow  :D


Freda said...

Hope you get more of the "Aha...... this is wonderful!" moments.And less of the dreaded days when your brain turns to sand! Every Blessing

Nik said...

Thanks Freda :)

spotthegerbil said...

Can you please give me a list of 16th century swear words. I've got a sermon to do and it could do with a bit of colour... ;-)