This blog takes you behind the scenes of the writing of an academic history book – like a ‘making of’ featurette. Its aim is to make visible the traditionally invisible process of what it’s like for a university academic in the Humanities to write a research monograph, i.e. a single-authored 100,00 word book.

I’m a History Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford, and the book I’m writing has a working title of The Elusive Church: Luther, Poland and the Early Reformation. This project is supported by a British Academy Mid Career Fellowship (2012-13).

On these pages, you'll find a regular 'log' of how the book is progressing, plus information about the project. I welcome your comments and thoughts - whether you're studying or teaching history at school or university, or writing non-fiction yourself...

Friday, 1 June 2012

Narratives: Space or Time?

[December 2012]
I’ve now completed a first draft of Chapter 1, charting the spread of Lutheran ideas in Jagiellonian Poland, but writing this narrative has exposed a raft of issues. All earlier accounts of these events have told the story region by region – here’s what happened in Cracow, 1517-40; now for Prussia in this same period... I always found these rather frustrating as  reader, because I felt I wasn’t getting a joined up picture, so I decided to give a panoramic chronological account in my book, going through in effect year by year, showing what kind of bigger story emerges if you talk about Zygmunt I’s monarchy as a whole. One major purpose of narratives, from medieval chronicles onwards, is to impose some order and coherence on what is otherwise an inchoate series of events. But reading over my first draft, I can see that if you go meticulously through year by year, your narrative retains far too much of the disorientating original confusion of these events. A rigidly chronological narrative also becomes quite repetitive - there was a set of heresy trials in Cracow (1521); and another (1525), oh look and a few more (1530). Confusing and repetitive are certainly not what I’m aiming for in my first chapter, however authentic to the original grain of events…

The very concept of ‘events’ is also proving tricky. Certain aspects of the early Reformation in Poland easily lend themselves to a good narrative and a gripping story – domestic servants and unemployed sailors storming the squares of a Baltic port; a plot to blow up King Zygmunt I as he slept in the town hall of Danzig one spring night; a peasant uprising in the name of Christian liberty. But a lot of the evidence for Lutheran sympathy in Poland in these years comes from much smaller facts, which don’t necessarily constitute events per se – a cache of Lutheran books owned by a Poznań merchant, a noble employing a Lutheran tutor to educate his sons, a rumour of an invading Protestant army from the Empire… Trying to integrate both kinds of material – dramatic happenings, and piecemeal evidence – into a coherent chronological narrative is proving tricky. So, time for a second draft.

No comments:

Post a Comment