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...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Rashomon and the monograph

Can Japanese film inform a monograph?
Film poster, photo by Roninkengo

Most of the book chapters I’ve written in the past have consisted of an introduction, a section explaining the basic events to the reader (because I write on early modern Poland…), followed by an analytical part, which discusses said events, sources, implications, comparative view-points etc. It’s not that I carry a conscious template in my head, but simply that this is how they have turned out so far.

Chapter 2, on Reformation in Royal Prussia, has started to turn out rather differently, now that I’ve started writing it, almost as if it had a mischievous life of its own. As it currently stands, it has acquired a Rashomon-esque quality – re/telling the same story three times, from three different angles (ok, in the film it was four). In this case, the three strands consist of a bald ‘basic’ narrative of events, a reprise of that narrative which foregrounds political forces to explain what’s going on, and a third account of these same events which places the emphasis firmly on religious factors and perceptions. It’s quite exciting that a new way (very new to me!) of writing a monograph chapter can present itself from nowhere, but I’ve still not convinced myself that the Rashomon take on the Danzig Reformation can survive the final cut. It’s pretty risky – you need to tell the story in a concise and artful way to get the three accounts to play off each other, and there’s the real problem that it could all come across as tediously repetitive to the reader if you get it wrong. Plus, I’m not quite ready to believe that a chapter can function without a hard-core analysis section. Maybe I need to be more open minded...

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