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...

Monday, 16 July 2012


Spending quality time with the lever-arch files.

When I did my first spells of work experience in an office environment, between the ages of 16 and 17, I spent a lot of time in basements photocopying or stuffing envelopes (chiefly for a variety of think tanks). I thought that the amount of time you spent doing basic clerking duties like that decreased sharply the further down the line you were in your career, but book writing has rather proved me wrong.

Alongside all the things most researchers (I think) find enjoyable – digging up interesting new evidence, writing it all up, thinking hard, seeing new things – producing a monograph seems to involve a lot of old-fashioned, low-level clerking work. I’ve spent literally weeks this year standing in the Upper Reading room photocopying the main body of sources for the book, the Acta Tomiciana (16C Polish court papers), and then entering all those pages in a database. I had thought that would be the end of the dull bits, but I was wrong. Every time I start a new chapter, as I’ve discovered in recent days, I have to spend between 60 and 90 minutes sitting on the floor of my room, putting the 100s of pages of documents relevant to one chapter back where they belong in my lever arch files of sources, and pulling out the 100-200 fresh documents I require for the next chapter. It’s not very comfortable, or very interesting, or remotely cerebral. The one thing that can be said for it is that it’s a painless way to fill an afternoon when you’re feeling sleepy, and not up to much else. 

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