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, 25 July 2012

Jigsaw Pieces

An international fit?
Photo by the incredible how

When I was researching my doctoral thesis, I had a persistent anxiety that the documents I was working with might all be part of an elaborate hoax, the archives themselves a grand fabrication, because it was hard to believe that those bits of 15C paper/parchment had really come, as it were, from another world. A fantastical form of paranoia, I know, or perhaps a crude form of post-modern angst. This worry only subsided once I was working in the Vatican (Archivo Segreto Vaticano), and was able to cross reference 15C documents there (outgoing letters copied into papal registers) with those in Cracow (the original papal letter, as received and filed by the kings of Poland). This was to my mind was such a strong paper trail, such a perfect cross-referencing of very obscure late medieval documents, that is was surely too elaborate to be a hoax.

I had a similar moment of cross-referencing frisson yesterday. I was looking at letters exchanged between King Zygmunt I of Poland and King Henry VIII of England about the Reformation, and specifically about Danzig merchants arrested in London for heresy. The Polish side of the correspondence was printed in the 19C in the Acta Tomiciana. Yesterday, I ventured for the first time onto Tudor State Papers online, and found a fine list of those items of this correspondence which survive in the UK National Archive. Better still, there was a little button labelled ‘Manuscript’. When I clicked on this the scanned originals of Zygmunt I’s letters to Henry VIII opened up on the screen in a flash, in the beautifully neat hand of the Polish chancellery’s scribes, with ‘Sigismundus’ scrawled heavily at the bottom. That felt like a little bit of magic, like two pieces of a 500 year old jigsaw fitting together.

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