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...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Fishy Business

German carp. Photo by photon de

Sometimes you can be quite far into a project, when the sources suddenly turn around and bite you. I was about to start drafting Chapter 3 this week, when I discovered another set of published sources which I thought I had better check out – the correspondence of Duke Albrecht of Prussia, Europe’s first Lutheran prince, with his Catholic neighbour, the prince-bishop of Ermland (in Polish Royal Prussia). 

So I sat down to work through this large volume in the Bodleian Upper Reading Room, expecting to find a lot of acrimonious letters dealing with the Reformation – ecclesiastical disputes, theological rows etc. This part of the Baltic, with its contested Catholic-Lutheran border was, after all, one of the great front-lines of the Reformation in the 1520s.

But it turns out that the Lutheran duke and the Catholic bishop barely wrote to one another about religious or church-related matters at all. Instead, the principal subject of their correspondence, at the height of the early Reformation, was carp. With growing bemusement, I spent yesterday scanning scores and scores of letters about carp fisheries, mutual gifts of carp, the price of carp. It felt like a 16C practical joke. And, of course, when early modern actors are so far from writing about the subjects which modern historians think they should be writing about, all sorts of alarm bells should start ringing…

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