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...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Reconnecting with Place

Monograph fuel... fresh Warsaw pączki 

           I spent this weekend in Warsaw, seeing a major new exhibition on the Jagiellonian dynasty.  Although I was last in Poland only back in May, it was a good boost to the monograph-writing, a shot in the arm, to have another trip over there. On a frivolous note, it enabled me to stock up on my favourite Warsaw rose-jam Polish doughnuts, from the legendary 19C cake-shop Blickle, and I’m munching my way through these as I plough on with the current chapter.

There are great benefits to writing a monograph about a country from the outside – geographical and (in my case, some) cultural distance can create fresh, challenging new perspectives on old stories. But it’s also draining having to constantly tell colleagues and students here in western Europe that 16C Poland, and its neighbours in Central Europe, are major states which we should know and care about as historians; that this is something worth writing a monograph about. So, even though Warsaw itself (only a provincial capital in the early 16C) doesn’t feature very much in the Elusive Church story, it was refreshing, and reaffirming, to be reminded in the noise and bustle of that city that this is a major European country, with a big past. It was good to see how unapologetically that 16C Central European past was celebrated in the Polish-Czech-German Europa Jagiellonica exhibition. So maybe there’s an appendix to the book writing rules – semi-regular trips to the locations of your research subject, to re-ground yourself in the reality of what you’re writing about, and to provoke reflections on what happened to those places in the historical longer-term. And to remind you once again - centre and periphery are largely a matter of subjective perspective.

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