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...

Friday, 21 December 2012


When an articulate teenager was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Answers?’ last week, she talked confidently about herself as a visual learner, as opposed to an aural leaner. That’s not a vocabulary I’ve come across before, but that basic difference in how people prefer to think and learn has long seemed obvious to me, and it plays a big part in how the monograph is being written.

I fall squarely into the ‘visual learner’ category. Even if the monograph text itself looks pretty monochrome on the computer screen, the thinking behind it is underpinned by lots of images. When I moved into my temporary Somerville rooms (a building work exile) back in spring, I printed pictures of the book’s dramatis personae off the internet and put them up on the walls – woodcuts of King Zygmunt I, portraits of Luther and the Prussian humanist Johannes Dantiscus, cityscapes of early modern Cracow, Danzig and Poznań, and so on. These are arranged on different walls to mirror roughly the geography of 16C Europe – the German actors in the far west, then Poznan and Prussia, and Cracow to the east. The desk and pc sit between western Poland and the Baltic.

These pictures liven up my room, and remind me that the heaps of photocopied sources scattered all over the floor (to my scout’s horror) relate to real people and places. They also help me in a big way to analyse what is happening in Poland in the early Reformation, to visualise more easily the spatial and even political relationships between key individuals and urban centres. Unfortunately, when the room gets too warm the pictures curl up and fall off the walls, but I try not to read too much into that….    

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