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, 14 October 2013

A Year of History

On September 30th, the British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship which had funded the past year of monograph-writing came to an end. When midnight struck, I was pleased that I could in fact point to a full draft of the book, complete (for better or worse) with two more chapters than I had originally planned on writing. However, I was disappointed that – even with a full draft – finishing a book is such a slow, drawn-out process, and that it will require a few more weeks of minor but crucial editing before the MS is ready to send off to readers.

Above all, I was very sad that the Fellowship had come to an end, because it had created an invaluable, exciting, stimulating space within my career to think hard about one big problem for a concentrated, significant period of time. My colleagues have all been great about respecting the hermit-, purdah- like state of being on leave. It has probably been the most productive and interesting time of my research career – less frenetic than being a doctoral student (when you’re learning everything from scratch), less stressful even than being a post-doctoral researcher (in Oxford parlance a Junior Research Fellow), because so much of one’s research time then is spent applying for, and worrying about, permanent jobs. Even so, the BA Fellowship probably finished at the right time – there comes a moment when you need to leave a draft for a few weeks, and clear your head, before tackling a raft of small, precision-engineering changes.

It’s hard to know how to thank the British Academy – my main ‘human’ contact has been with their helpful administrative staff who have answered my small queries along the way; the committee of scholars which read the application and decided to support it was anonymous, and has long since dispersed. So this blog – which has also been supported by the BA – seems a fitting place to express public gratitude to them for a great year of history.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Painting in the detail

Photo by Ashley Mayes
After taking a deep breath, I read through the first complete draft of the monograph. There are now various files labelled ‘editing’ on my computer, which explain what needs to be done to the book text: which sources need to be incorporated into paragraph x, which are flabby sections in need of cutting, which chapters need to have parts swapped around. There is also a slightly anxiety-inducing document entitled: ‘bibliography: things that still need to be read.’

Before I settle down to an intense spate of book editing and further reading, however, I’m taking a week to read through all my notes. I had always planned to do this with my first book, but ran out of time. Elusive Church has, however, been conceived and written over a rather longer period than my doctorate-book, and the argument has evolved significantly, probably crystallising most fully in my mind as I wrote the last chapter. It’s a bit like time-lapse photography: I’ve read scores and scores of articles and books on the Reformation and late medieval church since 2007, but each one has been read in light of my (ever developing) thinking about my monograph at a given moment in time. Re-reading all the notes now ensures that all this secondary reading has finally all been considered through the same lens, i.e. the argument as it exists in the full, latest draft of the book, in something very close to its final form (I hope).

Going through my mainly handwritten notes is both laborious, alarmingly slow, and stimulating. It’s a good way of testing the book argument: what in the secondary literature seems to corroborate it, and what should give me pause and encourage me to think through a particular issue more carefully. I’m adding all these extra bits of information & thoughts into the monograph as marginal comments. It feels tuning a machine, or like carefully painting on layer after layer of evidence. The trick is to make sure this process gently enhances the book and its argument, and doesn’t sink it beneath a dead weight of detail…

Monday, 26 August 2013


I’ve finally laboured to the end of Chapter 10 of the monograph. What I had envisaged as a light-touch, comparative, brief sketch of attitudes towards the Reformation around the courts of Europe has turned into the longest chapter in the entire book, currently weighing in at 45 pages.

So long as the chapter isn’t so long as to be boring (and the risk of reader boredom rises exponentially with every page), the main problem with a heavy-weight final chapter is that it might unbalance the book. I’ve always had a sense that writing a monograph is a bit like building a bridge, that you have be mindful of which sections are going to be the most load-bearing. It feels instinctively right to have a brief and arresting introduction, the meatiest chapters in the middle, and then (like an athlete) to give the reader a warm-down in the final chapter or so, a gentle descent towards the end. But readers of this book will find that, rather than limbering down with dignity, the MS as it stands revs up dramatically in the last chapter.

I currently feel that the book argument requires this, because the comparative material has to come at the end (after the Polish case-study has been presented), and it has have some minimum level of detail, precision and close argument in order to be convincing. I think readers don’t like being taken by surprise, however, so the introduction will have to flag up what the reading experience is going to be like, and what to expect when. Perhaps it should include a diagram, saying ‘this book is not like this’

‘But like this, less elegant but hopefully still exciting’...

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Fictions of Book Writing

The monograph felt as if it were moving at a good, steady speed (like an athlete making it around a track) in the late spring, but since the summer holiday it has rather lost momentum. The point of a 2 week foreign holiday at this late stage in the book writing process (90% of book drafted) was to clear my head, so that I could come back to the last section fresh. It cleared my head a little too effectively,  and that  - coupled with a major house move - has showed that no matter how hard to you plan, how determined and self-disciplined you aspire to be, how keenly you try to coax your brain into deep historical analysis, sometimes life gets in the way. Writing a monograph is all about persuading yourself you have, and can maintain, control – of your routine & motivation over a period of months and years, of the stupefying mass of material you are trying to shape into a crystal-clear argument, and even of the external factors which can so easily sap a writer’s concentration and energy. In that sense, writing a book involves telling oneself a lot of fictions, in order to make task in hand appear achievable.

So I am now labouring through chapter 10, in which the Reformation stance (and religious language) of Zygmunt I of Poland is compared with that of Charles V, Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. I had thought this would be a straightforward and relatively quick chapter, but having typed that sentence I now realise just how unlikely that always was.

There are technically about 7 weeks left of the British Academy Fellowship, the year of sabbatical I have to write the book, and now I have a dilemma. Part of me thinks the priority is to use the remaining time to edit what has already written into good shape. Such editing needs a good, concentrated chunk to time, when the fine detail of the chapters can mesh together (ideally!). Part of me, however, thinks the more pressing task is to finish the draft itself, to press on with this chunky last chapter, so that I can at least have the psychological satisfaction and comfort, come October, that there is an entire book manuscript in existence (whatever state that MS might actually be in). So I’m still deciding whether to impose a strict guillotine on Chapter 10, or whether to keep ploughing on, until I have finally worked out exactly what Francis I thought about his own Lutherans…

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A Sea of Notes

The offending pile
It’s the end of term, and even though I’ve been on leave, I’ve stuck to my usual start-of-summer-vacation ritual and spent a day tidying my office. This was in fact particularly necessary this year, because there have been piles of notes (on secondary reading for the book) building up in corners of the room, on tables, under chairs for some time now. As I move gradually from a writing-up to an editing phase, it’s high time to get a handle on all this.

Once I'd retrieved all the unfiled notes and put them into one big pile, that pile was alarmingly large. I had no idea that I’d read this much about the Reformation and the late medieval church, all over Europe, in the past few years. It was a nice surprise to see that I’d done much more work that I’d realised, and a less pleasant discovery to find how little of this I could remember reading, or knowing.

When I wrote my first book, the chapters were thematically quite distinct (a chapter on art history, on diplomacy, on high politics), so the notes from my secondary meeting were easy to keep on top off – you just filed them according to which chapter they were relevant to. In Elusive Church, however, virtually everything I’ve read contains ideas, or snippets of information, which are relevant to two or more chapters, as well as the central argument set out in the introduction. We solemnly tell our Freshers, in their first week, that keeping your notes in good order is imperative. I’ve not done such a good job of that – but writing a book is an organic process, even if the line between materials naturally coalescing, and total chaos, is a fine one. And, at the end of the day, I’m not sure there is any filing system which in itself solves the basic problem – that it’s just very hard for one individual to keep in their head, at any one time, the information from scores of monographs, not to mention hundreds upon hundreds of sources. In that sense, pulling together a first full draft of this book is reminding me more and more of revising for Finals – testing just how much historical information, and argument, you can upload into your brain at once. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Paper on the Carpet

It’s Friday of 8th week, the last day of the academic year in Oxford, and even though I’ve been on research leave this year, it stills seems a fitting day to finally print out the draft monograph as it exists so far. Eight out of ten chapters, plus the introduction, have been drafted, and I tell (promise?) myself that the remaining two chapters are short, quick ones.

 A book will take on many physical forms before the final ‘real’ edition arrives in a package from the publisher – a final MS, MS returned with copy editing comments, proofs etc – but the first incarnation is this pile of A4 paper on my college floor. Given the effort required to produce this much, the pile looks a little smaller than I had expected, although I remind myself that it's printed single-spaced and double-sided. It’s nonetheless very exciting to see even this underwhelming sheaf of papers, and slightly queasy-making too – will it make any sense when I sit down and read through the whole thing (to which end I’m going to the seaside for a couple of days)? Is the central argument which snakes through all the chapters convincing? Will there be time to firm up this first almost-draft by the time the Freshers arrive in the autumn? How good/bad, appalled or relieved, will I feel after I’ve read it? It's a little bit of a Pandora's box.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

End Game?

Well, it now feels as if the monograph is moving towards a kind of endgame – all the months of sensibly splitting my day between reading in the library and writing back in college seem a long time ago, as it’s now just a matter of powering through the final chapters, to complete a first draft this summer.

I had, needless to say, forgotten how hard this stage of the process is. I’d forgotten how, when I first placed a copy of my first book, in its shiny red-black cover, on my shelf, every time I looked at it in the first few weeks as well as pride, I felt a little stab of sorrow and resentment that it had cost so much blood, sweat and tears to produce something which looked so small, so easy-to-miss on a bookshelf.

Writing full time to a deadline is hard because on many levels it's not not very good for you – people get backache, eye strain, RSI and even DVT. Even in short spells, writing for several hours a day is also bad for the brain – I seem to emerge zombie-like out of the 16C century in the early evening, or at college lunch, slightly stupefied, and I’ve seen colleagues on sabbatical with that same vacant but preoccupied book-writing look. I’m trying to counteract the mental drain caused by intense book writing, with things which might stimulate my brain in gentler ways – new box sets, magazines full of pretty photos of Italian interiors, weekends away.

Of course, the paradox is that book writing is gruelling, but it’s churlish to complain about it. It’s a great privilege to have the space to write, something scholars and authors over the century have pleaded for… and a particular privilege that this is funded by the British Academy. It’s just very hard work, like most worthwhile things.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Brown Ink

Bishop Mauritius Ferber, by Anton Moller (posthumous portrait)
Photo by Maciej Szczepanczyk

Apologies for the silence on this blog in the past month – a result of trying to juggle research trips with actually writing the monograph.

In May, I undertook the last major archival trip for the monograph, to the archive of the archdiocese of Warmia, in the town of Olsztyn, in north-east Poland’s lake district. After so many months working from 19C and 20C published editions of the sources, it was good to handle original 16C materials again, with their spidery brown ink and crisp pages. I always feel a bit nervous working from published source collections (no matter how respected, how expertly edited) because part of me worries about not having seen proof that the original exists. So it was good to see that the spidery brown writing matched up word for word with the type-set pages I’ve been poring over for two years.

The trip was also stimulating, however, because it brought me up close to so many of the characters in the early Polish Reformation story. In most Polish church archives, the person holding the pen is a professional scribe, recording chapter minutes or the outgoing letters of the bishop. But, in the 1000 pages of Bishop Mauritius Ferber’s correspondence, we have not only letters in the bishop’s own meticulous hand, but the incoming autograph letters of a host of key figures. There is the handwriting of Copernicus’ close friend and ally Canon Tiedemann Giese, his Latin wonderfully neat and tiny, and the occasional German phrase scrawled with great abandon. There’s the fluent, leisurely humanist script of Piotr Tomicki, the master statesman of King Zygmunt’s Poland, and the basically illegible, wild ink scrawl of his nephew, the NeoLatin poet & bishop Andrzej Krzycki. Even Bishop Ferber must have frowned and squinted when he opened those missives. 

There is a whole industry which compiles psychological profile on the basis of handwriting, but even for a historian untrained in such dark arts, seeing the very different visual style of these handwritten letters does make these 16C people seem more tangible, leaving a hint of their personalities on the page – the person who took pride in their italic hand, the person who cared only about speed, the person who crossed out again and again until they had got their phrase on ‘the Lutheran heresy’ just right.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

History & Triangles

Edwards-Venn 6 set diagram
From http://www.learnnc.org/lp/multimedia/7689
One of the stimulating things about writing a monograph is that you repeatedly and quickly come up against things you don’t know, and have to chance to learn fast about new subdisciplines, methodologies, debates etc. Last week, I learnt a lot about Venn diagrams.

I once briefly worked as a social policy researcher, and since then I’ve tended to include a smattering of graphs and charts in my history work, even though these are usually seen as a characteristic of socio-economic history, rather than history of the political / cultural / religious kind. These visual aids have been pretty simple, but I have now definitely bumped up hard against the limits of my ‘charts and graph’ knowledge.

The book will have two language/concept analysis chapters, which look at how ‘Lutheranism’ and ‘catholicism’ were described & understood by people in Jagiellonian Poland. Having gone painstakingly through the sources, I’ve drawn up a spectrum of 6 key words for Lutheranism – e.g. schism, heresy, plague, error, sacrilege, etc. I’ve looked at how frequently each term is employed, and also at how they are used in relation to each other (e.g. ‘heretical schism’, ‘blasphemous apostasy’, ‘blasphemous Lutheran heresy’ etc.), as, done on a large scale, this is revealing of contemporary religious rhetoric. I had thought all this analysis could be captured in a simple diagram, but I was wrong.

It turns out that a Venn diagram (of a rather extreme kind) can be produced for 6 interlocking, overlapping data sets (i.e. the 6 key words). On the internet, 6-set Venn diagrams look quite pretty. But in practice, after 2 days trying to draw one based on these Polish Reformation sources, it is hellishly complicated, producing a chart so dense, so difficult to interpret, that it would be all but incomprehensible to a monograph reader. Old fashioned prose can’t really capture this 6-way analysis very effectively either. So here, sadly, is one of the limitsof my training as a historian, and also perhaps one of our collective limits as readers of history books.

6 set Venn diagram devised by Jeremy J Carroll
See http://www.hpl.hp.com/techreports/2000/HPL-2000-73.pdf

Friday, 5 April 2013

Project Management for One

Even though I’ve been on research leave for a number of terms now, I’m still baffled and frustrated by how much time each week I spend on tasks which, in my weekly timetables, get labelled as ‘admin’. I try to bundle up the admin, and tackle it begrudgingly in bursts.

This week, I finally decided (like a good historian) to interrogate the concepts I was using, and tried to work out what all these administrative tasks really boiled down to. Although there are very occasional, small things I am asked to do for the college or the Faculty, it turns out that most of this oppressive ‘admin’ is basically monograph project management… booking flights for research trips, filing expense claims, updating the small research budget which comes with the BA grant.

So, once again, this has challenged my notion of what ‘book writing’ consists of. There is, I think for many historians, a powerfully strong and instinctive belief that monograph writing = sitting by a computer, typing. But sometimes, in order to write a book well, you need to take breaks, and recognise those to be an integral part of the wider process too. Sometimes, you need by buy a book on-line, or register for a conference where you’ll test some of the monograph ideas, or spend an hour searching for an archive’s phone number on the internet. They may not feel like proper writing, but they are a necessary element of the strange process whereby a new history book is conjured up, as if out of thin air.

Because a monograph, as I’m beginning to see more clearly, isn’t just one person writing an academic book; it’s also one person managing themselves.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Favoured Sources

Tolkmitt / Tolmicko, home of the chronicler Simon Grunau
Photo by Piotr Tysarczyk

In the same way as you’re not meant to admit to having a favourite child, I wonder if it’s slightly naughty for historians writing monographs to admit to having a favourite, or favoured, source – because with that comes the risk that you might unfairly privilege it over the others. Being aware of feelings towards your sources, and the voices or people behind them, is however probably an important first step towards controlling for them.

Until last week, I didn’t have a single favourite source for Elusive Church. Rather, there were individual moments which made me smile, or which I found moving – the Lutheran Duke Albrecht of Prussia being made to sit through Mass on a pew next to his non-Lutheran uncle King Zygmunt of Poland, like a naughty schoolboy, or the Primate of Poland, Maciej Drzewicki, weeping when told that the religious peace talks in Germany, on which all Europe had pinned its hopes in 1530, had broken down.

I have now, however, finally got around to reading the ‘Prussian Chronicle’ of Simon Grunau, which the Somerville graduate student Sabrina Beck has been working on with me as a research assistant. Grunau was a minor Prussian friar, writing in a basic, everyday 16C German, and his chronicle has been dismissed by historians since the 19C as a useless piece of fantasy-polemic. Apart from what strike me as its overlooked merits as a major source for the Prussian Reformation, it is also wonderfully mischievous, and funny. It’s packed with stories poking fun at Prussian Lutherans (if not at Luther himself) – troublesome ghosts of Lutheran fathers visit their catholic sons, Hamlet-like, and there are tales of Danzig merchants which give us the Reformation as bedroom farce. Grunau is perturbed by events around him, but looks at them wryly, as an example of comic human frailty. As such, I like the Prussian Chronicle because, underneath its flashes of anger and reputation as a hardbitten polemic, it’s a surprisingly humane text.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Extra Chapter (oops?)

Piotr Tomicki , bishop of Cracow (d.1535) - beneficiary of an extra book chapter
Throughout last term, colleagues and students kindly kept asking how the book was going, and I would say ‘I think it’s on schedule’. I’d built a fair amount of slack into the book-writing timetable, but a whole month of that was used up when I made the slightly unwelcome discovery in February that I would have to add another chapter, slap in the middle of the monograph.

Having spent several years planning and structuring the book, it did seem a bit careless to suddenly discover a gap where a chapter should be. I’ve been wondering how this came about, and whether it was down to some rudimentary error on my part. So I offer this as a case-study in how a chapter can ambush you...

The original concept was for Elusive Church to have two parts – one discussing responses to the early Reformation by the Polish Crown, and the second responses by bishops & high clergy. It seemed perfectly simple. However, as I wrote up, it became clear that the Part II chapters which were meant to be about specific church policies (preaching, prosecution) would work better if they directly addressed the question which really stood at their heart, i.e. how contemporaries understood and articulated the differences between ‘catholics’ and ‘Lutherans’, if indeed they saw much difference at all. So Part II quietly morphed in my mind from a survey of church policies, into a series of chapters exploring contemporary Polish-Prussian understandings of Lutheranism, Catholicism and reform itself.

That reconceptualisation of Part II seemed to work well, except that it left the policies of bishops (inquisitions, preaching campaigns, sponsored polemics) without a home, and these were clearly an important part of the story. So the book has now acquired a new chapter 6, which takes a handful of Poland’s top bishops as case-studies, and traces their evolving responses to Reformation activity in their own dioceses. It didn’t require any extra research, as I had all the material to hand, but it still took over 3 weeks to draft.

My sense is that this kind of thing happens because one's thinking about a book’s core argument and shape is always ongoing – in the background, in subtle, half-conscious tweaks and shifts of perspective here and there – and sometimes those processes can throw up big jolts, like tremors. That’s why a book-in-progress feels like a organic object, and why it can sometimes break through the mould of even extensive planning – and that, I think, is a positive thing, a sign of life inside the work. Those jolts may be risky, but they are also creative.

Little jolts...
Seismograph, by matthileo

Friday, 8 March 2013

Steep Tracks

Train climbing Mount Snowdon
Photo by blogee

When I wrote the book-writing rules for myself almost a year ago, I’d had an assumption that, correctly handled and planned, the process of drafting the book would proceed at a steady and even pace throughout the year of British Academy-funded leave – like a well driven train, just puffing along.

I had some hazy recollections of the last 2 months of writing my first book being slightly grim, as I ran out of physical and intellectual energy, of crawling to the finish line: a large envelope stuffed with the MS in the post to the publishers, and a plane to the Canary Islands. This book has now had nearly 12 months of steady ascent, but the track suddenly seems to have got steeper, and the general feel of the book-writing experience more intense. There is ever more to think about, as you keep realising, as you work on chapter x, how what you’re writing will affect paragraph y in chapter z. There’s a sense of the key arguments starting to lock together, but with a lot of mental noise and effort.

This sense of entering a more critical stage is probably tied to the fact that I’m about to start writing the two core chapters of the book, on how religious identities are constructed (or not) in early 16C Poland: ‘What is a Lutheran?’ and ‘What is a catholic?’. Whether one these are drafted the track will even out, or even enter a gentle descent towards the concluding sections, I still don’t know... 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Book and its Heralds

Gentleman dressed as a medieval herald, at Leeds Royal Armouries
Photo by Pickersgill Reef

It’s nowadays normal procedure for a historian working on a monograph to publish one or more articles on the topic first, before the appearance of the book itself. There are good intellectual and strategic rationales for this. Pre-book articles are a way of testing the water (i.e. peer reaction), putting down a marker that one is moving into field x, or even creating (ideally) anticipation and interest around a future book. There is also, in the UK, hard academic politics behind it too: if a book project is going to take you 5-10 years, you need to keep publishing over the lifetime of that endeavour in order to have items to submit to the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the government’s regular assessment of the quality of university research, which determines departmental funding.

‘The Elusive Church' will have two pre-book articles (for all the reasons above!). Because the process of peer reviewing and publication in humanities journals is so very slow, these articles are only now beginning to emerge through the academic pipe work… by this stage, they feel a little bit like ghosts.

It’s strange writing a monograph, with these ancestor publications in the back of your mind. The 2 articles + book have to each work as coherent individual pieces of research and historical argument. But they also, ideally, need collectively to paint a connected and convincing picture. The challenge it to ensure that that this corpus of work – 2 articles + 1 book - is bigger than the sum of its miscellaneous parts. At best, those parts reinforce each other, and exist in dialogue and positive tension with one another. At worst, they just repeat each other in a way that diminishes them all.

So, for those with an interest in the early Reformation, the journal articles in question - the heralds of the book - are:

  • 'Forgetting Lutheranism. Historians and the Early Reformation in Poland’. Church History and Religious Culture (2012) (click here)
  • 'High Clergy and Printers: Anti-Reformation Polemic in the Kingdom of Poland, 1520-36'. Historical Research (forthcoming, autumn 2013).

Thursday, 31 January 2013

All Change

Monograph on the move again.

I’m spending this afternoon packing up my books and monograph papers, housed since May in a rather nice Victorian  set in Somerville’s Maitland building, and tomorrow afternoon I get to unpack again in my ‘official’ room/office, in Wolfson building.

In my grumpier moments, I suspect that it’s not a good use of my time, in a monograph writing year, to have had to vacate my Wolfson office twice (once for 3 days, once for 9 months) as a result of noisy and overrunning building works in the college. 

But being a bit nomadic these past 13 months has had its advantages. Over summer, I got to share a work space with my History colleague Benjamin Thompson, which meant that the monograph-writing began to feel a bit more like a mainstream office job, with someone to chat to during tea breaks etc, rather than the default, splendid monastic isolation of the Oxford don on research leave. I’ve also been forced to sort out my papers at regular intervals, which has kept in check the tendency of my photocopied sources to migrate all over the carpet, like an ominous sludge. Above all, however, I find I write much better with regular changes of scene, and view. There’s something mentally stimulating about new surroundings and, conversely, a sense of staleness if you sit in front of the same window, at the same desk, most days for over a year. The sheer over-familiarity of the physical environment can dull the intellectual senses, which are already struggling to stay fresh from thinking about the same material, intensely, for a long period of time. So I’m hoping that all this upheaval will unleash some extra energy in the coming weeks… 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Dear Diary

A useful new tool?

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a tiny blue note-book from WH Smith in Oxford station. This has become a book-log, a book-writing diary, where I simply write down a list of what I did on the 'Elusive Church' monograph each day. This is partly for my future self – so that when in 12 months’ time I’m tearing around Oxford again marking essays, teaching classes and giving lectures, and wonder ‘What an earth did I do with all that research leave?’, there will be a record to remind me that research (all that ‘free time’) is likewise very busy and very hard work.

The mini-diary is also there as a prop to morale, and as a diagnostic tool. When I think back over, say, a month of monograph writing, my sense of what I did turns out to be quite different to what the diary records me as having done. Entire days spent in the Bodleian, reading exciting books, seem to vanish in a flash, forgotten. What makes an impression on the memory, instead, and misleadingly, is the hour spent in a cafĂ© tearing one’s hair out over how to structure the second half of the book. So the diary can be quite cheering – the chapter which felt as if it had taken an eternity to draft had, in fact, taken only about 4 days. Which just goes to show that historians not only have to manage the actual writing of the book in hand, but also manage their own highly unreliable perceptions of how it is going. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A River of Sources

Trying to reach the other side...
Photo by  Janeyism

In the Christmas period, life intruded on the monograph somewhat, in the form of a chest infection and domestic relocation. Over that break, I decided to recalibrate the structure of the second half of the book slightly – rather than a series of chapters discussing different kinds of Reformation responses (printed polemics, preaching campaigns, humanist reform programmes), the chapters will instead discuss how ‘Lutheranism’, the old / catholic church and reform/Reformation were constructed by people in Jagiellonian Poland, as shown in their policies and writings.

This change of emphasis means, however, that I have to go back through all my marked-up sources, and read them in a slightly different way. This is proving to be (of course!) slow and labour intensive, though thankfully not yet dull. While book-writing itself is a big leap of faith, major source-processing exercises like this are particularly trying on the nerves – it’s like jumping into a river and trying to swim to the other side, hoping that your energy doesn’t give out, knowing how important it is to keep going… in this case, for a few weeks. The gamble is that, once all this information is extracted and logged and arranged in my computer files, writing the actual chapters will be relatively quick and straightforward.

Having to spend 2-4 weeks going meticulously through sources, maintaining a certain speed, isn’t particularly compatible with the book writing rules, which suggest half a day of computer work in college, followed by half a day in the library. So, I think it’s going to be a long, hard January...