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, 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).