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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, 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.

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