Tangential Rants and the First Postgrad Day

19th-25th February 2018.

For the record, I wrote this last Saturday and then forgot to actually post it. Great job me! 

I feel like I’ve had a reasonably productive week and as I’m coming to the end of it, although for some reason I feel incredibly tired, I’m also feeling positive.

I have routine now that I’m feeling comfortable with, including scheduled time for new research, reading, and watching relevant films/series as well as things like cleaning the house and seeing a movie which I find help me keep my head on. I like having scheduled time for those sorts of non-research activities because I feel like if I didn’t I’d find excuses to do them when I should probably be doing something important for my research.

I met with my supervisors this week and, as usual, it was relaxing. To be honest I rather look forward to my meetings. I feel like I can get a little adrift by myself sometimes and to have time to talk things over and get direction and sometimes reassurance is really helpful. This meeting we decided on my first deadline, which is great for me because it gives me the feeling of working towards something. Of course I should be consistently working toward my CoC but I’ve never been excellent at thinking long term so seven or so months until the CoC perhaps doesn’t register as seriously in my head as it definitely should. Thus, short term deadlines are always good for me. Hopefully this time around I can get on top of my persistent problem with procrastination and treat deadlines as less of a challenge. We’ve decided that what I’ll hand in in three weeks time is a synthesis of the literature I’ve read thus far, including preliminary analysis of the films I’ve been watching.

Speaking of literature, I’ve read some interesting stuff this week. I read an article about the two Churchill films from 2017, Churhill and Darkest Hour from the New York Review of Books. It was fascinating! It discussed not just those films but the history of Churchill on film and how that helped to establish a particular persistent idea of Churchill as a kind of mythological figure. It also discusses how a cult of Churchill formed in America and how American presidents from JFK onward have used Churchillian rhetoric to try to win favour and justify their policies.

The author of this article, Geoffrey Wheatcroft is not particularly fond of historical films it seems, feeling that they give audiences a false sense of history, which I think is a bit simplistic. However, he ends the article with a quote from Orwell’s 1984 which stuck with me a bit: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” This is naturally ominous but it is applicable, and slightly concerning, when it comes to historical films. The people with the ability to fund and make these films control the depiction of the past so its important to be aware of the power structures at work. Think about Birth of a Nation (1915) which is considered by many to be the first historical feature film of note and is unbelievably racist. Or even just how many depictions of white men doing heroic things there are out there compared to the amount about people of colour or women. I guess this is a tangent but something I should keep in mind given that I’m looking at films that essentially are about white men doing heroic things. We must always try to be aware of who a narrative is benefiting and who it is explicitly or implicitly excluding and for me, its important to note that people of colour are largely missing from the films I’m discussing though their presence at the time is indisputable. I should endeavor to make a point of this.

Anyway, I went to the first postgraduate day yesterday (Friday 23rd) which was excellent! It was really a kind of introductory day to meet people starting or continuing their PhD and some of the staff. The first session of the day was a talk by Associate Professor Chris Fleming and was incredibly useful. He gave a lot of tips about writing that were so useful. He talked about not waiting to start writing which I always need to be reminded of because I can fall into the habit of feeling like I need to read absolutely everything before I can possibly be ready to write. He also did a really handy thing where he broke down all writing as doing two things: moving back and forth between the abstract and the concrete and between exposition and response. Essentially, he was saying that all good writing, in the humanities at least, should move between a general concept or theme and concrete, specific examples. So I might be talking about historical films but I am addressing certain films in particular. Or to tighten further, I might be talking about second world war films but specifically ones that are about Dunkirk. Also, all writing is explaining what someone else said or did and a response to that, whether that response be critique or classification or contextualisation or whatever. I found that it was really helpful to think about it that way. It sort of reminded me that while I have to talk about specific examples, I should also be relating them to wider ideas so that those examples have a clear relevance and that I should be making sure that I’m analysing everything that I’m using whether they be written texts or films. There’s no point including something if I can’t explain why its relevant.

The rest of the day involved talking about what postgrad activities were taking place during the year, such as the postgrad conference and various seminars as well as learning about the support services and resources available to us. We also spoke to some students who had just finished their first year and who gave some great advice about the CoC and surviving and balancing research and life. We also got a copy of the Early Candidature Plan Form so I have a better sense of what I’ve got to do for that.

Next week I’ll be sorting out resources that I gather in my undergrad and over the course of the MRes,  and I’m going to watch another film and return to one I’m not familiar enough with to write the analysis. I’ve also got a book on WWII, the allies and propaganda, and one on documentary theories to go through. Aiming to keep up my momentum from this week!

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