Reflecting on my First Conference Paper

2nd – 8th July 2018

This week was a bit of a hectic one, I’ve had a few family issues to come to terms with.  However, in reflection I’m excited to have presented at WSU’s Postgraduate Conference on Friday (6th July). I was a little anxious about it at first, it’s a bit of a different environment to the History In House (a meeting in which members of the history faculty can present their current research to each other which I presented at in June), and then once everything went a little pear shaped earlier last week I became almost ambivalent about it, given that my mind seemed to be on 100 different things at once. Once I was at the conference though, whilst my nerves kicked in a bit I wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought I was going to be.

I have to take a moment to pass on thanks to my dear friend Alix who I work with at uni two days a week usually but who, this week, listened while I talked through the presentation, checked my PowerPoint, and even let me stay with her the night before the presentation to save me the three hour trip I was going to have to make and who came for moral support. I’m not quite sure I would have handled it as well this week if she hadn’t been so lovely to me.

During the presentation itself I still felt a little shaky but I tried to remember the idea that I am the expert on this particular thing in this particular room. I was a little intimidated as well by the people in the room. I highly respect every member of the history faculty but doing it in the In House environment where everyone is presenting and talking about their research feels like a different, safer place in many ways. It feels more collegial than the conference did, though I’m trying to remember to think of myself less as a student under scrutiny. Anyway, having a few academics there who I also very highly respect but don’t often have much to do with felt a little intimidating but as I got going it stopped mattering at all.

I was still a little hyperaware of my voice but I’m trying to work on that. There was another technical glitch with the clip, this time there was no sound whatsoever which threw me but ultimately I just narrated it myself a bit (though I do completely agree with my supervisor Judith, who commented afterward that I perhaps should have just winged it with the clip instead of wasting too much time trying to figure out a solution). I felt like I handled the questions fairly well, some of them genuinely making me think about my project and raising some points that I will have to look into, I think. At the end of it all I still wasn’t feeling super happy but I wasn’t really mad about it.

It did make me think about my own response to feedback and what that means for my own growth. I find myself often responding to any praise with self-deprecation and I don’t think that that is really helping me at all. Slightly tangentially, I recently watched Hannah Gadsby’s incredible comedy special Nanette (which is completely and utterly brilliant and I would recommend it to everybody) and in it she talks about having built her career on self-deprecating humour and how she doesn’t deserve to do that to herself and to anyone that identifies with her. Though I’m not in the same situation as Hannah it got me thinking about – frankly, a whole lot of things, it’s quite honestly changed my life – what I’m actually doing when I respond to things simply with self-deprecation. I don’t intend to start being arrogant, I still believe strongly in humility but when people give me positive feedback, especially about something which I lack confidence in and especially from those whose opinions I trust, and I immediately respond by putting myself and my performance down, I’m not sure how I’m ever going to grow in that. If I keep myself in that place of believing I’m not good at it then I’m never going to develop confidence. Henceforth, I’m going to try to work on taking in what people say about my work whether it be constructive criticism or praise. I need to learn to be kinder to myself. I should write a self-help book.

In other news, I’ve gone through my present bibliography and worked out what it is I think I need to have read for my CoC document, excluding, of course, any new works I find. I’ve got an RAF archive book from the library and my plan for the immediate future is to work through that, and then slightly longer term to start going through my resources and beginning to put together this document.

Overall feeling a lot more on track.

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Today’s Mood: Frustration

9th – 15th April 2018 

I don’t really have anything to report this week because I feel somewhat like I’m in the same place as when I wrote this last week. I feel like I’ve progressed nowhere this week. Logically, this isn’t true. I put together the timeline chart for the Early Candidature Plan and I’ve put together shot lists for a few scenes from one of my movies but I also didn’t finish either of the things that I wanted to last week, that being the ECP in its entirety and Mr Smith Goes to Tokyo which frustrates me. I know that I’ve gotten things done and the shot lists for instance are already illuminating some interesting things for me but I still feel frustrated. I feel like I didn’t get enough done last week when I didn’t really do anything differently. Sometimes I won’t have gotten as much done but I know that there was I had a day where I had to do others things, or I took off, or I just wasn’t as focused or something but this week I really felt like I was working normally. Maybe I’m expecting too much of myself again but I felt like I really had a realistic goal for last week and have no real reason not to have met it.

I’m also getting frustrated with the way that I’m finding I’m putting little tasks off, admin stuff and things like that, and prioritising bigger things and then realising that I never did those tasks or I haven’t done them for weeks and that’s driving me a little mental. I guess though that it just means re-evaluating my schedule and setting time aside time to do those little things.

I don’t really have anything else to say, just got to make this week better. And work a little harder, especially as it’s my birthday this week and I’d like to be able to not to anything then.

I’m Back!

Hello! Its been a while, I know. Things got a little crazy toward the end of my Masters. But, it was all worth it because I ended up handing in a Masters thesis that earned me a High Distinction and got me into my PhD program with a full scholarship! So basically I ended the most stressful year of my life to date and decided what to do next was to dive straight in to what will probably be three more incredibly stressful years.

I’m excited though, I have to say. I’ve just really gotten back into it, knuckling down on the early stages of the research, reading widely and as much as possible. I had my first proper meeting with my supervisory panel last week which went well and really hyped me up to get going again. My two supervisors from my Masters have come with me into my PhD which is brilliant and I couldn’t be more grateful to them. I’ve also got a new addition who is an expert in the area of history I think I’m going to look into and who is just a lovely, incredibly intelligent woman. I’m excited to work with her.

So yes, back at it. This time I’m going to continue my research into history and film in a similar way to what I did in my Masters. At this point my plan is to look into the recent spate of British films and television series that are returning to and reimagining the early Second World War, specifically Dunkirk and Churchill. I also plan to investigate the reception of these films and series which is an area of my Masters thesis that I basically ignored due to the time and space constraints on my paper.

Hopefully I’ll be more active on here, tracking my PhD journey, updating on the research process and sharing the lessons that I learn from the wonderful and learned people around me and from the mistakes I’m sure I will inevitably make.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Research Update 20/06/2017

So I spent the last 10 days at the Sydney Film Festival and I’m feeling both exhausted and inspired. I’m also, naturally, feeling a little guilty because I really haven’t done a lot thesis wise. I tried to squeeze in a bit of reading and writing here and there but there really isn’t a huge amount to report.

The film festival itself was wonderful. It was my first time but it will definitely not be my last. I saw loads of really interesting films and was lucky enough that out of the 20 I saw, there was only one that I didn’t really like. I saw a couple of films dealing with specific historical people or events (a sweet biopic of painter Maud Lewis and an unsettling documentary about Elián González) but almost all of the films were dealing with a particular historical and/or cultural moment or issue. A number of them were documentaries and it was interesting to be able to contrast and think about the ways issues were presented in a documentary form versus a fictional film. I Am Not Your Negro directed by Raoul Peck was an interesting example to me because it almost felt like it was blending fiction and documentary by examining issues of race in America entirely through the words and writings of James Baldwin. The film also explored how film is used to construct and reinforce cultural ideas and norms, particularly in this case, how Baldwin came to understand his place as an African American in the United States through the construction and depiction of African American characters in the films of the 1930s-1950s.

My experience viewing Last Men in Aleppo, a documentary about the White Helmets in Syria, was also particularly interesting. As I was entering the theatre, a group of protestors were gathered outside handing out pamphlets that denounced the film as propaganda, claiming that the White Helmets are sponsored by Al-Qaeda and that the film was one of many films attempting to arouse sympathies in the West with a pro-terrorist organisation. One of the ways this was done, they claimed, was by showing these men saving children and emphasising their relationships with kids. I don’t know nearly enough about this situation to know whether these protestors claims are true or false but it did lead me to think about how the documentary did attempt to create sympathy. I’m not in a position to say whether this is unfounded sympathy (though either way, it seems these men are clearly sacrificing a lot, even their own lives, to help people in their city), rather I just mean that it drew my attention to the ways in which the film was constructed in order to align the audience with the perspectives of these men.

Most of the feature films I saw were foreign films and it was fascinating to see how different filmmakers from all over the world approached their films and the eras and/or issues they were depicting. I felt like I learned something about cultural/historical issues from different places that I knew little or nothing about. A particularly powerful one for me was White Sun directed by Deepak Rauniyar which dealt with the fallout of the Nepalese Civil War by examining the clash between traditional customs and new ways of thought when a man who fought for the Maoists must return home to his traditionalist, loyalist village after his father dies. I thought it was interesting because whilst it is framed as an incredibly personal story it deals with very large issues, mainly that the peace that had been reached was not an end to their problems but the start of a whole range of new ones. The director also refrained from choosing sides, depicting the problems with both the monarchist system and their traditional values (including misogynistic and classist attitudes) and the Maoist approaches (the violence and death toll caused by them). The director was at the screening I attended and spoke about how this was important. He talked about how he wasn’t happy with the state of his country, that neither side had solutions, and that he wanted to depict the effects this had on everyday people. I didn’t know nearly anything about the Nepalese Civil War but this film prompted me to investigate it a bit, something we’ve been talking about a lot.

It was just useful to be engrossed in film for a while I think. I noticed that I saw more things in films, like how they are being constructed and why that might be so and what perspective is it coming from and such. Overall, whilst by the last day I was pretty exhausted, it was an incredibly enriching experience.

Looking forward, while I had been writing here and there during the festival when I had a minute, I’m planning to get stuck back in, finishing off the work on Elizabeth in the next few days hopefully and then getting stuck in on The Virgin Queen. The awareness that time is running out is starting to hit me a bit. I’m not freaking out too badly just yet but it’s there in the back of my mind. Just got to get back to work I suppose.

Research Update 16/05/2017

I realise it’s been a month since I last did an update and while I’ve been really busy and have accomplished things in the meantime, I think I’ve been missing this time to reflect on what I’m doing. I do feel like I’m making progress which is great of course but every now and then I hit a problem that sends me back a step.

Finishing a first draft of the first chapter feels really great and like I have some tangible evidence that I’m getting somewhere. The feedback on it from my supervisors was so helpful and insightful and it’s incredibly comforting to know that my work will only get better and tighter with that guidance. Now though, it’s past time to get stuck into the meaty parts of the thesis.

I’ve been working on Elizabeth (1998) and I’m not entirely sure why I started with this film. I honestly think I just had it on the brain and I guess it’s the most visible depiction of Elizabeth I in recent decades. I’ve been going over those key scenes in it that I think are pivotal to understanding her representation, particularly in regard to gender. The more I go over them the more things I notice which is great. I’ve tried to go over them, first just in general a bunch of times and them with specific things in mind, like space, lighting, camera angles, performance etc. I’m particularly interested in the way Kapur uses light and colour to differentiate Elizabeth from the other characters, particular as this is also a moral differentiation. He creates a real visual dichotomy between good (Elizabeth for the most part) and evil (those that would bring her harm, namely any and all Catholic characters). So I’ve been exploring that and writing up my thoughts as well as looking into what others have written about the film.

I have hit a bit of a roadblock with the film aspect as I’m having some second thoughts about the themes. The more I think about it, the more problematic the woman/queen idea becomes to me. I’m wondering if it might be best to attack the films/series first. Perhaps if I picked the ones I find most interesting and analyse them properly and then re-evaluate the themes from there. It would be looser and I would have to go back and look over them again in particular reference to whatever theme I ended up going with and it scares me a little as it feels like a move backward but I wonder if it might be the better course in the long run.

Other than that I did read an interesting article recently. It was the article Judith sent me, “Films as Historical Sources or Alternative History” by Anirudh Deshpande. What I thought was interesting was that he is arguing that film is a form of history in the same way that oral history is and that this means that, as has been argued with oral history, to privilege written history is to also privilege the kinds of histories and the people who record their history this way and leave others out. He says,

If historians choose to stick to documentary sources they do end up limiting the scope of their enterprise. They will then consciously turn their back on those people who may not figure in documentary sources but might appear as crucial traces in visual sources of both past and present. (4456)

He argues essentially, in a kind of flipping of the argument we find in Image as Artifact, that written/archival sources should be supplemented with visual sources. It’s interesting to me that both arguments want to use both written and visual sources but come at it from different perspectives. Deshpande also argues that the emotional and personal elements of a historical film are its strongest. I think there’s some interesting perspectives in there I could perhaps incorporate.

I have to report the awful as well as the good I suppose so I should mention that I had a rather colossal stuff up. I entirely misread a source and then when writing about it, consequently misrepresented it. Obviously this is a HUGE no-no and I take such pride in my work usually that this mistake really threw me. It makes me both incredibly angry and frankly, embarrassed because it was such a lazy mistake and should never have happened. On the bright side, if there is one, it is not a mistake I will allow myself to make again.

Source:
Deshpande, Anirudh. “Films as Historical Sources or Alternative History.” Economic and Political Weekly 39, no. 40 (2004): 4455-59.

Research Update 02/04/2017

I’m continuing to work through Image as Artifact to unpack my thoughts on the methodology. A lot of it is contributions from other scholars but, as I’ve been discussing with my supervisors, everything is of its particular context and this becoming increasingly obvious to me all the time. There is a lot of talk in this about how film can be useful so long as we are aware of its pitfalls in comparison to written history.

There is some interesting discussion however, particularly in Daniel Leab’s essay, about how the medium contributes to the past being rewritten for the present and how films respond to changing beliefs about the past. This is useful for me thinking about how film/TV might demonstrate changing ideas of Elizabeth I as a result of second-wave or post feminism for example. There is discussion of the inadequacy of the content analysis supported by Rosenstone and the need to think about style and composition. This is a big part of what I like about O’Connor’s methodology.

I also came across a nice quote from Patricia-Ann Lee which I will need to remember to keep in mind. “Creating or even defining methodologies,” she says, “is a chancy and dangerous business since it suggests that there are absolutes in a process which must always retain the greatest possible flexibility” (p. 97). O’Connor’s method is probably not THE answer to analysing historical films but perhaps is just the most applicable for me given my opinion on how these films should be approached and will probably need to be changed and adapted to the new ways in which film and TV are being consumed today.

I’ve finally finished writing about defining historical films (even though I’m fairly sure I will cut most of it) and by the end I think I really fleshed out my own thoughts on the topic though it will definitely need to be cleaned up. I’ll be moving right along to writing about methodology.

Side note: Pacemaker is THE BEST. I sit down to write what I need to that day and end up just flowing. Today, I needed to write 163 words to hit my target but ending up writing close to 600 once I got on a roll. It’s such a good way to prompt myself to get writing. This is not a sponsored post.

Sources:

O’Connor, John, ed. The Image as Artifact: The Historical Analysis of Film and Television. USA: R. E. Krieger Publishing Co. , 1990.

Research Update 27/03/2017

I’ve had another slow week I feel. I’m trying to get back on track but I still feel a bit sluggish and slacking. I’ve been working through Image as Artifact by John O’Connor, trying to get back around the methodology. So far this has been helpful as I’ve picked up some really important threads of ideas and also been able to see some of the shortcomings of O’Connor’s theories. I think it’s important that I acknowledge and address these if I’m going to use his method.

O’Connor developed the two phase method of film analysis and historical inquiry for analysing historical films in order to help develop critical viewing skills in the classroom. While this isn’t my focus or my argument I think it’s still in the same vein in the sense that I want to further a meaningful way to assess these films. I like that O’Connor aims for this method to be used for both film and television and specifies that each media requires slightly different approaches, including the consideration of the flow of television programming and the different spaces and circumstances of television viewing in comparison to cinema. This will be important to keep in mind when I talk about film versus television. O’Connor also argues for a view of the audience as active and that context is paramount, both positions I would agree with. There is a lot on reception which for now is helpful just to keep in mind but would be good for further work.

O’Connor still appears to be coming from the position that written history is ultimately superior to film. He criticises scholars for holding historical films and television to unrealistic expectations but admonishes films that privilege “feeling history” over “thinking historically” (p. 33) and argues, in a similar position to Robert A. Rosenstone, that films that pander to audiences expectations and preferences are the worst kinds of historical films. He also seems to want historians to become more actively involved in filmmaking as he believes they would want to make the creative process more obvious to the audience – the ideal trait of a good historical film in his opinion.

I feel that these arguments miss the point. To me, if we want to seriously evaluate historical film and television on the basis of their particular media as well as their historical value, we must accept film as it is going to come and that not all films are going to be experimental and challenge dominant narratives and expose their processes of construction or reconstruction. I believe we should be questioning what we can learn both from films that do these and the mainstream films that don’t, instead of picking and choosing and creating hierarchies of kinds of films – end of rant-

O’Connor is also skeptical of the typical narrative structures in historical films and television claiming that “in the stories that make for successful movies on television programs, the motives of major characters must be understood in terms of present-day values and concerns immediately accessible to a general TV audience…” (p. 2). While I understand his position that this might misrepresent actual historical motives (or what historians believe to be the most accurate motives), I think this might be able to show us information about how the filmmaker and the wider society in question sees the relationship between the past and the present and how they relate to each other. I think that the question of how we use the present to relate to the past and vice versa is a really rich and interesting one and could certainly be explored in films about Elizabeth I. In particular, can later Elizabeth I films like Elizabeth (1998) and shows like The Virgin Queen (BBC, 2005) and Elizabeth I (HBO, 2005), be viewed as means to explore female political leadership in a post-Thatcher Britain?

Ultimately, I think that although I disagree with some of O’Connor’s underlying ideas, the methodology is still fine for me.

Aside from that, I just started a Pacemaker account/plan to help keep track of my writing (thanks to the wonderful Toshi and Alix for putting me onto it).  Also I had a really great and productive study day with Lucie and Alix which included Alix gifting us some really lovely pens which might seem insignificant but really makes me smile and makes actually writing more enjoyable.

Sources:
O’Connor, John, ed. The Image as Artifact: The Historical Analysis of Film and Television. USA: R. E. Krieger Publishing Co., 1990.