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.

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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.

Research Update 21/03/2017

Last week was, for the most part, awful. Obviously the meeting with my supervisors was super helpful but outside of that, not great. I had been skimming through Visions of the Past, but the advice from the meeting was to lay off the theory reading and, especially, stop reading more Rosenstone. He’s outdated and I’ve read all that I need to in order understand where he fits into the field and my own argument. I went home then, and put that away. I think I’d like to look back into O’Connor a bit and refamiliarise myself and look deeper into the methodology.

I did some Tips for Effective Reading tutorials through the uni library. They were nice and quick and helpful. Mostly they were things that I knew but need to remember to do properly, specifically pre-reading. I typically tend to try to read absolutely everything and naturally, there is not enough time for this. I think I need to put more time into surveying the text for actual relevance to save time reading unnecessarily.

I also looked into Bourdieu’s theory of habitus, which was suggested to me by my supervisor Anne. Upon doing some reading I realised I must have done it a little before because the ideas were familiar. If I understand correctly, Bourdieu’s idea of habitus is the norms, patterns of talking, thinking etc., and tendencies that are socially and culturally acquired by individuals that they must take into different social contexts or fields but that also must adapt to those contexts. This is my understanding from some very surface level research. I did try to find some work on habitus and cinema but came up pretty empty (admittedly it was probably a boy’s look). There was one article by Bhrugubanda (2016) called “Embodied Engagements: Filmmaking and Viewing Practices and the Habitus of Teluga Cinema.” This looked mostly at the habitus of lower class Indian women and how this influences their viewing practices of devotional films though there was some discussion about the space of the cinema that could potentially be interesting. From my own thinking, I was wondering about film having its own habitus, as in certain kinds of films at certain times should fit certain conventions of narrative or genre or the like or how it might thwart these conventions and how this would shift over time. I guess viewer expectations would be important here too, expectations that are themselves created, or at least influenced, by pre-existing or prior conventions. I don’t know if that makes sense but it’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Sorry for the brevity and any incoherence, I’m incredibly tired at the moment. I will do better.

Sources:

Bhrugubanda, Uma Maheswari. “Embodied Engagements: Filmmaking and Viewing Practices and the Habitus of Telugu Cinema.” BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies 7, no. 1 (2016): 80-95.
Rosenstone, Robert A. Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995.

 

Research Update 13/03/2017

Last week was a little slower but okay. I worked through History Goes to the Movies. Essentially, Hughes-Warrington’s argument boiled down to the idea that reception studies and research into how audiences interact and respond to films and TV is an essential but so far largely missing element of historical film studies. I agree with her but I think that ultimately my Presentation of Proposal (POP) panel was right in that investigating reception might be a bit too ambitious for this paper. I also think that the crux of my thesis isn’t necessarily about audience’s responses but more about the piece itself and its particular social and historical context and about the filmmaker and/or historian. I think Hughes-Warrington would probably scoff at my approach but I will keep her argument in mind as she is right, I think, in saying that there isn’t a homogenous social experience or feeling at any given point in time that would mean we can assume how all audiences would respond to a particular film or show.

What I also found compelling in this book was that Hughes-Warrington argued against the most common charges against historical films, such as that they dupe audiences into thinking history is a simple story with a happy ending or that the films use special effects to alter reality, by pointing out that these arguments imply a passive and naïve spectator. She argues instead that audiences are active and aware that what they are watching is a film and not history itself. She cites some studies, for example the US based ‘Presence of the Past Project’ that suggest that audiences watch more historical films than read historical books and emotionally identify stronger with films but also trust them far less than they would books. I would be really interested to follow these up as I too believe that the audience are not so naïve as historical film scholars often paint them to be.

I appreciated Hughes-Warrington’s discussion of film theory, including the writings of people such as André Bazin and Jean-Luc Godard (whose writing on mainstream cinema reinforcing a particular vision of masculinity might be worth looking up) as it showed how one can combine both historical film studies and film studies. However, she often seemed to invoke these theories to show the short comings of historians studying historical film with little understanding of film theory, but didn’t really apply a critical eye to these theories themselves. She did include criticism of the definitions of ‘historical film’, criticising the exclusion of period and costume dramas, and heritage films from analysis because they don’t challenge mainstream historical narratives according to the majority of historical film scholars, including Rosenstone and Toplin. This is in line with my own argument and although this is not a major part of my thesis, I can build on her argument to suggest that all films set in or about the past, regardless of whether they challenge or maintain dominant narratives, can still tell us something about how that past is understood.

Last week I did some research off the back of the journal information David Burchell gave me and some of the stuff Sarah and Alison gave me and found some promising looking resources on Elizabeth I and found some more journals that might be worth searching through. I just have to actually go through them now.

I also went to the Higher Degree Research Orientation, which, although aimed at PhD kids was really helpful and informative. There were lots of helpful tips on how to manage time, which I am awful at, and mental health, which is important for me as I am prone to a good breakdown. The main advice there was to manage expectations on myself; this is not the end of the world, it doesn’t need to be the most perfect piece of work in the history of academia, and it probably will not define my career or life. I’m trying to keep this in mind as my perfectionism is my own worst enemy. There was a lot of talk about needing to be writing all the time and although I had heard this 1000 times I still hadn’t really listened I guess as I don’t do it nearly as much as I should if ever. One of the suggestions was to set aside time in the week just to write for a while so I’m going to start that this week and see how we go. We did have to do an exercise and just write for 10 minutes and I wrote about the theme/chronology issue because I had just been talking to Toshi about it. This is what I wrote:

It’s interesting to note the way that depictions of Elizabeth I in film and television do not necessarily fit into the easy categories we might expect. Sure, Bette Davis’s Elizabeth I in 1955’s The Virgin Queen is bitter and villainous because she can’t love and is barren rather than chooses not to have children but she is also incredibly intelligent and cunning, fiercely independent and her political mind knows no equal in the film. Similarly, the Elizabeth of Fire Over England (1937), played by Flora Robson, is strong and fierce and while she is clearly jealous of the young lovers, her preoccupation is with matters of state and has no genuine romantic subplot. In contrast, over 70 years later in Anonymous (2011), Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave/Joely Richardson) is defined only by her relationships to men, as a lover and as a mother to a number of illegitimate sons. This is her sole purpose in the film. To assume a natural progression of depictions becoming more liberal and feminist perhaps, as was my first instinct as a liberal feminist myself, is to assume that filmmakers, historians, and gender movements alike have also made this progression. This is simply not the case. We must remember that history and its written and filmic interpretations, as well as movements and terms like feminism, rarely have an straightforward evolution from point A to point B. We must also remember that judging something as more or less feminist can be problematic as this is a term that does not have one definition but can be interpreted in a multitude of ways and therefore a single depiction of a woman such as Elizabeth I in a particular film may elicit various readings and judgments based on different understandings of what a feminist interpretation might look like.

It’s pretty messy and I don’t think it’s very clear but the point is that in 10 minutes I busted out a paragraph that has the bones of something important that I’ve discovered. Now I can pull that apart and further explore those ideas and/or tidy it up into something worth possibly including at some point.

At the orientation there was also a panel on managing relationships with supervisors so I will have just a few things to discuss with them when we meet this Thursday. Mostly it was just simple things that in hindsight I should’ve probably been doing the whole time like emailing summaries after meetings about what was discussed so we’re all on the same page.

So yes, it was a slow week reading wise but I got some inspiration elsewhere.

Sources:

Hughes-Warrington, Marnie. History Goes to the Movies: Studying History on Film. New York: Routledge, 2007.

 

Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film

James Chapman
2005

This book is an exploration of how British historical films have confirmed or confronted the idea of British national identity during their times. Chapman looks at a number of historical films spanning from the early 1930s to the late 1990s. Chapman places each film in both the context of the British film industry at the time and the wider social, economic, and political context. While I wouldn’t be looking at many of these same films, the contextual information for each decade from the 1930s to the 1990s is invaluable to me as I can apply it to my own analysis of the films that I look at that come out of Britain at these times, for example, Fire Over England (1937), Young Bess (1953), or Elizabeth R (1971).

Among the films Chapman discusses is Elizabeth (dir. Shekhar Kapur, 1998). This was a valuable chapter as it provided contextual, production, and reception information as well as analysis of the film itself. Interestingly, Chapman reads Elizabeth largely in the context of the legacy of Princess Diana who died tragically just days before the film began principal photography. He argues that outrage from historians and critics alike that the film depicted Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, as not a virgin at all can be seen as a desire to protect the national myth about Elizabeth I but also as a kind of proxy to defend the reputation of the late Princess Diana, another national icon. It is an intriguing reading that I will take into consideration. It would be interesting to think about how 16th century ideas about protecting a woman’s virtue and reputation are being invoked again at the turn of the 21st century for another female royal.

 

Chapman, James. Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film. London: I.B Tauris, 2005.

 

 

Research Update: 2nd September 2016

I thought, for your benefit and mine, I’d run through a quick update of how my research is going and what the current plan is. At the moment, the pitch is relatively the same as it was at the end of last semester. I want to interrogate the relationship of the past and the present when history is represented on screen, using Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s notion of “historical truthfulness” as a guiding principle. I want to question what is happening when filmmakers attempt to make sense of both the past and their contemporary era when they interpret history for the screen and how this in turn influenced how audiences interpret and understand history and the present. I am interested in how film and television uniquely facilitate the interpretation and communication of history and situate it within the present context and intend to examine this by analysing the film using both the tools of film analysis as well as analysing how it engages with the scholarly history it is depicting and the its own context of production, as per John O’Connor’s suggested methodology. At this stage my plan to do this by looking at screen iterations of Elizabeth I with a particular focus on the influence of gender. I intend to take examples of films depicting Elizabeth I and compare them with the academic written history in general and in particular discussion of gender. I will also compare them with the context of production especially the contemporary gender politics and climate. I would also be interested to see whether later screen iterations are influenced by earlier ones, both in terms of emulating them and rejecting them.

So that’s the plan. I like to think its going relatively well. I feel that I’m chugging along okay. I’ve read a lot about historical films themselves. I have made a start on looking into histories of Elizabeth and have started collecting and giving at least a first watch to the films. Although I have background in the area, I need to start doing far more in depth research into film studies and analysis.

That’s where I’m at with the research and the thesis at the minute. Its stressful because I’m also trying to keep on track of my coursework and assignments for my classes but its okay. All we be okay, I am sure. Chatting with supervisors has kept me grounded. Having people there that are willing to listen to my nonsense and give me ideas and tell me that its going to be alright but that there’s work to be is incredibly helpful and comforting.

Till next time, wish me luck!

Sources:
Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. The Past within Us: Media, Memory, History. London, UK: Verso, 2005.

O’Connor, John E. “History in Images/Images in History: Reflections on the Importance of Film and Television Study for an Understanding of the Past.” The American Historical Review 93, no. 5 (1988): 1200-09.

Taking a Minute to Breathe

I haven’t updated this blog in a long while, partly because this was originally an assessment and partly because well, I didn’t think I had time. I don’t really have a lot of time but what I’ve learnt is that you need to make the time to stop, relax, and importantly, reflect on what you have done.
The break between semesters hardly felt like a break at all, I tried to get as much reading for my thesis done in that time that I could. It didn’t go well. I just read through (by read through, I mean I did the all important skimming) three books but that was only a fraction of the list I had wanted to get through. Perhaps I was being a little ambitious. Mostly I think I was making excuses not to do the work as much as I should have. I feel that by the time that the ‘break’ came I was very done with the coursework part of the course but also knew that I needed to use the break to get research done. I think the done side won out.
Getting back into the swing of things this semester has been exceedingly difficult. This is in part due to taking the foot off the pedal a bit during the break but also the schedule was a bit messy at the start. The sort of things that can’t be helped, its okay. Nonetheless, I feel that I am finally settling in, even though its already week 6. Or is it 7? Okay perhaps not as settled in as I thought. The point is, I’m getting there. Its hard, this semester there’s a lot of reading, far more than I think there was last semester. Or at least it feels like it. This semester I am taking the last core unit of this degree Research Design 2. The first few readings, from Murray and Moore’s The Handbook of Academic Writing, were really great. They basically argued that academic writing need not be a chore but rather, if we change the way we think about and approach it, can be a rewarding, creative process. I like the sound of that. Also, we’ve been going over Ethics in research which is so incredibly vital to have a handle on, or at least to know how to get in touch with the people that do. Not that I will be needing Ethics approval, my work is purely intellectual no humans involved, but its still important to be aware of.
The elective units I’m taking are Debates in Global History, in which we’re looking at debates about globalisation, its origins and its historiography. That is full on in that our teacher, Greg Barton, is asking that we read a monograph every week. His expectation is that we spend about 2-3 hours with the book and pick out the main argument. Its a useful skill to hone I believe. The Cutting Edge is a subject that is focusing on how to conceptualise our projects in terms of ideas of space, scale, and time. This is really interesting but also challenging as the readings are really dense and take work to get my head around. We are expected to respond to the readings so this forces us to try to make sense of it and Brett, our teacher, provides brilliant feedback. My final unit is Global Digital Futures, which is dealing with digital technologies and particularly its role in research, knowledge creation and communication.
It’s probably seeming at this point like I haven’t taken time to breathe, or you’re wondering how this is relevant. The point is that, I’m sitting here writing this when there are, admittedly other things I need to be doing because the main thing that I think I’ve learnt in this course thus far is that you MUST take time to stop, step back, and think about what you’re doing and reflect on where you are and where you need to go. So this is me, taking stock of where I am. Taking a breath and realising that I’ve come a long way, despite having a long way to go.

Murray, Rowena, and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach. England Open University Press, 2006.

“Arrange Your Life to Write”

Last week in Research Literacies we looked at some really interesting readings on how to actually write a thesis. In particular, a chapter from Rowena Murray’s book How to Write a Thesis (2011) was really helpful for thinking about how to really get started on actually writing this thing. The chapter was entitled “It’s Never Too Late to Start” and this in and of itself was an encouraging start. The idea of actually sitting down to start writing seems so daunting and I can’t imagine at the moment feeling ready to begin to make inroads on the actual writing of the thesis but as Jack has been telling us all semester, you can’t wait until you’re ready to start or you’ll never be ready. The beauty of this chapter is that it really broke down the idea of starting to write and how to get the thesis done into small steps that make it seem like less of a beast to tackle.

Murray provides a checklist of ‘Initial Tasks’ before getting stuck in including sorting out when you’re going to meet your supervisor, accepting that not everything you want to put into the thesis is going to be able to be included, and talking to your family and friends about how you’ll have to work because at the end of the day, we can’t do this without them. When we went over this list in class and talked about it, Jack drew our attention to one task in particular, one he deemed to be the most important:

“Arrange your life to write” (Murray 2011, 241)

Everything else stems from this one point. Every other thing comes after realising that we are effectively trying to be professional writers and if we want to do that we have to make writing a lifestyle. Once we arrange our life around writing, scheduling time to write everyday, setting writing goals etc., than the rest of should come at least a little easier.

Murray also provides what she calls “Ten Steps to Fast-Track Thesis Writing.” (238)
These are:
Step 1: Take Stock
Step 2: Start Writing
Step 3: Outline Your Thesis
Step 4: Make Up a Programme of Writing
Step 5: Communicate With your Supervisor(s)
Step 6: Outline Each Chapter
Step 7: Write Regularly
Step 8: Revise
Step 9: Pull it All Together
Step 10: Do Final Tasks
(238)

These are a really nice breakdown of the steps for going about tackling the thesis. There are a couple of things on this list that I know I am going to have to really work on. Step 2 is a really important one for me. This step picks up on that same idea I mentioned earlier that Jack has been drilling into us the whole semester about not waiting to write. Murray also suggests that we “learn to live with imperfection” (244). This is something I am going to need to work on. My being a perfectionist is one of my greatest obstacles. I never feel that anything is good enough and I have ridiculously high expectations of my own work and I really need to learn to live with it because its only getting in my own way. Also, I am really terrible at keeping up with people so making sure I communicate with my supervisor is a big thing for me. I don’t intend to not get on to people when I should but I get really in my head at times and forget to keep in touch. I can’t really afford to do this with my supervisor. Its too important.

It’s definitely nice to have these steps laid out. Its certainly makes the prospect of tackling the thesis seem a hell of a lot less daunting.
Murray, Rowena. “It’s Never Too Late to Start.” In How to Write a Thesis (England: Open University Press, 2011), 238-257.