Long weekend in Dublin

 

mccullough-mulvin-architects-long-room-hub-in-trinity-college-dublin

 

I returned from a long weekend in Dublin a week ago – I was delighted to be able to attend a symposium at Trinity College organised by David Dickson: ‘Ireland and the Caribbean in the Age of Empire.’ The 5-day round trip from Sydney was somewhat crazy but the symposium was so well put-together, with so many ‘big’ names in this emerging field, that it was well worth the jetlag. Many of those of us who presented have been inspired by Nini Rodgers’ Ireland, Slavery and Antislavery, so it was wonderful that she could be at the gathering—in closing proceedings she told us how delighted she is by the direction research is taking in this area, and is amazed at the array of sources scholars are drawing together. I was also rather chuffed that she recalled our chance meeting 18 months ago in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.

It was wonderful to see papers presented by (among others) Jenny Shaw, Matt Reilly, Jonathan Wright and Orla Power – all of whom I have already cited in my in-progress PhD thesis. There were so many other interesting papers covering Irish connections with the Caribbean in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A handful of fascinating papers also touched on interactions with the Spanish empire in the Caribbean. I have dreams of reviving my Spanish skills and exploring those connections in the future.

Many papers took a biographical/microhistorical approach, as I’m doing. A stand-out for me was a paper by Tom Truxes on the value of the British National Archives’ High Court of Admiralty Prize Papers—anyone who’s read the Bordeaux-Dublin Letters 1757 will have an inkling of the type of documents available in the collection. Truxes explained that there are over 4,000 boxes of mostly uncatalogued court records, personal correspondence, commercial documents, shipping papers etc at Kew… so potential dissertation-writers without a topic and with access to Kew—go check out the prize papers! I would if I lived in London.

I presented my work-in-progress on my merchants and planters chapter. I discussed John Black of Ulster/Grenada/Trinidad, and James Watt of Ramelton/Barbados/Jamaica. I was followed on my panel by Jonathan Wright who also presented on Mr Black, and then David Fleming who spoke on Eyre Coote, a Governor of Jamaica. Both papers were excellent, and really helped me think about my approach as I write up my second chapter.

Next week I’m off to my first Irish Studies Australia/NZ Conference, to present much the same paper as I did in Dublin. I’m looking forward to getting the lay of the land in Irish Studies in Australia & promise to report back soon.

References:

Nini Rodgers, Ireland, Slavery and Anti-Slavery:1612—1865 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

The Bordeaux-Dublin Letters 1757: Correspondence of an Irish Community Abroad, edited by L.M. Cullen, John Shovlin and Thomas M. Truxes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

Busy busy

The last few months have been very busy, and not always with PhD work unfortunately – I’m also juggling the transition to a new school for my daughter (which has been a brilliant move, thankfully),  and major home renovations (going well, but somewhat disruptive and time-consuming). So all good stuff, but my focus has not been on my research as much as I would have liked.

I’m now into year 2 of my PhD. I’ve written my first full chapter, on military connections between Ireland and the Caribbean. It’s a fair bit longer than originally planned, but I found three brilliant (if I do say so myself) characters to test out my biographical/micro-historical approach on. All will be revealed when my thesis is finished, but the approach seems to have worked well. I loved researching the lives of the three soldiers I found, and putting my detective skills to the test. I will write about the research process in more detail at some point, as I have researched them all ‘remotely’ – from my desktop in Australia, nowhere near Ireland or the Caribbean. I’m now working on a chapter on Irish merchants, & plantation owners and managers.

I’ve also had success on the publishing and conference front. I have an article approved for publication in an upcoming special ‘Transnational’ edition of Éire-Ireland, and I’ll be presenting on my biographical/micro-historical methodology at an International Graduate Conference at my university in July. The Conference is a joint venture between Macquarie, two universities in China (Tsinghua & Communication University of China), the University of Paris III-Sorbonne, and Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok). The conference theme is Methodology—perhaps not the most inspiring theme, but I’m excited to be talking about my methodology, and the chance to think hard about my approach.

I’ve made some updates to the blogs and podcasts posts on this blog. The changes to my daily routine this year have meant more time driving around Sydney, so hence more podcast listening time!

 

starting the phd? get organised now

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about getting set-up for a PhD….then I read this post from Dr Pat Thomson’s blog, which says just about everything I wanted to say! Plus there are many excellent suggestions in the comments.

patter

Yes, I know nearly everyone says you need to get organised – but that’s because it really is true. Getting yourself well set up for the long haul will save time – and your sense of being in control – later. Attending to the organisational basics at the get go will provide the structure you will need from now on. So….

Get your office space together 
If you are working from home, get the best chair you can afford. I have a reconditioned Aero which was quite expensive – but you can pick up Aeros on Ebay for not too much more than the crappy knock off versions. Butof course your chair doesn’t have to be like mine there are lots of other decent chairs out there. But there are some awful ones too – so check the chair options out, particularly if you are prone to back/neck problems when you…

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Women’s memoirs of the West Indies

My PhD research focuses on connections between Ireland and the British West Indies from about 1770 until 1830. I hope to be able to weave the voices of some Irish women who had connections with the region through my work, but I suspect this will be a challenge. I found a few (very few) letters written by Irish women who lived in the Caribbean during my research at PRONI in Belfast, and am now looking for published (or unpublished for that matter) memoirs. I’ve found a number by women travellers from England, Scotland and north America, as well as a handful of works by non-white women. My search for a work by an Irish woman, however, continues. This list is not exhaustive and I may update it as I go. I haven’t done much secondary reading on this topic yet, but the most helpful work by far has been Evelyn O’Callaghan’s Women Writing the West Indies, 1804—1939, “A Hot Place, Belonging to Us” (Routledge, 2004).

Any recommendations or comments from you, dear reader, would be most welcome!

Perhaps the best-known published journal is that of Lady Nugent, wife of Sir George Nugent, who served as Governor of Jamaica at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This is a link to a published copy of her journal Lady Nugent’s Journal of Her Residence in Jamaica from 1801 to 1805.

Anne Powers, the author of A Parcel of Ribbons: The letters of an 18th Century Family in London and Jamaica, has reviewed two memoirs by female visitors to Jamaica in the nineteenth century: Martha Jefferson Trice’s A Lady in Jamaica 1879Link to Powers’ Review and Diana Lewes’ A Year in Jamaica, Memoirs of a girl in Arcadia in 1889Link to Review

I used the journal of a Scottish traveller, Janet Schaw, during my Masters research, for her description of the bustling island of St. Eustatius in the 1770s: Journal of a Lady of Quality: Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the years 1774 to 1776

The Fate of the Fenwicks, Letters to Mary Hays (1798-1828), which (excitingly!) is available in digital form via the National Library of Australia here.

As for the writing of non-white women, O’Callaghan notes that the generally agreed chronology commences with the writings of Anne Hart Gilbert and Elizabeth Hart Thwaites (The Hart Sisters: Early African Caribbean Writers, Evangelicals, and Radicals, edited by Moira Ferguson (University of Nebraska Press, 1993)), followed by the History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself  (1831), and concludes with Mary Seattle’s autobiographical Wonderful Adventures (1857). There is then a gap until the twentieth century. O’Callaghan notes (pp.2-3) that although very few texts by non-white women appeared, that does not mean that there was no women’s writing from the West Indies—although it seems that for a long time, academics did argue that such a void existed. The book goes on to discuss what O’Callaghan terms “narratives of the West Indies by women.”

Nineteenth-Century Irish Migration and ‘Four Nations’ History

I’m having a great time trawling through the fournationshistory blog. I’ve reblogged this thought-provoking post: four nations/two islands.

Four Nations History Network

Nineteenth-Century Irish Migration and ‘Four Nations’ History

Professor Don MacRaild (University of Ulster) investigates the challenges to four nations approaches presented by the history of Irish migration.

Traditionally, national differences or interregional varieties have been relatively minor considerations in the historiography of the Irish in Britain. The majority of works tended to be local or regional studies, which barely reflected on the comparative dimensions with other geographical units; otherwise, studies tended to be thematic and so ranged across the islands, but spent little time delving into explicit national cultural practical differences. Till the Seventies, social sciences methods dominated studies of the Irish in Britain (counting demographic data, for example, was a dominant vogue); otherwise, labour and social histories were influential, whereby the categories of study were class and ethnicity, rather than region and nation.

 For historians approaching the Irish experience from the political left, there were more similarities than differences between…

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Irish archives at PRONI

I’ve just completed my initial archival research for my PhD, which involved a very long trip from Australia to Ireland. After a couple of days in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, I ventured north to Belfast. My aim in this blogpost is to provide some information about carrying out research at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland—PRONI for short.

IMG_3164PRONI is housed in a modern, light-filled building in the Titanic Quarter, a twenty-minute walk from City Hall in the centre of Belfast.  PRONI is a repository for archives from all over Ireland, and holds a diverse collection of official and private documents.

Obtaining a reader’s card was simple – no academic reference was required, just photo ID, and the card was produced on the spot. As is the norm with archives, researchers cannot take bags, coats/jackets or pens into the reading room—a plastic bag is provided to carry in your pencils, laptop, purse etc with you. The rest can be left in a free locker for the day (although you need to insert a £1 coin which is refunded when you finish with the locker).

Most visitors to PRONI seemed to be people researching their family history, and from what I observed, the staff were enormously helpful and patient with these visitors. I heard accents from America, Canada, Australia, England and New Zealand—PRONI clearly generates a fair amount of tourist revenue for Northern Ireland.

As an academic researcher spending more than just a couple of days at PRONI, I encountered some stumbling blocks, and having chatted with others doing similar work, I realised I wasn’t alone. Time was of the essence for my trip, I couldn’t be away from home for long so a leisurely trawl through the archives was out of the question. My aim was to locate and photograph as many potentially useful documents as possible, then catalogue and review them on my return home.  I hope that by writing about my experiences, I can help future researchers better prepare (logistically and financially) for research at PRONI. This is by no means a criticism of the archives or its staff, as I found them all to be friendly, welcoming and helpful. It was lovely to be greeted by name as I arrived for ‘work’ in the morning!

Bulk ordering documents: The PRONI catalogue is marvellously detailed. The online catalogue is good, but PRONI’s onsite catalogue (which cannot be accessed unless you are onsite) is far more detailed. This onsite catalogue breaks down each collection into individual items, for example, I wanted to review the collection of 18 letters exchanged between James Blair and his family in the 1770s. The collection is broken down into the 18 individual letters. As PRONI only permits readers to order 5 items at a time, this meant I was ordering 5 letters, then returning each as I finished reading or scanning, then ordering the next one—wasting precious time. The reading room staff eventually put me in touch with the manager of the document-ordering department, who gave me permission to make a ‘bulk order,’ so that I could order an entire collection. I couldn’t put that order in the system myself, this had to be done on my behalf by a member of staff. During my time at PRONI, some staff members would require me to fill out a form before placing a bulk order, others would call the head of the document-ordering department, and others just took my word for it that I had permission to do so. So while bulk ordering solved the problem of time-wasting for me, it was still a bureaucratic process.

My advice to future researchers is to contact PRONI ahead of your visit to request permission to place bulk orders, or at least to make contact so they can set you up with the necessary permissions as soon as possible.

Photographing documents: As I was in Belfast for a limited period, my aim was to photograph as many documents as possible, then catalogue and read them later. I had contacted PRONI to check I could photograph documents in the archive ahead of my visit, but I hadn’t understood the subtleties of the rules! They differ from any other archive I’ve ever visited…

Basically there are two options. Option 1 is to use your own camera. PRONI charges £10.50 per hour for camera use, and they require you to give advance notice in writing of exactly which documents you will be photographing. Your camera will be held behind the counter in the reading room until you begin using it, and then the clock will start running to calculate the price you need to pay. For example, if it takes you 10 minutes to do your photography, you will be charged £1.75.  Option 2 is to use PRONI’s scanner to photograph documents. You do not need to give notice of what you will be scanning, but it does cost 30p per image. Copy cards can be purchased at the reading room, and you need to bring your own USB stick to save the scanned images to. The scanner is easy to use and the scanned images are excellent quality, but this is an expensive exercise if you wish to take a lot of pictures, which I did!

If I’d grasped the complexities of PRONI’s photographing/copying rules, I would have incorporated copying costs into my funding request from my university. I did feel rather taken advantage of in this respect, particularly as other archives and institutions (the National Library of Ireland and Linen Hall Library in Belfast, to name two) permit researchers to photograph documents with smartphones. I happily scanned a number of documents in both these places at no cost.

Eating & Drinking in the Titanic Quarter: As I already mentioned, PRONI is located in the Titanic Quarter. I didn’t take long breaks for lunch but found a couple of interesting options if you want to get out. Alternatively, if you pack your own lunch & want to stay at the archives, there are comfortable tables and chairs just inside the building’s entrance where you can eat. There is also a cafe in the building, but frankly, there are better options a short walk away! Dock Cafe

Cast and Crew is a fairly new restaurant from well-known Belfast restauranteurs, 5 minutes walk from PRONI. It’s only open during the day, but they do great lunches (and presumably great breakfasts too). You can eat-in or take-away, and the coffee was great. The restaurant is so-named as it’s opposite the Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones is filmed. I wonder if I tag ‘game of thrones’ for this blogpost I’ll get a huge spike in readership 🙂

The Dock Cafe is a 2 minute walk from PRONI. It is a charity-run cafe which operates on an honesty-box system, so you pay however much (or little) you wish! They have excellent soup (after 12.30pm), tea, coffee, and the ubiquitous Irish scones & traybake offerings. They’re also more than happy for you to bring your own food to eat in the cafe.

All the best with researching at PRONI. Overall I had a great time discovering the wealth of archival material available, as well as exploring further afield in Belfast and County Antrim.

* The header image for this blogpost shows some of the glass frontage of the PRONI building, which features script from the archives. It also features some blue sky in Belfast!

My favourite history blogs

As a novice PhD student, I spend an inordinate amount of time reading, but end most days frustrated that I haven’t read more. I have trouble settling down with fiction, which was one of my favourite pastimes pre-study. Instead, my spare reading time these days is taken up with reading blogposts—there are so, so many fantastic blogs out there written by academic historians, public historians, genealogists and other students of history. The WordPress Reader is one of the most-used apps on my phone (after twitter of course!) But the problem with an over-reliance on WordPress is that I have to remind myself to seek out blogs published on other platforms.  According to an astute observer* of digital media, it’s so easy to create and publish content in the digital age, but much harder to get noticed. I’ve recently discovered History Carnival, which does a great job of drawing history blogs out into the light. History Carnival is a monthly showcase of blog writing about history, hosted by a different blog each month to provide a variety of approaches and perspectives. In a similar vein, the University of Exeter’s Imperial and Global Forum’s weekly Top Picks in Imperial & Global History and the Junto’s The Week in Early American History provide links to blogposts, as well as writing from more traditional outlets.  The Two Nerdy History Girls also regularly post collections of links to their favourite blogposts, entitled the Breakfast Links. If any readers know of any other such aggregators, please do let me know.  These collections of links do other bloggers a great service by further sharing bloggers’ work.

Courtesy of Joanne Bailey’s excellent history blog, I’ve discovered a great app called Bundlr which has allowed me to take control of my messy collection of internet bookmarks. Click here to view the bundle I’ve created for my favourite history websites. (I was going to break the bundle down into categories of history blogs, but I think that’s called procrastination as I really should get on with my work!) I hope Bundlr is here to stay…it’s an intuitive platform, and very simple to use. I hope you find some new favourite sites and writers among mine. Let me know what you think!

*my husband

Update: Bundlr contacted me today (13 May) to say that my History Bloggers Bundle is featured on their Explore homepage today. I have no idea of the exposure that page has, really, but if it garners some new readers for any of the fabulous blogs I’ve bundled, I’m happy!

PhD: 5 weeks in

Inter-library loans also make a handy display stand for Easter decorations—courtesy of my daughter!

Inter-library loans also make a handy display stand for Easter decorations—courtesy of my daughter!

I’ve officially been a PhD student for five weeks now and frankly, I don’t feel as though I’ve got a lot to show for it! Sure, I have a lovely fresh blue Moleskine notebook, a new (v.big) computer screen for my home office, and a growing pile of books on my desk and on my kindle. I also have a spreadsheet with a detailed three-year plan (let’s see how that evolves over time!) and a Scrivener project entitled ‘PhD’. That reminds me, I did spend about an hour a day of Week 1 in an online Scrivener course.* Oh, and I sat through almost a day of ‘induction’ for newbie PhD students.  On a more inspiring note, I made it to a wonderful presentation by Prof Simon Newman from Glasgow about 18hC Jamaica (thanks Sydney Uni US Studies Centre for being so welcoming), and two excellent in-house Macquarie history seminars. And my first conference abstract has been accepted, so I’ll be presenting some of my MRes findings at the NewMac postgrad conference in July!** This in addition to supervision meetings, having my parents over to visit from the other side of Australia, then nursing a sick daughter at home for the past week…I guess I have been rather busy!  But given that my first goal was to nail down some primary sources for a chapter of my thesis—which I’ve not yet done—I don’t feel a great sense of achievement.

I’m starting on primary sources rather than a literature review because the work I did in my Masters of Research last year gave me a head-start on the Irish historiography. My PhD will investigate links between Ireland and the British Atlantic around the turn of the nineteenth century…so my first research efforts will build upon the stellar work of Nini Rodgers, as well as the fantastic resource that is the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership database. It’s a slow process though. More than once already I’ve wished I was back in our Islington flat, so I could just pop down to the British Library or Kew and have a nosy around. I’m sure that will be a recurrent thought, but perhaps (?) my distance from the archives will force me to be thorough and focused in my prep so that when I do get to the archives, I’ll know exactly what I’m looking for.

* I highly recommend this: Scrivener Courses: Gwen Hernandez

** NewMac 2015!

Submitting my Thesis

Well, I’ve submitted my Masters thesis and am waiting on my markers’ verdict. I was pleased with how the thesis came together in the end, as was my supervisor, so my fingers are crossed for a good outcome.  The final title was ‘Celebrating the Battle of the Saintes: Imperial News in England and Ireland, 1782.’ I took the newspaper reporting of Britain’s victory over the French in April 1782 in les Saintes (in the Caribbean) as a case study to examine the impact of imperial news in London, and a second site of empire: Ireland. The case study also allowed me to look at the network which passed information from an outpost of empire to England and Ireland. I thoroughly enjoyed the primary research for this project. Most of my sources were digitised newspapers, although I did need to go to the National Library in Canberra to read the Dublin Evening Post on microfiche, which felt like a blast from the past, technologically speaking. During our family holiday in England I even managed to get to the British Library Manuscripts room—with my precious reader’s ticket in hand—to read a journal from one of the British ships at the Saintes, as well as the journal of John Mair, who watched the battle and its aftermath from his plantation on Dominica. I also visited the National Archives at Kew, and read some of the personal correspondence of Admiral Rodney, who commanded the British fleet at the Saintes—including a letter from Edmund Burke. A highlight for me was the moment I realised that the pencil markings I thought had been made by a selfish scholar on the original letters, were actually Rodney’s own markings! The experience of reading original documents in manuscript is one of the reasons I am determined to continue with historical research – whether as a PhD student or an independent researcher.

Feeling like a real grad student …learning about—and making—connections

I was fortunate enough to attend a masterclass last week hosted by Dr Penny Edmonds at the University of Tasmania, starring Dr Zoe Laidlaw from the University of London. Months ago I wrote out this quote from Dr Laidlaw’s article “Breaking Britannia’s Bounds?” to keep me on track with my thesis:

“…recent works influenced by ‘new imperial history’ range far beyond dissections of metropolitan society and culture, focusing on interactions between widely separated colonial sites, juxtaposing micro and macro, and questioning the relationship between the remarkable and the everyday…exchanges within and between colonies are just as likely to take centre stage as the metropolis.”

The theme of the class was ‘Networks of Empire and Transnational History.’ Given the centrality of networks and connections to my work, I happily did a one-day round trip from Sydney to Hobart for the class. As the convenors hinted to us at the outset, whilst I learnt a lot from each of them over the course of the day, it was interactions with fellow participants during breaks that fired my imagination the most. This underscores the importance of networking – something I never particularly enjoyed in my previous life as an investment banking compliance officer, but which I am beginning to fully appreciate in my current guise as a graduate student. Talking about my work and thoughts for research topics for my possible (fingers crossed!) PhD led to some really interesting suggestions as to how to frame my work and what kind of events and sources I might pursue. I hope I managed to spark ideas for others as much as they did for me!

I was pleased to discover that I wasn’t the most inexperienced budding historian at the class, having met an honours student from Victoria with a fantastic thesis topic. I was also rather delighted to find myself in about the middle of the age range – whether that’s because it is the older grad students who have the time/money/inclination to travel, or whether that really reflects the demographic of the history post-grad student, I’m not sure.

The day began with introductions, most of which I unfortunately missed (thanks Virgin Australia). Then Zoe gave us a short lecture which traced her own research journey as a PhD student, She highlighted the importance of spending time in the archive, as well as the often-serendipitous nature of historical scholarship. In relation to networks, and her own work on colonial and settler-networks, she noted how pervasive colonial networks were, how assiduously people pursued them, and how the use of a particular connection or network changed over time. She encouraged us to seek ways of disrupting the boundaries of empire in our work, and to de-centre London—one way this can be achieved is by focusing on individual lives, and rethinking biography as a tool for crossing boundaries. In encouraging us to be aware of the work of scholars in areas outside our own, she discussed the legions of connections in the past which had little to do with the metropole, or even the Empire.

The class then discussed the pre-set readings – in addition to “Breaking Britannia’s Bounds,” we discussed Tracey Banivanua Mar’s “Imperial literacy and indigenous rights,” and a chapter from Clare Anderson’s Subaltern Lives.  The class had a great discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of the methodologies adopted in these works. Banivanua Mar and Anderson’s work emphasised that in discussing the networks of those with little social capital in the empire, we should not be necessarily discouraged by the fact that we only know a little about some of the lives. The readings also demonstrated the fantastic work that can be achieved if a thoughtful balance is struck between individual lives and stories, and the broader themes they can illuminate.

Dr Kristyn Harman also talked us through the process of researching her fascinating PhD topic of indigenous convicts, and then how she converted it into a prize-winning book. The book is on top of my post-thesis reading list.

In sum, while networking may not be a comfortable experience for many people, making just a little effort to ask what others are working on, and then talking about your own work, can be hugely rewarding. Study in history can be such a solitary exercise that it is easy to forget how much we can learn from others.

Some useful references from the masterclass:

Clare Anderson, Subaltern Lives. Cambridge University Press, 2012. See also her current project: http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/carchipelago/

Tracey Banivanua Mar, “Imperial literacy and indigenous rights: Tracing transoceanic circuits of a modern discourse,” Aboriginal History 37 (2013).

Zoe Laidlaw, “Breaking Britannia’s Bounds? Law, Settlers, and Space in Britain’s Imperial Historiography,” The Historical Journal 55 (2012). See also her other publications: http://pure.rhul.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/zoe-laidlaw(ded6e354-f02a-41e0-a6e2-35f5459cc87b).html

Kristyn Harman, Aboriginal Convicts: Australia, Khoisan, and Maori Exiles. UNSW Press, 2012.