This week I turn 25. For many of my friends, they’ve been freaking out about getting older. For me, I’m concentrating on completing my Masters at the highest standard I can (and maintaining my lifestyle blog).
This week also marks seven months since I started at the University of Sheffield. With just five months to go, the end is in sight. This fills me with both excitement and fear. I’m looking forward to what life has to offer me in the next stage of life. Plus, the next five months is the dissertation phase and therefore the phase I have been looking forward to the most. Unfortunately, this also means that it’s time to start looking for jobs, thinking about where I want to live, and the practicalities of adult life.
So here’s to the next five months of dissertation research and writing. Oh, and the small matter of deciding whether or not I am going to continue into a PhD.
I’m have a confession to make.
This post is another plug for another event.
On Thursday 11 May at 6.00pm, I am going to be one of the researchers sharing stories about their research as part of Tales from the Ivory Tower. Maybe researcher is stretching it a bit as I’m a MA student who hasn’t started her thesis research yet. However, getting up in front of an audience to share a story seemed a really good way to throw myself out of my comfort area and into something completely new.
So why storytelling?
Stories have a power that presenting a research paper doesn’t have. They welcome in people to share your experiences and knowledge. When we share a story, our audience comes with us on a journey. By the end of the story, it is as much their’s as it is ours.
I’m going to be sharing a little about how being the granddaughter of divorcees and having an obsession with Arthurian legend has led me to the thesis I want to study. I will be effectively inviting people to share in my life in the hope of changing their minds about how the choices of one generation impact the lives of their children and grandchildren. Telling this as a story engages their emotions, their sympathy, in a way that presenting an academic paper cannot do.
Being the storyteller
Developing my own story has been as much about learning about myself as it has been learning a new technique or more about a subject area. I’ve discovered my limits about what I’m willing to share and how I am willing to share it. I’ve realised how much my own choices are impacted by other people. You could say I forced myself into a corner where I had to accept certain things about my family that I had ignored before.
The power of a story is in it’s ability to make the audience sympathise with the narrative. Once you have gained an audience’s sympathy, then you can explain your research,
If you are interested in how researchers turn research into narratives or what has been their inspiration, we will be sharing our stories in Brood Cafe Bar at Roco on 11 May, You can register here.
This term, I have had some weird assignments. Namely, I have to write a research proposal and a project proposal to be assessed for two of my modules. My first question on both occasions was, “what’s wrong with a good old essay?” I mean, I’m here to learn and then show what I have learnt and how I can apply that to my own work. That is why we write essays.
To be honest, it was a good opportunity to practice writing one for my PhD applications next year but I thought that would be all it was. Then I started writing the research proposal. It turns out that not only is writing a research proposal concisely really tough (how do I know what I need to explain and what I don’t) but it also requires a lot more knowledge than I thought it would, both of the subject and the methodology. So I’ve been refreshing my memory on the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who’s in dire need of a reassessment, reading up on politeness (crucial and not restricted to the British) and trying to make sense of notes from my textual analysis seminars. In other words, I have had to put a lot more work into this proposal than I expected.
So do I now understand why we’ve had such weird assessments this semester? If this research proposal is anything to go by, our tutors and lecturers are trying to prepare us for the “Real World”. Let’s face it, the reality is that we won’t be writing essays for the rest of our lives, unless you become an academic. No matter what job you are in, you are probably going to create proposals of one nature or another at some point. So being assessed on our ability to create a convincing proposal is probably a lot more useful than another “good old essay”.
It’s been a while since I updated you on how the group project with the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery. As you may have seen the other week, I reblogged a post I had written for the FoWC about why I like cemeteries. Other than that, the project has begun to slow down as a large amount of the graphic design and publications have been completed.
What I am excited to announce is that we have a launch date!
Yes, the website and story map that we have been developing as a digital engagement resource will be launched as part of the Arts & Humanities Festival on 12th May. It’s going to be a drop in session for anyone interested in what we’ve been doing on the project, finding out more about Wardsend Cemetery or just curious about what’s going on with Sheffield’s hidden heritage.
We’ll be around 1-4pm in Jessop West so come along and say hi. We’ll be happy to answer any questions about the project and share a little bit about what we’ve been up to this term.
We’re five weeks into Digital Cultural Heritage now and I’m starting to notice that certain words are becoming regular parts of the DCH vocab. Notable amongst these are metadata and crowdsourcing. I’ve already talked about metadata in a previous post. So now it is the turn of crowdsourcing to be understood.
I personally like the idea of crowdsourcing. It bridges that gap between the ivory towers of academia and the person on the street (or in front of the screen). Sometimes, as with so many good things, it can be misused. You end up with the equivalent of sweatshops, where volunteers are used to do the simple but time-consuming jobs like tagging. Other times, it works fantastically as a collaboration where everyone learns from everyone else. A great example is Measuring the Anzacs, which encourages citizen historians to tag and transcribe records of Anzac soldiers. While academics benefit from the additional help in tagging and transcription, the so-called ‘crowd’ have the opportunity to see behind the statistics to who the soldiers really were.
The thing about crowd sourcing is that it needs people to engage. That is when it works at its best.
Let’s be honest. No one is going to spend their time tagging or transcribing medieval manuscripts unless they are interested in it. The nature of crowd sourcing is that it is never a random crowd who engage with the project but individuals who are interested in the topic. For example, a marine biologist will most likely not engage with a Shakespearean project but an member of an amateur dramatics group might do. Thus, the need for engagement in crowd sourcing means that most projects ends up being group sourced by default.
These groups may not be structured or chosen on purpose but they are united by common purpose. So you end up with a group sourced project who are all engaged with your project.
And if you’re honest with yourself, you would rather have a small group of actively engaged people than a large group of vaguely interested people who don’t really care.
I have been obsessed with the legends of Merlin and Arthur since I was in primary school. My copy of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s trilogy has had it’s spine broken time and time again till it’s more white than purple. I can name at least 10 knight of the Round Table without including King Arthur. But I’ve always been told that serious academics/historians don’t look at myths and legends. They concentrate on facts and what is provable (clearly those people don’t fully understand the nature of Early Medieval historians like Gildas). So my desire to have a reason to dig into my obsession has alluded me until now.
That’s the wonderful nature of the Public Humanities MA here at Sheffield. When it comes to our dissertation, anything goes so long as it can engage the public and relates back to the Humanities. So I’ve chosen to explore Arthurian legend.
Originally I was all set to look at a single character: Sir Gawain. He’s Arthur’s nephew, the oldest son of Lot of Orkney, and one of the chief knights of the Round Table yet he is slowly disappearing or being divorced from his original character in many contemporary reinterpretations. My plan had been to look at how the character changed and the reasons behind this, e.g. what influence did trends in society have on how Arthurian characters are presented.
That has now changed. It’s amazing what a little research can do. Instead of focusing on how characters can change, I’m looking at exploring themes within Arthurian legend. Or, to be more specific, the theme of family. Not many people realise that Arthur was fostered throughout his childhood (someone had to raise him if Merlin took him from his parents) or that Mordred (the son who killed him) didn’t meet his father until at least an older teenager. In a society where more and more children are cared for by the state, in single-parent families or blended families, this theme is one that still has relevance today.
It is themes such as this that has encouraged me to focus my dissertation around a legend that many people don’t know the whole story of. I’m hoping that by engaging people with lived experiences that chime with the themes, I will be able to place Arthurian legend back in a relevant light, beyond that of a good fantasy story.