Archive | April, 2013

The artist and her studio

24 Apr

I’ve been having trouble deciding on where I want to work. When I was writing my Lit Review I generally came into Manchester to work in the MMU library twice a week. These were definitely my most productive days compared to the days I tried to spend working in my Warrington flat. However, trains are expensive, and it takes me a lot of effort and travel to do this too often.

I also get quite annoyed listening to students natter on about what they did last night in the ‘quiet’ zones, and hearing their ipod music buzzing out of their ineffective headphones. Probably my biggest annoyance is people eating when there are signs up everywhere forbidding this. I suppose it is quite comical watching them consume a full feast/picnic/banquet right under the noses of the staff who don’t seem to care about their own rules. Sometimes I think the students are in competition to see who can eat the most outrageous snack and get away with it. Right now, for example, the girl opposite me has just opened a massive tupperware box of nuts and seeds and has spread a whole pot of yoghurt over them. Yummy. If you ever read this, girl, you have incited my wrath! I’ve just noticed there are new posters up saying ‘don’t feed the animals’ with a picture of a rat, suggesting that food is encouraging pests in the library. I’m now going to sit with my feet curled up under me!

I have sometimes been back to Mansfield Cooper Library at Manchester University. This is a nice one as it has all the books I need and it doesn’t let people check them out so they are guaranteed to be in stock. I do feel cheeky going there as I’m not their student anymore, and I sometimes wonder if I will get ‘busted’ and shown out. The other problem is I can’t use their wifi.

I think the problem with my flat is that it’s open plan. I’ve cleared the dining table and have a good workspace, but I keep looking longingly at the sofa and the tv, or at the kitchen and I get too easily distracted.

Lately, I’ve been trying to look for a good workspace in Warrington so I can get out of my flat but not have to travel too far. I tried Warrington library. I found a nice table to sit with my laptop, but soon realised that the library is the main hangout of Warrington’s unemployed and homeless. I felt quite intimidated sitting out of site of the main desk and was really aware that men were loitering near me keeping one eye on my laptop. After a while I escaped upstairs to the deserted but brilliant Warrington Museum to restore calm and remind myself that Warrington does have something nice to offer after all. I’ve loved Warrington Museum ever since we studied it as one of the last surviving evolutionary ethnographic museums on my MA course. Sadly, the old ‘ethnology’ gallery has been completely refrbished now and has lost what remained of it’s original historical interpretation, but it’s still a fabulous place.

I’ve also tried Stockton Heath Library, which is much nicer but doesn’t have many work tables and can get a bit noisy. I always had a romantic image of what my life would be like as a PhD student, and I thought I would occupy coffee shops with my books piled on the tables. In reality, too expensive and too noisy!

I remember going to an exhibition a few years ago at Compton Verney called the ‘Artist and their Studio’. Until then, I had never really thought about the significance of the workspace used by artists and it was interesting to see images of these very personal spaces.

For me, I think I’ve concluded that it’s all a bit fruitless. There is no ideal workspace out there for me. Or rather, I should be seeing every space as a potential workplace, and I need to get over my objections and stop them getting in the way of a productive session!

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Playing top trumps

21 Apr

I am working on finishing up my method section this weekend. Like my Lit Review, it’s something I’ve never done before so I have no idea if I’ve hit the point or produced something that doesn’t do the job at all. I’ve tried to be as specific as I can about what I’m actually going to do, but perhaps haven’t been so clear about how I’m going to do it. I’m meeting my supervisor on Wednesday so hopefully she will let me know how to improve it!

After my method is finished, I’m going to be working on getting my introduction chapter all tied together. I’m going to be re-visiting my Lit Review and method, and linking them in with an introduction to the collection, the aims of my research, definitions for some of the more problematic terms I’ll be using, and an overview of my source material.

I was told once that the first sentance of an essay should always be an interesting hook, and that has always stayed with me. For example, for my MA dissertation on medieval living history re-enactments, I opened with the story of the Eglinton Tournament in 1833. The Victorians loved a bit of romantic revival, but the joust all ended in tears after a lot of rain and horses falling over in the mud. Victoria said ‘it served them all right for taking pleasure in such a thing’. I can’t really remember the point I wanted to make with the anecdote,  but I wanted to start my essay with a bit of fun as I knew the rest of the essay would get a bit serious very quickly.

I was thinking how to start my PhD. The very first sentance of an 80,000 word essay. A book, essentially. I’ve already begun writing, but I haven’t yet written the very ‘first’ sentance. There is a lot of pressure to set the right tone for the whole research, but also make it interesting and a bit special; a bit ‘unique’, just like my research.

In 2011 (I think?) there was a grouping of museums in the North West to promote the stories of modern histories. I was working at Tatton Park and the Museum of Science and Industry, and both were taking part. Children were encouraged to visit as many sites as they could and get a passport stamped. With so many stamps, they could send off for a pack of top trumps, featuring many of the heroes of industry from the North West. I was excited that Maurice Egerton was one of the cards. I recently dug my packet out and have had a few games of an evening (what a frustrating game! It takes hours for one us to win, and that’s usually only because I give up!).

Anyway, I’m thinking of starting my PhD with Maurice’s STATS. Bizarre, random and unusual- just like Maurice, my research, and me!

Unofficial Histories

8 Apr

I’m hoping to go to the unofficial histories conference at MMU this summer. I didn’t submit an abstract for it as I wasn’t sure how my research fitted the theme, but I’ve been thinking more lately about the stories we tell about the past, and how they develop and warp over time.

I was first drawn to Maurice Egerton by the stories we tell about him at Tatton. These are usually short sentances that convey the key aspects of his life, told to visitors by the Room Stewards or by information boards in the Maurice Egerton Exhibition Room. We focus on the most interesting or unusual factors to grab their interest and present Maurice as interesting and unique.

I often wondered how these stories started, and if they have been embellished by staff over time as part of their repertoire of knowledge on the house. Part of my research will be about stripping the stories back to basics and re-establishing the facts, and perhaps working through the complicated haze surrounding ‘legend’ and ‘reality’.

Just for fun, and to introduce you to Maurice a bit better, these are some of the stories we tell about him…

– Maurice was the youngest of three brothers. His elder brothers both died in childhood, and as a result his mother smothered him and wouldn’t let him go away to school. He later travelled so extensively to get away from his mother. (Possibly true, although I think I’ve seen an account somewhere that he did go to school. His mother lived at Tatton well into old age, and Maurice spent much of the year travelling rather than residing with her. When he was at Tatton he seemed to live in a different part of the house to his mother)

-He never married, but he did bring women home to introduce to his parents. His mother wouldn’t let him marry as she didn’t think any of the women were good enough. (I would like to find evidence (names!) for this, but suspect there is none. It is likely that he felt some antipathy towards his mother as he makes no mention of her death in his diaries and did not travel home for her funeral as he did his fathers).

He did propose marriage to one lady, and he built his Kenyan home the ‘Castle’ for her. When she saw it, she laughed at him and said she would never live there. After that, he turned away from women, and wouldn’t have them on his land. When he visited tenants their wives had to be absent. (Again, very unlikely. He didn’t build the castle until late in his life, so it was unlikely he intended it to be a marital home. There are also accounts of him welcoming and entertaining female visitors at Tatton, and it is unlikely he was so severe a ‘woman-hater’ as to threaten to shoot any that wandered onto his land!)

-He established boys clubs and encouraged them to visit Tatton. He had no interest in girls. He was cross when a black boy joined in a boxing match with his boys club, and wouldn’t let them box again afterwards. (It is a fact that he encouraged boys clubs and not girls, but this could be because he was a batchelor and it would have been against his character and against propriety for him to take girls out for the day. Because he never married and only undulged boys there is an underlying and unspoken suggestion that he might have been homosexual. I don’t think I will find any account of this, other than speculation from the evidence. His attitude to race would be a product of his Imperialist upbringing)

When he died, his body was brought back to England but his heart was buried in Africa. (Or was it the other way around? Anyway, the story is unlikely as bodies would need to be buried fairly quickly in Africa. I have seen Maurice’s grave at Rostherne church, but I’ve also heard that he has a grave in Nairobi. I would love to find that too)

It will be a lot of fun stripping these stories back down to their source. Hopefully I can build back up a more accurate picture of Maurice, and create more stories for us to tell at Tatton.