Well, it’s been a whirlwind year. So much so that I’ve not updated my blog for several months. As some of my readers might know, I’m coming to the end of a year-long appointment as a Trinity Long Room Hub Marie Skłodowska-Curie Cofund Fellow in Dublin, extending and broadening my interdisciplinary research on the impact of ageing and neurological disorders on medieval scribal handwriting. If anyone would like to apply to take part in this fantastic scheme, the call for 2019-20 is now open.
When I last updated my blog, it was January and in Ireland Hurricane Ophelia was safely behind us and – unbeknownst to me then – the Beast from the East was waiting in the wings. Weather forms an important subject of conversation here in Ireland, just as it does in the UK where I’m from. It can swing within hours from horizontal rain to blustery wind, to glorious sunshine that plays around on the leaves with their untold numbers of shades of green. Blue can strike unexpectedly in February, as it did on the day when the photo below was taken, and you are almost obligated to don your woolly hat and enjoy Dublin’s countless sea vistas. Or, if you are Irish, you might feel tempted to go for a swim in that sea, but… I’m from the Black Country and have coal rather than sea salt in my blood. I’ve taken many a DART train ride south of Dublin and watched those healthy souls take the plunge, but I’ve never been called into the water.
As my research is so heavily dependent on primary resources – early printed books and manuscripts – my year has been filled with trips to various libraries and archives. It took me a while to take the plunge into Trinity’s Manuscript and Early Printed Book departments (they do say, ‘you never visit the places on your doorstep’), but when I did I found wonderful source material for my research. Short-term research positions like this come with their own problems in terms of job security – or lack of it – and mental health (I won’t talk about this here, but I’m available for comment), but I have been the recipient of very generous travel funding, which has enabled me to visit the Bodleian Library, the British Library, and the Cambridge University Library this year – all vital, as I’m currently working on a number of publications.
In July, I co-designed and delivered a postgraduate and early career Digital Humanities workshop at the University of Western Australia with my collaborator Professor Stephen Smith, which enabled me to pass on some of my interdisciplinary experience. Dr Alicia Marchant has written a fabulous summary of this event, which was held in conjunction with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE) Third International Conference, here.
I’ve also valued the opportunity to become absorbed in Irish history and culture over the past few months, from regularly visiting Clondalkin Round Tower, which was on my bus route, to Googling the meaning of the ubiquitous ‘Lady On The Rock’ windowsill statues. I was there as Ireland voted on whether to repeal the eighth amendment – watching as history was being made – and have sat in a coffee shop and read Eimer McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. I’ve experienced the Irish rental market first-hand, and stood and watched as hundreds marched against the removal of activists from a vacant property.
I’ve taken the below really awful photograph of the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins at the launch for the The Cambridge History of Ireland, and heard him make a passionate statement of support for early career researchers on short-term contracts:
This has been a year, then, of both personal and professional achievements – many of which have muddied the distinction between these two areas of my life. I was recently shortlisted for the AHRC and Wellcome Trust Health Humanities Medal Best Early Career Research Award and was able to take my mum to the Houses of Parliament for the reception. It was great recognition of the work done so far, and as I stood watching the MPs rushing about, I couldn’t help wondering: what next?