People tell you when you start a Master’s that it will be a very busy year. You smile and nod. Yes, yes. You don’t really believe them. Sure there’s work to be done but it’s amazing, fascinating, history work that will hardly feel like work. Then you blink and you’re 6 essays, 2 annotated transcriptions, a conference paper, a research trip to Italy and half a dissertation down and have five weeks to go before it’s all over. You don’t know quite where the last ten months went, but it wasn’t on eating well and getting lots of fresh air, that’s for sure.
That’s where I am.
My dissertation is on abandoned children and how the fear that they would end up in prostitution influenced their care. I oscillate between feeling like I’m making progress on it and feeling like I’m way behind and never going to catch up. At the moment, the latter is far more usual. I have a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow and I wish I was feeling a little more upbeat and optimistic about the whole thing.
Despite all of that though, I love it. I’m fascinated by it. In many ways, Florentine care of abandoned or orphaned children was ahead of its time. In other ways, it’s tragic and every bit as grim as the more famously miserable Victorian workhouse. It was particularly bad for girls, who were abandoned in greater numbers than their male counterparts. At the best of times, a girl’s options were limited to marriage or the convent, an abandoned girl was lucky if either option was open to her.
The process of researching and writing it is by turns exciting and depressing. I spent weeks tracking down an important primary source only to find there was no way I could see any of the three copies listed in libraries- it sits in rare book departments in Leipzig, Jerusalem and North Carolina. No one was going to loan it to me in St Andrews. Then, when I was despairing of finding adequate primary source material at all, the Head of Rare Books at Duke University sent me a scanned version of the whole thing!
So, armed with a sixteenth century Italian text and a small mountain of books I am attempting to build a coherent argument. I’m hoping to have the first draft finished in the next week.
See you on the other side.