Category Archives: Postgrad

Time Flies

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.

Book Stack

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.

2013-07-23 22.42.28

Big news!

Despite a good start to the year, posts-wise, I’ve let this blog slip rather badly. I can only apologise, and offer something by way of an explanation.

There are big changes afoot at Harlot Towers. In what could easily be confused for a midlife crisis, I have dyed my hair bright red (pictures to follow), quit my job and in a few weeks I will be moving to a wee coastal town in Fife. This makes slightly more sense with a little context, of course. Earlier this year, I applied for a place on the University of St Andrews M.Litt in Early Modern History. After a nervous two or three weeks, I was thrilled to be offered a place!

Ambrosius Benson (c 1495-1550), Young Woman in Orison Reading Book of Hours 1520s

As is abundantly clear from this blog, the Early Modern period is where my main interests lie. After doing a General Arts degree which featured an awful lot of history courses, I got “back” into history when I picked up a copy of David Starkey’s Six Wives  on a whim. It reminded me of everything that got me excited about history and from there, I became particularly interested in the sixteenth century. It’s an especially fascinating period, with religious upheavals; global exploration; new ideas about education and important challenges and developments in women’s roles.  Initially, my interests were in England, later France, during the period.

Holbein study of a young English woman

I admit to suffering from Tudor fatigue now, with the current proliferation of generally poor quality books, tv series and films about the dynasty. It’s a shame as there are lots of really exciting things to be studied around the Tudors (as this article on The First Black Community in Elizabethan London, published today on the BBC News website, demonstrates) but it has all been drowned in a sea of soap opera pseudo-history. Happily, French history at the same period is even more interesting, and has so far slipped under the radar of the makers of trashy tv.

Mary Tudor and Louis XII

It was St Andrews provision for Early Modern French history which first made me consider applying there. They have several very well respected scholars in the field. However, in the last six months or so, I’ve seriously reconsidered the areas I want to focus on. Instead of the glittering courts of England or France, I’m more interested now in the far less glamorous world of women’s social institutions and women living on the periphery of society in late Renaissance Italy. This encompasses convents, as well as some incredibly forward-thinking refuges set up in Florence and other cities to help poor women, widows and abandoned or orphaned girls. I’m also interested in prostitutes and courtesans at the time who faced often ambivalent attitudes from the authorities, and attitudes to diseases like plague and syphilis. I told you it wasn’t glamorous!

So, in early September I will be upping sticks and moving into halls in St Andrews. Happily, I was offered a place in my first choice of residences, very close to the History Department and the university library (and if I am extremely lucky my room might look out over the water). I am quite beside myself with excitement. It’s only just starting to properly sink in though. It’s such a huge life change that I don’t think it’s felt real up to now.

As far as blogging goes, I will do my best to get back on track (and keep it up) but I’ll probably start a separate blog to talk about Masters business, postgrad life and the like which isn’t relevant here. I’ll post a link when it’s all set up for anyone interested.

Wish me luck!

The Venus of Urbino, Tiziano (Titian), 1538