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History PhD- advice very much appreciated

(37 Posts)
R2PeePoo Tue 30-Oct-12 12:02:58

I graduated from St Andrews in 2004 with an MA (2.1) in Ancient History. I was desperate to do a PhD but at the time it wasn't possible and I ended up being a trailing spouse following DH around. I did another two 9 month courses with the OU (Health and Social Care in 2005 while I was pregnant with DD and Child Psychology in 2007 when we lived abroad), both times I got the equivalent of a first. DS was born in 2009 and his high needs meant I couldn't continue, but he is well enough now that this is no longer an issue.

Now there is a possibility to do a fee waived PhD and to be honest I am terrified. I have been a frustrated SAHM for eight years and I have always assumed that a PhD was completely out of reach, suddenly this possibility has just appeared from nowhere.

I read about 8 books a week, mostly social history and I would choose to do a PhD on some aspect of this, but have now got to the point where I have been asked to submit some interests and my brain has gone completely blank. I'm also concerned about the workload and the travelling (90 mins on the train/tube means I'd probably only be able to get to the university once or twice a week to tie in with finances and childminders etc. DH travels too much to be a reliable source of childcare and family can't help) and part of me is worried I have been away from academia too long and have lost all of my skills. This is such an amazing opportunity but I could do some some advice from those who know what they are talking about.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 01-Nov-12 09:02:44

I meant to say: the main issue I think for amazon (and all sources of print books) is cost. I'm lusting after a book at the moment, which is easily accessible on amazon but also costs over £100.

Copthallresident Fri 02-Nov-12 01:28:48

I'm in the midst of a PhD which focuses on a subject that crosses the borders of History and Literature (and Psychology), and cultures, though the subject is narrow and focused. I would advise that you take some time to really zero in on and define closely what you want to study. You are going to eat, breathe and drink it for some time to come so you have to be absolutely consumed with curiousity and passion. I had some pressure, and promise of generous funding, to research one cultural experience (would probably have got a book deal too on the back of evident market demand!) but the more I did preliminary research the more I wanted to follow my own interests and I am glad I didn't give in. The ultimate irony for someone who was in marketing!! I never had a problem with giving my all to something I didn't fundamentally care about when I was part of a team.

It is a lonely pursuit, your supervisor is crucial, and I am lucky that academics at different institutions are helping me, but in the end it is going to be you, your research, your thoughts and your writing. You haven't chosen the right subject if anyone knows more than you about it!! I embarked on an MA partly because I valued the chance to debate my chosen field with other people and so it was a difficult decision to go for a PhD rather than throw myself back into my career ( I originally started the MA with the aim of developing new approaches in the context of a career in marketing). It was very much a case of weighing up my passion for what I wanted to research with the loneliness, relative lack of interaction with others and money and status I wonder if I would have made the same choice from the context of being at home with small children (mine are teenager/ at uni).

I wouldn't agree that you should be focusing on studying something local, unless that is where your interest lies. In these days of internet, geography is less important than it was, thankfully since most of my sources aren't even on the same island as I am! I make a lot of use of email, internet and online sources such as JSTOR. And there is the Post!!!! I obviously highlight the pros and cons of such primary research, but there are pros... Also there are wonderful idiosyncratic primary sources in caches all over the UK, even for someone researching other cultures.

Totally agree with all the good advice above.

And beware all temptations to procrastinate especially Mumsnet
Good luck!

TheCollieDog Fri 02-Nov-12 07:28:57

Top post, copthallresident I'm glad what you say in the midst of your PhD is pretty much what I tell intending Doctoral candidates. And what I felt when I did mine back in the 80s -- which doesn't seem that long ago, sigh ...

Copthallresident Sat 03-Nov-12 12:02:16

TheCollieDog Your advice is excellent. I just wanted to add a personal perspective.

Copthallresident Sat 03-Nov-12 13:07:57

OP just wanted to add that if you haven't read it already it sounds as if you would really enjoy "Without recourse to direct speech, Hershatter argues, these women have nevertheless left an audible trace. Central to this study is the investigation of how things are known and later remembered, and how, later still, they are simultaneously apprehended and reinvented by the historian."

R2PeePoo Sat 03-Nov-12 21:01:21

Lots more posts, thanks for everyone's input and recommendations.

I haven't decided yet, I've got a day or two but DH is really pushing me to take it. My gut instinct is to start the process and see what happens, but not get too upset if it doesn't happen for whatever reason. I have spent some time narrowing down my interests so thank you for that recommendation.

That book looks great Collie, I just added it to my Amazon wishlist. I just bought this, this and this so I might need to wait a bit before I can buy it! I also borrowed this from the library and desperately want my own copy.

R2PeePoo Sat 03-Nov-12 21:05:57


I meant Copthall, thank you for the recommendation!

I just dragged myself out of a marvellous book on sex, superstition and death in 30's, 40's and 50's Lancashire after a day with my mother and my two sugar-stuffed children, going to escape back there again!

TheCollieDog Sun 04-Nov-12 08:47:09

Have a look at Amanda Vickery's book, A Gentleman's Daughter, for a great local study using Lancashire archives. It's not 'local history' however, but deals with big themes. My 2nd book was broadly on women who hadn't been talked about before -- one of its themes was 'invisible women -- and the theoretical/historiographical issues around how you write about women who have largely disappeared from the record are fascinating.

Caladria Sun 04-Nov-12 09:07:36

Is there something that niggles at you? For example, you might have read that explanation for X is Y and thought 'hold on, but how does that fit with Z?' or you might have read a description of an event and thought 'why is this not getting more attention? This is weird.' Or just something that you find running through your head over and over again because somehow you feel it doesn't fit and there has to be a better way of putting the pieces together?

Think of it as a research spider sense - you won't need to know the answers for a long time, but having a sense that you're looking for something can keep you sane when digging through records and trying to remember German.

I miss the PhD. It was bliss.

Copthallresident Sun 04-Nov-12 11:27:17

The CollieDog My MA diss was on the theme of womens' experience of history v the official/elite versions, and how women's bodies and stories were appropriated by men for their own ideological purposes, focusing on the women in one city . OP perhaps your challenge now is to find the women you want to study, along the lines of the writers of the books you mention, or alternatively take a theme and see how it was experienced by different women? My primary sources included local newspapers, magazines and journals, local guides, text books and guides to how women should conduct themselves, fiction, biographies, municipal records. My PhD then emerged out of the fiction I studied and I am looking at a psychological/ historical theme in the context of the literature of three different cultures. It has all really emerged from the writing of one woman author who really spoke to me across the decades and different cultures. She is still responsible for the passion and intellectual curiousity that drives me on. I hope this helps you find your thing!!

R2PeePoo Sun 04-Nov-12 11:54:41

I have that on my wishlist Collie, I borrowed it from the library a few years ago. Very good book. I just finished two Elizabeth Roberts books on working class women which I found fascinating. The one I am reading at the moment is by Maureen Sutton. I also loved this one and this one although its about America rather than the UK.

I find myself very drawn to illegitimacy and the taboos about it, especially in the 20th century and the associated issues of honour and shame, sexual ignorance, abortion and contraception. I have found lots of contradiction and variation in the various sources I have read that I would like to investigate further.

I was asked to submit a simple statement of my interests rather than a definite research application given the short time scale.

Copper Sun 04-Nov-12 19:09:57

If you are in London anyway, dont forget the National Archives. They have a really good team led by Paul Carter who are busy uncovering the lives of the poor, of people in trouble, etc from among the records of bodies like the Poor Law Commission, the asylums etc. Maybe worth asking if you could have a word about the kind of sources they are working on - so much of this stuff has never been catalogued properly before that lots of areas are just being opened up for investigation.

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