LUNCHTIME SEMINAR – 30TH MAY – KATRINA LONGHURST (UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS)

Katrina Longhurst

This paper discusses some of the opportunities and dilemmas inherent in co-produced autobiographical narratives of mental illness. It takes Lauren Slater’s second memoir Welcome to my Country as a case study to explore the ethical complexities of using other people’s stories as means by which to tell your own illness narrative. This text, reminiscent of Oliver Sacks’ The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, is a compilation of tales, each centred on the relationship between Slater, in her role as clinical psychologist, and a patient. Whilst each tale focuses on the experiences of a patient – in some cases a specific person and in others a composite entity – Slater argues that the text is a memoir on the basis that so much of her exploration of self emerges through the connections with another in the therapeutic encounter. This paper will think through the various implications of different versions of collaborative storying by drawing upon the concepts of relationality, encounter, reciprocity, and interdependence.

LUNCHTIME SEMINAR – 23RD MAY – REBECCA NOBLE (UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK)

Rebecca Noble poster revised version

Madness and selfhood: creating ‘docile vassals’ in Bourbon Mexico

Madness in eighteenth-century Mexico was understood as both a medical and a religious or spiritual problem. This paper analyses two widely circulated medical publications to explore how madness became an important term for governing Spanish subjects in Mexico. The publications are Juan de Esteyneffer’s Anthology of all illnesses (Mexico, 1712) and Juan Manuel Venegas’s Compendium of Medicine or Medical Practice (Mexico, 1788). These texts are used to discuss how medical authors theorised madness to establish their profession as the authority on governance of the useful, orderly and moderate Enlightened subject.

The paper engages with scholarship on the history of selfhood to offer a new interpretation of medical perspectives on madness in Bourbon Mexico, the relationship between existing ideas of madness and changing scientific theories, and the importance of madness for regulating individuals and society. A key focus is the medicalisation of moral aspects of madness, such as the ‘passions of the soul’, which were traditionally subject to religious authority.

This paper is based on a wider project that uses the concept of madness to explore what it was to be human in Bourbon Mexico.

 

LUNCHTIME SEMINAR – 16TH MAY – EMILY GIBBS (UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL)

Emily Gibbs poster

Nuclear Anxiety in British Life, 1952-1989: Some Anxieties about Nuclear Anxiety

‘Nuclear Anxiety’ has been a problematic term in recent historiography, receiving much academic thought but little theoretical or methodological structure has been generated for its practice.As nuclear historians move away from ‘linear’ political, military and scientific narratives and towards an understanding of the sociological, cultural, psychological and ontological resonance of nuclear weapons, the concept of ‘nuclear anxiety’ has become popular and subsequently disputed, interpreted, defined (and re-defined) a multitudinous amount. Despite this, there is a lack of research bringing together and assessing current debates surrounding the terminology. Subsequently, a universal definition of ‘nuclear anxiety’ is virtually non-existent as the term has come to cover all manner of nuclear ‘terror’, ‘fear’, ‘stress’, and ‘worries’ under its multifaceted umbrella.

This paper intends to explore the methodologies and theories surrounding understanding ‘nuclear anxiety’ in historiography, drawing on my ongoing doctoral research to address the possibilities and pitfalls of defining ‘nuclear anxiety’ . How can we understand ‘nuclear anxiety’ objectively when we still live in the nuclear age? How is ‘nuclear anxiety’ represented and understood by different historians? What methodological problems do we face when using ‘anxiety’ as a historical focus? How can we define and pinpoint what exactly ‘nuclear anxiety’ means and use it practically to better understand our nuclear pasts, present and future?

 

LUNCHTIME SEMINAR – 9TH MAY – SAMRAGHNI BONNERJEE (UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD)

Samraghni Bonnerjee poster

“Weak, hideous, repellent”: Grotesque Bodies, Grotesque Faces and Filthy Wounds in the Writings of the Nurses of the First World War

Behind closed doors or screens, in operating theatres or field hospitals, the nurses of the First World War carried out healing mainly through containment. When they wrote of their experiences of treating wounded or dying soldiers, they did not write simply of medical containment, but of the whole range of emotions involved and challenges faced on treating a man whose body has been severely mutilated by the war. In this talk I will examine how the nurses wrote about the shattered male bodies in their diaries and memoirs, and what they made of the public and private wounds of the soldiers who were sent to them to be healed.

The atrocities of the First World War provided space for the pioneering reconstructive surgeries on the mutilated bodies of wounded soldiers by surgeons like Harold Gillies, for Francis Derwent Wood’s portrait masks for soldiers inflicted with devastating facial wounds, and for Henry Tonks’s delicate paintings of wounded soldiers. The nurses’ treatment of mutilation, hence, was part of the greater drive to physically contain and heal men to send them back to the front, and their aesthetic representations of the corporeal fitted in with the paintings and portraits of mutilation and reconstruction happening around that time. The firm line between medical representation and aesthetics got blurred around this time with the recognition that being human is as much aesthetic as it is biological. Against this background, I will consider the aesthetic in terms of the grotesque, close reading hospital scenes to see the way the nurses represented the mutilated bodies and faces of the soldiers in their writings. At its core will be the private observations of women—mostly young, some amateur and some veteran in the art of healing—reflecting on mangled bodies of men, and approaching them with their own tremulous bodies. The texts I will be discussing are Ellen N. La Motte’s The Backwash of War and Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone.

LUNCHTIME SEMINAR – 2ND MAY – RICHARD BELLIS (UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS)

Richard Bellis poster blog

Hunter’s preparations, Clift’s illustrations, Baillie’s book: A case study of the coproduction of anatomical illustrations and anatomical knowledge in the eighteenth century

Matthew Baillie’s A series of engravings […] to illustrate The morbid anatomy of some of the most important parts of the human body (1799-1802) was an extension of the content of his earlier work on the changes in morbid structure due to disease, but also saw significant changes in how the anatomical content was presented. From providing general (though specific) descriptions of typical changes in morbid structure, Baillie now provided illustrations of individual morbid anatomy preparations that visually demonstrated specific morbid changes. The change in presentation was due to the new illustrations – the first systematic representations of diseased soft parts – and the expectations attached to scientific illustrations by the epistemic norm of what Daston and Galison have termed ‘truth-to-nature’ in the period. Yet the illustrations were made by William Clift, not Baillie, and were of preparations mostly made by William Hunter. Baillie’s role was as initiator, selector of preparations, and annotator of illustrations.

This paper asks: how were the illustrations made epistemically acceptable to an eighteenth-century audience in a case like Baillie’s? Through exploring this question in a detailed case study, this paper problematises conclusions drawn by historians who emphasise that the content of anatomical illustrations necessarily stemmed from the anatomist, rather than being coproduced. In turn, this brings greater attention to the production of books – which are typically viewed as summative of scientific careers – as a pertinent area of investigation regarding the epistemic content of anatomy and medicine itself.

 

LUNCHTIME SEMINAR – 25TH APRIL – TOM WEBB (UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL)

Tom Webb Poster

Maintaining and Threatening Wartime Communications: Homing Pigeons in Britain, 1939-1945

Homing pigeons were enrolled by the British armed forces during the Second World War as a mode of communication. Famously, they were parachuted in bright orange boxes into occupied Europe for espionage purposes. But they were also used as a form of S.O.S. communications by RAF bomber crews downed in the sea and were mobilised by the army for secret communications – most notably on D-day. However, this mobilisation of homing pigeons by the British state was also underpinned by efforts to regulate and contain the movements of the majority of those owned by civilians – predominantly working class men – on the Home Front. Amid fears of an internal ‘Fifth Column’ of spies, homing pigeons were represented as a potential means of subversive communications. Their ability to transgress borders with minimal detection caused anxiety within the Home Office, leading to state officials not only inspecting pigeon lofts but also destroying those without official permits.

Drawing on recent insights from the ‘mobility turn’, which considers the physical movements, representations and practices that encompass the politics of mobility, this paper will examine how the movements of homing pigeons were simultaneously enrolled and contained. This will not only demonstrate how humans both co-operated, and came into conflict, with homing pigeons, but will also show how efforts to control the mobility of pigeons reveal wider co-operations and contestations between pigeon keepers and the state at a time of war. Subsequently, this paper contributes to the fields of animal history, mobility studies, and the cultural and social histories of wartime Britain.

Surviving before, during and after your viva

I was inspired to write this after spying a tweet by Dr Nathan Ryder, the author of How to Fail Your Viva asking if anyone had written a blog about surviving their viva recently.
Having had a fresh look at the Viva Survivor site (which I highly recommend), it got me thinking about surviving my viva. Most viva guides focus on preparing for your viva. Most are useful and freely accessible. But, my most stressful, confused and unprepared times came during or after my viva and not before it, and this is precisely what there is the least advice about.

So, here are some things I’d like to share which I think might help before, during, and after your viva.

Before:


Find out what your University expects of your examiners:

At the University of Manchester there isn’t too much information readily available (although Mathematics provides an excellent page of information).
Personally I would have found it much more reassuring had I known that my examiners had a “Pre-Viva Report Form” to fill out before the viva and “Joint Report Form” to fill out after, both of which asked specific questions. Based on what I’ve found it’s up to individual supervisors how much they tell each student. So ask your supervisor about what they do when they are examining a thesis.

This is much like telling an undergraduate student to read and understand the mark-scheme before they submit an essay, but it is not something which I thought to do and I wish I had.

Make a list of “worry words”:
I actually started doing this near the beginning of my PhD. I am a quick but not very accurate typist and I frequently mistype words in a way that brains and spell-checkers don’t spot. Here are some of my most common ones…
Minster instead of Minister
ears instead of years
hem instead of them
moths instead of months

and the all-time, all-weather champion which everyone claims to have seen once in their lives…

pubic instead of public

This all does seem ridiculous, but in my final check before submission I found six moths and four Minsters that I’d never noticed on seven whole read-throughs, so… Ctrl F is your friend.

 

moths.png

Not really what my thesis was about… No thanks to Word, myself or Grammarly here

P.S. Be very wary of the tempting “Find and Replace All” button. Stories abound of friends attempting to quickly ensure that their hem’s turned to them’s left them with tthemes and tthematics. Go carefully.

Accept that your thesis is not perfect:
I know you think it’s not perfect already. But accepting that it is not perfect, and that it CAN BE imperfect BUT STILL PASS, will make your life easier. I also know that although you perceive this advice as logical, you probably don’t think it applies to your thesis…

 

During

Accept that your thesis is not perfect (this bears repetition):
The last thing I expected was for anyone to challenge the basic historical facts (i.e. dates) in my work. After all, by the time you come to a viva, you supposedly know more about your topic than anyone else. Most probably you do. However typos and other embarrassing mistakes slip in to one draft, then aren’t checked in another, and eventually end up in the final thing. You’re a human there’ll be silly mistakes. Accept it.

Keep a sense of proportion:
My examiners focused on small errors, and I left the room at the end thinking that if I couldn’t even get dates right, then it wasn’t good news. Now I’m out of my viva head-space, I’ve realised that this was good news for two reasons:
1: it meant that I won’t look like an idiot when it’s put in the library and someone with access to Wikipedia reads it
2: it meant they hadn’t found something bigger and badder to complain about – like my central argument.

If they do pick at something bigger or badder, part of the viva process is to test how you respond. Do you admit an error, or do you defend your work? A lot of this depends on the context, and remember that you’ve probably only put 50% of your knowledge about and around the subject into the thesis. Take a deep breath. Take time to think. Remember that…

Your examiners don’t want to fail you:
The two (or three) people in that room didn’t read your thesis with the same critical eye as your supervisor. Your supervisor is trying to make you produce the best possible thesis. Your examiners are not trying to do that. They are trying to justify their assessment of your work.

They might have odd questions, but there’s usually a reason for it:
A “what if?” question in my viva really threw me, particularly as I knew the person asking it didn’t see much historical value to counterfactual questions.

However, all my examiners were looking for was evidence which would allow them to tick a box on the form to say that it was my own work and not someone else’s – my answer was proof that I’d done research in the area and could apply it.

Use the opportunity to find out what they enjoyed:
You’ve just spent many years writing a thing – ask them what they thought the best bits were. They’re an academic audience – if you plan to carry on writing for academic audiences, it’s a good captive and honest audience for finding out where your writing really shone.

Enjoy yourself:
I was lucky in my viva that I had someone working on topics very similar to mine. Sometimes in answers we’d get a bit off topic, and start picking each other’s brains. It was kind of fun. I know this sounds improbable to those of you who haven’t had a viva yet, but it was fun.
Even if your examiners aren’t experts in the specific field you’ve written about you can still enjoy speaking to people who have read your whole thesis and are interested in your research and your opinion without being paid (your supervisor) or obliged to be interested (blood relatives/partners/PhD friends/your supervisor). That’s something special. Enjoy that.

After

You should stop worrying about your viva. Your viva is something you can do. You got a PhD place, and (possibly) PhD funding based on the fact that you know how to talk and write about your topic. You’ve given talks at conferences. Answered questions. Attempted to explain your research to friends and family members who don’t understand any of your subject specific vernacular. You have friends and family members who avoid you drunk because they really do know a lot about your research (and don’t want to know any more).

You can talk about your thesis.
You know your thesis.
So don’t worry about that.
Think instead about what comes after your viva.

Corrections… Or, Remember that they didn’t fail you:

No one who passed their PhD more than a year ago will remember or admit (I’m not sure which of these it is) that doing corrections is hard. However, a lot of my friends have passed their PhDs recently too, and a lot them admitted that they found it hard to motivate themselves to do corrections.

The PhD process is so full of “you’ve nearly finished” moments that I thought I’d be able to handle corrections easily. Until the very end panic of submission I’d tried to treat my PhD funding like it was a wage for a job, keeping 9-5 hours (OK, OK , 10-6 hours), taking time for lunch, and having weekends (sometimes), and I thought that I’d be able to take corrections into my stride with business-like ease.

However, nothing really prepared me for the fact that, having passed the viva, (even with corrections) you kind of feel like it’s finally over. Coming to terms with the fact that you have some amount of work to do can be hard, and I’d failed to prepare for this conflict of emotions in any way, shape, or form.

Keeping a sense of proportion is harder after the viva than before it.
I found it really hard to keep a sense of scale. I saw each correction as a little failure, an admission of guilt, and it was hard to accept that I’d got those specific things (in some cases, very) wrong. I decided that my corrections were a secret code for “make it good”, and not “do these forty specific things”.

Given all the time between submitting and having my viva, I had of course found many other things wrong with my thesis which weren’t in my report at all, so instead of just doing the corrections I hid in my room for ages “making my thesis better” (this is in quotes because I was essentially tearing it down and starting again).
I got close to the ridiculously long deadline without even touching the actual corrections because I had bigger fish to fry.

Don’t do that!

Instead it is absolutely vital to remember that you only need to make the corrections you have been TOLD to make! (Along with any glaring errors you spot along the way of spelling, grammar, or obvious ommission).

Get someone who isn’t you to read your corrections and then chat with you about what you’re going to do to make the changes.
Discuss with them how long you think it will take.
Be realistic.
Set a deadline and meet it (as much as anyone with such advanced academentia as you can).

Time for corrections is time to do what you’ve been asked to do and ONLY that. DO NOT use that time to make your thesis perfect because you need to…

corrections.png

Spot the difference? What I thought my corrections meant, v.s. what they actually meant

Accept that your thesis will never be perfect.

No thesis is perfect, but yours will probably still pass. If you want any proof of that, then just go to BL ETHOS, download a thesis, and see what else passes.

Even after all that time doing anything but the corrections I was meant to be doing, my final submission still has an error in the abstract.
One that means a sentence makes no sense (no I’m not going to tell you what it is).

No one noticed except one friend who still isn’t sure what my thesis is about, and you know what – the letter telling me that I was now a Doctor means that I DON’T CARE!

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