I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why It Takes So Long

As I reach the final stages of my book on the Order of the Garter (6 chapters about to be sent to the publisher; last chapter half-written), I'm tidying up references, and scanning my photos. And as I look at the titles I have just collected from the library, from up and down the Dewey cataloguing scale, it reminds me of why it's taking me so long. I have

Oscar Wilde, The picture of Dorian Gray

William Empson, The Structure of Complex Words

Harriet Guest, Empire, Barbarism and Civilisation

Crowfoot, et al. Textiles and Clothing, c. 1150-c. 1450.

On my desk at home I have Rachel Holmes' biography of the intersexual doctor, James Barry.

And on my list of things to order and place on hold I have Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Pepys' Diary, and The Last of the Barons, by Edward Bulwer Lytton.

(Also on my desk is a History of the New South Wales Parliament, but that's for another project: quite separate...)

No wonder it's taking me so long to tie all my threads together. It sometimes feels dizzying to be moving across so many centuries and fields. Still, some sections in some chapters now make a satisfying "clunk" sound (like the sound when you check out a library book at Baillieu) when they come to an end. Getting there. Ever closer, every day.

It is of course ridiculous that this great enterprise will score me only a measely 5 points on our research productivity indicator things. But you know what? I don't care. Today, this week, I really like my book.


Tatyana Larina said...

This sounds like a great project, and a wonderful book.

(The academic award system in humanities is very strange indeed. I have heard that in some fields books don't even contribute towards research points, it's academic papers only, published in 'high impact factor' journals. Thankfully, the impact factor thing hasn't yet crept into non-science areas, at least.)

I hope all six chapters start singing 'clunk' very soon. Good luck.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Yes, our system is skewed to the sciences, where a "book" is often a "text book" or a teaching text, not the major research enterprise it primarily is in the humanities. We are bound to this national, one-size-fits-all system, that really doesn't fit us at all. University funding flows from the federal system, and they tend simply to replicate its categories. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I suspect a textbook or teaching book would get no points, as it often won't meet the threshold definition of "research".

But you're right, scientists publish articles, whereas humanities scholars like to publish (research) books. Perhaps if you published each chapter as an article, you'd garner seven points (seven chapters, I'm presuming?) but then we'd be deprived of the book. And there is something about books, aint there?

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

I spend a great deal of time as chair educating administrators about what constitutes humanities research, why it takes so long, and why external funding is not easy to come by. I work at a big university so I can do this (I am persistent) ... but I shudder to think about a national system.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Yes, anonymous, articles are one thing. But the thing about a book is, as you suggest, exactly what makes it hard and difficult and wonderful to write: the chance to develop themes and patterns over a long period, and to see it change and move and develop, a bit like a symphony, perhaps.

So yes, I love writing books as books. I mean, I hate it too, at times, and it is often an immense struggle over many years to straighten out all the wiggly lines and untangle the messy leads, but it is, for me, so much more than the sum of its parts.

Jeffrey, yes, a national system is hard. Good in some ways, as it produces a kind of equity and a standard, when it works well, but it can be a pretty blunt instrument in lots of ways, and leads to a soul-deadening hierarchy of compliance and uniformity that I think many of us in this country are now tired of struggling with.

Mindy said...

Whoo hoo! Good luck with the last chapter. How long until we can buy a copy?

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks, Mindy. I would say probably some time in 2011 unless I am very fast and all goes smoothly and quickly in an unprecedented way for a non-block-buster academic book...

Sylvia said...

I just discovered your blog and related to it immediately for two reasons. Firstly, I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and experienced a similar journey to yours. I also had two lots of surgery as my surgeon brightly informed me two weeks after the first incursion that the results showed he would need to go in again and 'tidy up' as the margin around the tumour needed to be wider. My reading at the time included rereading (with a new awareness) Audre Lorde's wonderful Cancer Journals.

My other connection was with your most recent post. The biography I am writing is of a little-known Australian writer, daughter of very well-known parents. At the moment by my desk I have biographies of Brian Fitpatrick, Stephen Spender, Janet Frame and David Martin, along with a Melbourne psychiatrist's obscure 1956 memoir, Amirah Inglis's 'Australians in the Spanish Civil War' and Jeff Sparrow's 'Communism - a Love Story', plus a pile of photocopies from archives in Canberra, Melbourne and the Marx Library in London. And that is just today. The bookshelf beside me is bulging with other books relating to this project.

I do know why it takes so long - and I am only working with material across one century! Best of luck and keep on feeling good about the book. In the end it's about so much more than those measly points, isn't it?

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks, Sylvia, hope your outcomes are all good! Yes, I refuse to let the point system drive what I do and where I publish. It's got to be about the intellectual (and emotional) challenges of putting ideas together, or it's not worth doing.

Wishing you good health - and good writing! Stephanie