So, another hiatus in posting here while I have done battle with my next conference paper, this one on representations of shell shock as immaturity across 20th century British popular culture. It is the third paper I have written on the subject. Every time I write the proposal for the paper I think what a brilliant idea it is; every time I actually sit down to write the paper itself I find myself doing vicious intellectual battle and wondering how I could think there was any mileage in the concept at all. Still, I must be doing something right as both the previous tilts at this particular windmill have been published. And this is a conference paper, so I am going to leave it intentionally (honest, guv!) rough in the hope of getting useful feedback. Given that the conference is being attended by what feels like all the world-class historians of shell shock available, this could be either a very good (or very, very bad) idea. We will see. I am going to write the second draft next week.
This seemingly endless struggle has been interspersed with some work more directly related to what I am paid to do. I spent a fabulous week in the Army Medical Services Museum (about which I intend to write a much longer blog shortly) and gave a paper to the Legacies of War seminar series. (Like the majority of those papers, it will be on-line soon here.) This was another rough draft and the feedback was immensely useful so I am hopeful that, when I actually get around to rewriting and expanding the paper, there will be some hope of publishing it.
I also spent a really enjoyable Saturday morning in Special Collections, working with writers from Snowgoose. Legacies of War is working with writers from the project to research a series of monologues based on the civilian experiences of the First World War in Leeds which will be performed on camera and available for festivals, as an educational tool and to view on-line. The Saturday session I helped facilitate was an opportunity to introduce the writers, who were unfamiliar with working in historical archives, to the holdings of the Liddle Collection. The Liddle catalogue is something of a mystery, even to professional historians with archival experience. Add to that the complexities of copyright law and queries over the reproduction of images and the potential for intimidation is quite high. So it was a complete joy to help this group quite literally get their hands on original documents and objects. An hour in and everyone was engrossed in their research, a sight I found remarkably rewarding. It was also a pleasure to be able to offer advice to someone whose research interest is likely to take her beyond Special Collections and into the city archives and other resources that I am not familiar with. Helping someone to plot the map for a research journey is almost as exciting as plotting your own, I discover.
My work for Research for Community Heritage has, to date, been somewhat confusing and occasionally unnerving but the interactions with the community research groups have, as this last experience exemplifies, been enormously rewarding in unexpected ways. (On a similar note, some work I have done with Headingley LitFest has made me view Park Square in Leeds in an entirely new light.) There are aspects of the project that make an unanswerable case for community engagement by the academy. More thought needs to be given about the ways in which such engagement integrates with other academic responsibilities, especially for early careers researchers, but the engagement itself offers enormous potential rewards for all involved.
(Photo credit: All photographs are by Laura Whitaker of www.definingbeauty.co.uk)