Saturday, June 19, 2004

Who or what am I?

That wasn't mean to sound like an opener for one of those online quizzes...

I've said that I don't want this to be a very personal blog. But perhaps I should give a bit of academic background for passing readers. I'm currently the extremely lucky holder of a British Academy post-doctoral fellowship, which means that I have 3 years to do research on the pet project that I'd been formulating since the early days of my PhD (it's like being a student but with a salary; how cool is that?). It's on disorder and (violent) crime in the English/Welsh border counties of Cheshire, Flintshire and Denbighshire during the seventeenth century. (The PhD was on crime in Denbighshire 1660-1730.) Dunno quite what it'll end up looking like yet.

I got into researching crime largely because of the source materials available for the early modern period, if you were interested in researching 'ordinary' people. If it also had anything to do with the fact that I've been reading crime fiction since I was about ten, it was entirely subconscious. In fact, I think they don't have much in common. Crime novels: devious, clever plot with comforting resolution (even if it's a disturbing one, the comfort lies in the fact that there is a resolution, an ending). Crime in the archives: messy, mundane, much left frustratingly unexplained and unfinished. But the Welsh records (which I discovered as an undergrad) did share something with the fiction, in that they were full of stories told by frequently unreliable and sometimes conflicting participants. (You can see a few samples at Wales and the Law on Early Modern Resources.) And those are the kind of court records that get me excited.

The upshot is that I'm spending much time over the coming months away from home in Aberystwyth in west Wales (home of the National Library of Wales, which is where my beloved Welsh Great Sessions records are housed), working with the Cheshire records - and planning to take a look at Star Chamber - at the Public Record Office in Kew, London. I have a ridiculously expensive studio flat (paid for by the BA, not me) in what, for London, is a fairly quiet, pleasant suburban area of Twickenham. But it's still a culture shock. I've always lived in small provincial towns or large villages in England or Wales. Downsides: filthy, noisy, expensive, plays havoc with my sinuses. Upsides: real public transport, loads of free museums, shops open late... So I run away home to Aber for the weekend every few weeks to get some fresh sea air and friendliness.

I woke up this morning to some real west Wales rain. Now the sun is out and shining through the seagull crap on the window. The place really knows how to welcome you home.

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