Stock Take VII: research I can’t do

The industrial relations situation between university employers and employees in the UK is getting increasingly surreal. On Friday, with more strikes called for next week, they were paused because progress in the negotiations had got to a point where some goodwill gesture was required. But because ACAS is involved, these negotiations are confidential. Now part of the University and Colleges Union regards this as capitulation with nothing concrete gained and is protesting against the Union leadership. Presumably at this point I am teaching on Tuesday, but it’s not clear. Meanwhile, I wrote most of this on Thursday, while quite angry, and then thought I’d better defang it after I’d slept, and the result is what you have below.

Between 2007 and 2009, when this blog was very young and had not succeeded in its then-primary purpose of helping me land an academic job, I did occasional reflexive posts on my academic progress and projects, I guess in order to help me understand where I should be focusing my efforts. I think I would now tell that version of myself that I needed to focus on my actual applications and being positive about everything, but some sort of sense that I’m due another evaluation has been settling on me over the last little while, I suppose since the pandemic, when my employers first told us to stop research and focus on what really mattered, i. e. teaching. They never did rescind that instruction, I should say, but it has come up again during the current industrial dispute. Since this runs along with the threat of 100% pay deduction until the teaching has happened as well, despite the progress towards a settlement at national level, it’s clear where we have got to, and that’s here:

Not, I should say, that it seems as if many people in charge have seen that film. So I wondered, in the light of all this, how my research goals have fared and are faring since I started this job, since as you know it hasn’t all worked out. At first, I thought that the best way to do this would be first to see what had happened with the stuff in the last Stock Take post. Now, as it happens, firstly, that post was private, so you can’t see it; and secondly, most of the stuff in there on which I was seriously working came out in 2011-2013, and then a few more fell out in 2019-2021 because I used them to bargain passing my probation. But it didn’t seem worth going through that when they were all reported here. I also looked at my research goals file, which I hadn’t opened since 2019. The sad thing there is that, while I could now add new plans to it, and change some priorities maybe, nothing can be deleted; nothing in there has moved at all since then. And then I looked at what else has come out since 2011 which was not part of any of these plans, and found it to be two book chapters in Catalan, a book review, two numismatic conference papers (one in Chinese) and a numismatic article that I haven’t even mentioned here (must fix that!), all round roughly the same topic, and a collaborative historiographical article, plus one more book chapter currently in press. And I thought, I don’t need to list all these for you again and what would the interest be anyway?

So instead, I thought I would just take the projects which are in some sense on public record, because they have appeared in my sidebar here as things I am actually working on, and just say when they started, what state they’re in and what if any hope of publication they have, because this time, I’m not taking stock of what I ought to be working on; I’m taking stock of what I can’t. This is the stuff there’s no hope of me giving the world until the silly situation the UK academy has got itself into is at least partially resolved. It’s not going to make any minister cry, but it upsets me somewhat. So this is a vent; please forgive, and something more palatable will follow.

In setting this up, of course, even I have to admit that my plans are never completely realistic, and there is stuff in this list I probably haven’t even tried to work on since first mentioning it or presenting it. So I’ve divided this into two categories, and they express how I accept or don’t that unrealism…

Not My Fault (I Would If I Could)

  • Agent of Change: Count Borrell II of Barcelona (945-993) and his Times: well, you’ve heard this story, and this is still my official first priority; but there isn’t any more of it actually written than there was in 2017, there are a lot of documents still to process, as well as the reading which might get it past the reviewers…;
  • “Aizó of Ausona: the identity of the rebel of Roda de Ter, 826”, first written as a blog post in 2009, already, but first properly researched and written up 2014, sent out 2015 and flat-rejected, my first time ever; I still think it’s basically sound, though, so it has had some peer feedback and minor revisions since then but not the final edit to make it ready for somewhere else; it basically exists, and was last revised January 2021, but now needs my new knowledge about the supposed Jewish garrison of Osona built in too;
  • “Critical diplomatic: a tool for analysing medieval societies”, ultimately derived from the first chapter of my thesis of 2005, presented 2009 and sent out in that form, came back wanting major revisions which I then wasn’t equipped to do but now might be, the how-to-use charters several people have asked me to point them to but which doesn’t exist in English;
  • De Administrandis Marcis: The 10th-Century Frontier with Islam seen from Barcelona and Byzantium”, given as a conference paper in 2015, bound for the first Rethinking the Medieval Frontier volume if that ever occurs but ready to go in and of itself, after some minor updates probably;
  • “Documents that Shouldn’t Survive: Preservation from before the Archive in Catalonia and Elsewhere”, first presented as a Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic paper way back when, in 2007 I think, but not used for the resulting volume on the basis that I was only allowed one chapter (which was, I admit, the longest); revised 2011, since then I have been reading for it now and then, mostly of course the volume of which it might also have been part, and did a skeleton redraft in late 2021, but would have to read a bit more to make it go now; probably my second most practical to resuscitate;
  • “Heartland and Frontier from the Perspective of the Banu Qasi, 825-929”, my second Rethinking the Medieval Frontier paper, presented 2016, basically complete, may actually now have a home to go to and of course I can’t do anything to send it there;
  • “Keeping it in the Family? Consanguineous Marriage and the Counts of Barcelona, Reviewed”, arisen out of work on Agent of Change above, more or less a critical review of the early medieval part of Martin Aurell, Les noces du comte : mariage et pouvoir en Catalogne (785-1213), Série histoire ancienne et médiévale 32 (Paris 1995); needs more reading to make it clearer why it needs doing for anyone other than me, and hasn’t been brought together as a piece rather than as bits of a chapter about something else, but I’d still like to;
  • Miles or militia: war-service and castle-guard in tenth-century Catalonia”, first presented 2014; sent out as a probation requirement in 2017, and accepted but subject to revisions it’s never been possible to carry out the research for; this one is very much "not my fault";
  • “Our Men on the March: middle-men and the negotiation of central power in three early medieval contexts”, 2017 Rethinking the Medieval Frontier paper, bound for the second of those volumes if that ever happens, which is at least some distance off for now;
  • “Pictlands: rethinking the composition of the Pictish polity”: based in some sense on this blog-post, exists only as outline notes, and not something I’ve worked on properly for decades, but so much exciting new stuff has been happening in the field lately that I have been reading some of it, in my spare time (really), which makes it the only one of these obviously likely to emerge just now…;1
  • “The ‘Heathrow Hoard’: an emblematic case of antiquities trafficking”, as described here, something I would like to do more with but which derives ultimately from work by someone else whose cooperation I would ideally have and can’t get; exists as their work plus a catalogue by me that really needs checking against the collection, currently impossible.

My Fault (I Haven’t Even Tried)

  • All that Glitters: the Byzantine solidus 307-1092: much blogged here, but not much advanced since then; it would ideally be both an article and a book/catalogue, but it means either coordinating six people or doing it rogue and so far I haven’t mustered strength or permission to do either;
  • “Arabic-named communities in ninth- and tenth-century Asturias and León, at court and at home”, whose story was told here long ago and which hasn’t changed;
  • “Brokedown palaces or Torres dels Moros? Finding the fisc in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, a paper given in summer 2013 and not touched since then;
  • Churchmen and the Church in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010, a sort of holding title for a possible book based on the various papers I gave in 2013 about Montpeità and its priests, filled out with my other thoughts about monastery foundation and church structures in this area as a kind of partner to my first book; I haven’t done anything with this since May 2015;
  • “Identity of Authority in pre-Catalonia around the end of the Carolingian succession”: to be honest, this is a more of a project folder than an actual work, though I would like to do something under this title at some point, perhaps as a book conclusion;
  • “Legends in their own Lifetime? The late Carolingians and Catalonia”, presentation version of “The Continuation of Carolingian Expansion” as mentioned last post, presented 2008, sent out 2010 and has sat ever since that experience bar some updates in 2014; hard to blame anyone else for this;
  • “Neo-Goths, Mozarabs and Kings: chronicles versus charters in tenth-century León”, basically the same as “Arabic-named communities” above;
  • “The Carolingian Succession to the Visigothic Fisc on the Spanish March”, although presented in 2010 also more of a project than a paper and not one I’ve been pursuing.

And so at the end of that, what do we conclude? Well, to me it looks as if, though some things I’d like to do have just been stopped for a long time, I was still generating new work till 2017 or so, still able to generate conference papers on new topics until about 2018, and in numismatics until 2019 somehow, and then everything bogged down and hasn’t got better. I’ve managed to finish a few things already in process, and I can carry on doing that if pressed, but I’m not making more.

It also, of course, looks as ever as if I think I am working on far too many things at once and feel as if I am working on none. But it is frustrating, to have this many things one would like to say, and to find one’s mouth stopped by other duties too far to say them as anything other than Internet asides. I don’t see how even the current crisis can solve this problem of the university sector; but I do wonder how anyone else is still managing.

1. The most obvious things that have changed the picture here is the work of the Northern Picts Project, whose work is mostly collected in Gordon Noble & Nicholas Evans (edd.), The King in the North: The Pictish Realms of Fortriu and Ce. Collected Essays Written as Part of the University of Aberdeen’s Northern Picts Project (Edinburgh 2019), but there’s also Alice E. Blackwell (ed.), Scotland in Early Medieval Europe (Leiden 2019) and quite a few monographs, none of which as far as I can tell from abstracts and descriptions say what I want to say, but I will have to, you know, check.

13 responses to “Stock Take VII: research I can’t do

  1. This post is the first that has inspired me to look elsewhere for what’s been going on re the UCU and strikes. All I’m getting is the surface but it’s beyond alarming.

    All I can say is, Jesus Jonathan. Just fucking ridiculous. I can’t imagine living through this. We’ve had our issues at Purdue from time to time – and keep in mind I was higher-level support staff, not a researcher/professor – but I can’t recall ever feeling so devalued as a professional and a person as what’s going on must be like for you.

    Has me wondering about attending Congress this summer when I’m in-country. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I attended my first Kalamazoo back in, IIRC, 1998. But it feels like giving passive support to the University and I’m having a hard time justifying that at the moment.

    • It’s kind of you to take my side so thoroughly there, Curt; it is much appreciated. I’d say that, this year, despite the University situation, the Congress could use the support too; they have had a horrible year for IT and expense, have had a certain amount of grief from the management as well and in general will be feeling pretty relieved about making it through July intact. So I think you could separate the Congress from the University if you wanted. That said, I’m not going myself, because it gave me Covid last time and the University has no intention of doing anything on that score either because there’s no legal obligation to! So you could also take that under advisement…

  2. I have a similar problem. Well, similar in that it’s nearly exactly the opposite. One part of me feels that there is something to say, if I can just get to the documents and scholarship to figure out exactly what that is. Another part of me–a very old part, that one–wonders if I really have anything to say at all. Which all amounts to the progress bar remaining woefully unfilled.

    • I think we have spoken of this, yeah. My own inner worry is that by the time I get whatever it is finished, someone else has already said it and I didn’t find out. A very senior professor is, for example, even now working on what I was figuring would be my book number three or four. Maybe it still will be but now I’ll have to take his on first! And there’s now a German monograph I have to factor into ‘Miles or militia: war-service and castle-guard in tenth-century Catalonia’, too, which I should have beaten to the press. Ah well! Only forward…

  3. Wait until you’re old. I’ve got a heap of first class research already written up as PhD dissertations by my laddies and lassies and I can’t face the labour of turning them into papers and submitting them. I suppose that for most I’ll just tear out the title and abstract pages and consign the rest to the bin.

    Sic transit …

    • This is a disciplinary divide, I think; I’d consider it my students’ own problem to publish their work. I do have a pair of M. A. student dissertations I wanted to co-publish with the students concerned; but they have both developed real lives which have so far prevented any such collaboration, and I don’t want to just stick their stuff out there without their knowledge…

  4. Allan McKinley

    Do I really limit you to one chapter (plus the introduction, thanks) in Problems and possibilities? I’m sure trying to add another would have made your life easier…

    The critical diplomatic paper sounds important though. One of those things that would have been really useful back as a PhD (that was long enough ago that all the guides were about half a century old or more, and seemed to characterise the worst aspects of German and French historical writing). Is there a draft that can be seen?

    • Someone limited me to only one of my papers, but I may be unfair to blame you. It was all so long ago, and so on.

      As for the critical diplomatic paper, that is also long enough ago that I had to go back and look. The simple answer is ‘yes and it’s the first chapter of my thesis‘, but that isn’t necessarily work I’d want anyone citing by now (though I think it’s all correct bar one howler). So a better answer is yes, I have two drafts, a 2006 one that seems to have been the source of my first Problems and Possibilities paper, at that first session that was just you, me and Martin, before even I had this blog, and a 2011 one which is a bit fuller but essentially the same content. These wouldn’t now look very much like what I’d want to write for this article, and not least because I got a substantial part of the same material (largely on Boso of Taradell and reparatio scripturae) into my ‘Charters, Ceremony and Social Memory’. And a lot of the rest of that thesis chapter is in the introduction to Problems and Possibilities you rightly mention. So by now I think I’d actually be trying to write the guide everyone seems to need, which really means clearing the slate and starting from scratch, alas.

  5. I’m glad that its not just folks without a job that pays for their research time who struggle with this! One novelist I know has the rule that his daily word count must be on a project which already exists. Once he has written his N words, he can write whatever he wants.

    • I have to say that, if you’ve read this post, you’ll know that currently my employer actually forbids me to do research on their time… However, I guess your comment was meant sympathetically and for that I thank you.

      • All I can see about research in the link at is that research, like teaching, shall continue on campus if at all possible but I am not trying to follow British news

        • Fair enough. I can’t link to the University’s internal communications, because they’re on the our Intranet. I also can’t go quoting internal e-mails on this blog. However, you could if you liked take my word for it that we were told to deprioritise research during the pandemic, and again when these strikes started, with the further proviso that research is not be resumed until all lost teaching has been replaced, even though that would mean replacing work lost to strike action and thus negating the withdrawal of our labour. That’s where we currently are.

  6. Pingback: “With what I know, I could rule the world!” | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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