Approaching First Year Review

This year has really flown by!  I started this blog intending to update it every month, but somehow it never felt like there was anything worth writing.  But I'm now quickly approaching my First Year Review on May 24th, so thought I should get something out before that.

This academic year has been full of struggle, which I think is probably partially why it has gone so quickly for me.  But there have also been bright points, both of which I will detail below.

In December I moved flat, and I now have a tiny office in a box room to call mostly my own, although I do share it with a fridge, many suitcases, and the new fancy Xerox laser printer I bought after my terrible inkjet kicked the bucket during my move.  I recently got gifted a new/old chair, which is far fancier than what I was working with previously.

I've been working hard on figuring out a note-taking method that both feels natural to me and results in digital output that I can easily search later.  My previous Notecards, Flags, And Scribbles Method worked fairly well for a 4k word piece, worked not-so-great for a 3 month, 15k word dissertation, and will therefore probably be terribly frustrating and time-wasting for a 4 year, 80k word thesis.  I've tried a few different methods so far, but nothing seems to stick.

I've also been having a heck of a time with my Microsoft software.  In December I decided to go with EndNote for easier integration with Word, which I'm sticking with for now because Scrivener is apparently very hard to make work with in-text citations.  However, I spent about 3 hours wrestling with it recently trying to figure out how to give everything Short Titles for subsequent citations.  I also find that every time EndNote has an issue connecting to the St Andrews server, or if I cut and paste a chunk of text in Word with too many OneNote citations, it tends to freeze my entire Word programme.  My OneDrive also very helpfully decided to save an old version of the enormous paper I am currently working on over the version I was writing offline in the sunshine last week, and it took me about 2 hours and a LOT of anxiety to figure out how to fix that with the Compare Version Histories function.

Research-wise, I'm frustratingly still not able to travel to the St Andrews library because of lockdown restrictions, so I've had to buy several hundred pounds worth of books that I feel I can't afford to not include in my First Year Review piece.  This was the story of last summer as well, and financially it's not ideal.  I suppose the silver lining is that I can scribble all over them and not have to make sure I erase it all later.  By my count I've bought 44 over the past year. 

There has also been some struggle with clarity of processes and deadlines from the University regarding the First Year Reviews.  Everyone in my cohort was told different things by their supervisors about when exactly the final 10k piece of writing needed to be handed in, and we've only just gotten a definite answer on it a few days ago after I badgered the head of PGR about it.  I suggested language should go into the handbook for next year because to be honest I have a lot going on in my personal life as well at the moment, and feeling like I had to play Guess the Deadline for two months made me incredibly anxious.  I received a bit of a shirty response about it.  

Now the good things!

I've already mentioned my little home office, with my new printer and new chair.  There is also a little sunny reading nook in my bedroom, all of which make working bearable.

In probably the happiest news of my year so far, I've finally found a visual reference manager called Tropy that is absolutely brilliant, allows comparison and meta-data tagging and notes.  I highly recommend that anyone working with images or visual documents try it out.  It can be found here:

I'm attending a good amount of virtual conferences, and have two more coming up this month.  This is how I've been staying in touch with the Museums and Heritage world for the time being, and I've definitely enjoyed most of what I've attended.  See my Twitter for details.

I'm also very very excited about the topic I'm writing on for my First Year Review, which is a re-consideration of why -- despite most Victorian scholars agreeing that 'realism' was the ultimate aim of all photography including art photography -- there is such a pervasive presence of unbelievable, clearly-staged, and frankly goofy narrative imagery in the art photography of the nineteenth century, such as the Roger Fenton image below.  If, as many scholars have claimed, it was the ultimate in cringey photographic failure even at the time of making, then why did so many artists continue to make these types of images for so long?

More on that next time...

Roger Fenton, Pasha and Bayadère (1858)
J. Paul Getty Museum
Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.


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