Archives of Lost Voices: Patient Publications in Hospitals

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where this PhD project began, but it certainly grew out my involvement with the Graylingwell Heritage Project. This was a Heritage Lottery Funded community, heritage and arts programme which charted the history of Chichester’s Graylingwell Hospital. I worked as an administrator, voluntary researcher and oral history interviewer for the project while studying English and Fine Art at undergraduate level. I’ve had a life-long love for the historical, particularly the nineteenth century, and I found Graylingwell Hospital’s heritage absolutely fascinating. I didn’t anticipate the huge impact that this project would have on my work (and life), but now, as a PhD student, I can fully appreciate how it has shaped my career.

Built in 1896 as a mental health facility, the hospital was formerly known as the West Sussex County Asylum, and has had a significant impact upon Chichester’s local community as a place of employment throughout the last century. As a medical institution, Graylingwell Hospital has played an important role in the history of mental health treatment in the UK and the development of psychiatry in the 20th century. It is also noted for the important role it played in national history as a war hospital during the First World War, providing care for injured servicemen from 1915 to 1919. The hospital closed in 2001.

The Wishing Well, the magazine produced by the patients of Graylingwell Hospital, various dates.
The Wishing Well, the magazine produced by the patients of Graylingwell Hospital, various dates.

A student of art, English and history, I naturally became very interested in The Wishing Well, which was a magazine printed and distributed by Graylingwell’s Occupational Therapy department between 1946 until at least 1960. These magazines, which are currently held at the West Sussex Record Office, were a creative showcase for the patients of Graylingwell, and include prose, poetry, and written reports on every facet of Hospital life. Visual art features heavily in these magazines, including paintings, woodcut prints, and cartoons. Continue reading

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Three Hundred Years of Birdsong: Sound and Nature

Jess hamstead heath

Last Monday it rained, and on Hampstead Heath a record of birdsong included greenfinch, goldfinch, coot, long tailed tit, song thrush, chaffinch, stock-dove, jay, green woodpecker, crows and rose-winged parakeets (not to forget a pond-life of tufted duck, shoveler, cormorant, gadwall, mute swans and a great crested grebe).

In 1728, after a spring shower, the poet James Thomson listed the sounds of the cuckoo, blackbird, wood-lark, song thrush, nightingale, linnet, bullfinch, stock-dove, rook, crow and jackdaw. He then used this to map human intrusion into a non-human world, to explain the intangibility of the spaces we inhabit, even in our desire to quantify them.

Thomson’s poem is peppered with an incompatibility of natural world and human understanding; a boy disturbing a trout and shattering the water surface, a plough breaking the earth and the toil of the ox pulling it, the corrupt lovers tainting the woods. Faced with this, Thomson tends to look back, desiring an inaccessible arcadia.

Our time is characterised by understanding the natural world through a language of loss and crisis, and, even three hundred years later, it is tempting to view nature through painful nostalgia. A golden age now closed to us.

Searching for nature in his own time, Thomson transposes the non-human into currents of sound, wind and water. His is a poem of noise and light, of elements, breezes, clouds and vapours, filled with mingling winds, ‘rustling deer’ and birdsong. He uses observation of noise to create verse, and places ideas over this, a transparency secondary to the world they exist within.

On Hampstead Heath today, the birdsong is joined by shouting, by flight-paths, sirens, traffic, music, dogs barking [1]. A post-pastoral understanding of the natural world creates space to understand the necessary journey away from Thomson’s golden age. The task now is to understand a natural world free from nostalgia, to accept the mixture of sounds, of nature and of intrusion, and to look at what is left, and what can be done.


Jessica Frith is a PhD candidate in the English Department at King’s College London. She is interested in taking the study of literature closer to the physicality of nature, in reconstructing the eighteenth century poet-naturalist in a modern age, and in the importance of words within the environment. Follow Jessica @lutra__

[1] Audio from the London Sound Survey, Highgate Cemetery, recorded by Chris/dashanna and available at ‘Hampstead Health, Highgate, Archway’ on the sound map.  Listen to and contribute sounds from all around the city via their website.

The Secret Autobiography of my PhD #4

sinead biography

As a child, I hoped the Salmon of Knowledge would end up on my plate.

I dreamed that every horse I met would whisk me off to Tír na nÓg, giants might build me a causeway, and every swan was the lost child of a king. I wondered why some men on the news had no voice when they spoke, and why the angry man shouted ‘never!’ so much.

My mother read only the stories of ancient Ireland to me, though modern myths were everywhere. But they didn’t tell all the stories, either. Perhaps I might tell one more.


Sinéad Kennedy Krebs is a second year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London. Her research examines the cultural legacies of the Great War in Ireland. Follow her @sineadkk, or head to sageolympia.blogspot.com

By the Way: Research on the Roadside

Elsa Court image

It was not always clear why I, a non-driver in my late twenties, had chosen to research the road and its architectural landscape. My PhD studied representations of the American roadside and its commercial structures – the motel, the gas station, the highway service area in its various denominations, the roadside café, the toilet cubicle, and, occasionally, the roadside sign – as global icons of modern America. This liminal spot between land and road, capitalised upon to ease the fluidity of motorised motion, seemed especially meaningful in the American landscape, where the land is vast and roads cut through desert and empty prairies.

The roadside as space spoke to my sense of the road as a passive traveller and reader of literature. As a representational space, I thought, the roadside is often paradoxically a dead-end: an embodiment of indirection and loss. Continue reading

The Secret Autobiography of my PhD #3

Sound has always filled my house.

charbookcasesmallWind whistles through the old doors and windows, stairs creak  and floorboards groan. Every genre of music has issued from multiple instruments and iPods. My house has never been silent.

I am a dreamer for what could be and what might have been. I am a lover of fantasy. Find me a literature student my age who didn’t grow up with Harry Potter? I read my horoscope. I am interested in the nature of dreams. I am absorbed by a good story.

Medieval literature, particularly the dream visions, ticks all my boxes.


Charlotte Rudman is a second year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London, researching sound and sound representations in medieval dream vision poetry, @charrud.

Your PhD, Your Brain, and Your B-Movies

Your brain – big, buxom, full of neurons, and a pineal gland, and an amygdala, and a basal ganglia, and then some – is what is doing your PhD. It reads your stuff, it writes your stuff, and it decides which Sainsbury’s korma to microwave whilst you email your supervisor to postpone your stuff.

“Everyone has a hidden emotional motive behind their PhD,” my friend always says, “what is yours?” Day to day, I write about connections between contemporary French philosophy, cinema and neuroscience, so I like to think that I was always aware of the brain. Since undergoing an out-of-the-blue Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy this Christmas due to a rogue blockage in one of my brain’s water tanks, however, I could not be more aware of it.

I have realised more than ever that I owe it to my brain to figure out who it is and what it does. So as well as using it to think about other brain-workings in French philosophy and cinema, I have decided to get to know my own much better. I have decided that I’m going to treat this throbbing alien in my skull with the respect it deserves – like the true Genovian princess it really is – and that this journey might as well be a voluptuous, bawdy experience, and needn’t necessarily start with the MRI scanner.  

An unforeseen delight which has emmerged from my research – between libraries and hospitals and cinemas – has been the brain B-Movie. B for Brain, if you can stomach that degree of tweeness. Whatever your own reason for wanting to explore the brain writing your PhD, here are three gloriously campy places to start:

The Brain from Planet Arous

This 1957 favourite, directed by Nathan H. Juran, does exactly what it says on the tin. A brain-shaped alien by the name of Gor descends to earth and takes over the body of a young scientist, using his powers to destroy the planet bit by bit. Meanwhile, another of the brain-shaped race also descends to earth, explaining that Gor is a wanted terrorist on their own planet. It is found that Gor’s weak spot is his Fissure of Rolando, or the central sulcus: a line that separates the parietal lobe from the frontal lobe in the brain. Continue reading

Magnificent Research Obsessions

‘Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.’

Walter Benjamin

There seems to be an inevitable element of obsession in any research project. A PhD is a commitment to spend years studying the minute (and sometimes seemingly infinite) detail of an instinct, an idea, or a passion. We asked some PhD students to share their magnificent research obsessions with us. From the resonance of a single object, to collections of postcards, books and other treasured ephemera, these objects tell an alternative story of the PhD experience.


Penny Newell

unnamed

Objects (from top left) with thanks to all donors: framed oil print John Constable, Cloud Study (1822); framed handmade cloud print on Japanese rice paper (2011); Cloud passport holder (2015); ‘CLOUD COLLECTION KIT’ notebook (2014); cartoon cloud notebook (2014); cloud drawstring bag (2014); Casio sky blue F-91W watch (2015); cloud birthday card (modified, 2015); postcard Paul Nash, Battle of Britain (1941, acquired 2013); handmade embroidered note: ‘I’m on cloud nine because you’re cloud mine’ (2015); vintage autograph book with cloud doodles, anon. (c.1941); postcard Lizzie Spikes, Howard’s cloud classification (2015); postcard Clay Perry, Mira Schendel (1966, acquired 2015); strawberry jam miniature jar containing plasticine (2013); gold capped miniature jar containing cotton wool (2012); cloud letters (modified, 2016); black and white cloud photograph found on Deptford Market (sample of 20, acquired 2013); postcard René Magritte, The Future of Statues (1937, acquired 2012); glass shaker containing cotton wool (2014); postcard Zoë Harcourt-Kelly, cloud study (2015); postcard Andrew Logan, Andrew Logan’s Bedroom, Outfit and Flower Sculpture, 10 Denmark Street, Oxford (1969); cloud luggage tag (2015); blue shift lomography film, 35mm (2015); chocolate wrapper ‘Finding faces in the clouds’ (2013); handmade cloud mobile with steel frame and cushion clouds (2012).

Penny Newell is based at King’s College London, where she is currently working on a literary studies thesis about clouds.


Rebecca Whiteley

Obstetric Model

My thesis is on early modern images of the pregnant body. When I found this little anatomical model I knew I had to have it as my mascot. I keep it on my desk to remind me that all times and cultures have had their own ways of representing and understanding the bodily interior. And while our vision of the bodily interior is very different to the early modern, we are linked by a fascination with seeing the unseeable – the unborn child.

Rebecca Whiteley is researching her PhD in the History of Art Department at UCL. Her research focuses on images of the pregnant body published in early modern midwifery and surgical books in England and Western Europe. Her thesis uses these images to construct a ‘body history’ for the period, asking what images can tell us about how people in the early modern period understood, treated, and visualised their bodies.


Brian Wallace

IMG-20160201-WA0000

I started this collection of vintage and reproduction Victorian postcards, cigarette cards and die-cut scraps out of the desire to own a cheap, colourful little primary source on the subjects I was writing about. Trawling through Portobello Market antique stalls graduated to browsing online markets, and the collection swelled with celebrities, ads, patriotic battle paintings, politicians, ‘Wish You Were Here’ imperial scenes, P&O liners, and scraps of odd ephemera (the General Gordon Safety Match label is a highlight). It’s become like a group portrait of my work on the era, growing with my PhD and always a work in progress.

Brian Wallace is a history PhD candidate studying Victorian colonial sieges at King’s College London.


Katarzyna Falęcka

Magnificent obsessions Katarzyna

My obsessive object is a 1917 photograph held at the British Library which shows two Algerian men looking though the focusing screen of a camera. It is an extremely valuable document as it shows the interaction between the colonised and the imported technology from Europe, urging us to rethink the role of the medium in colonised territories.

Katarzyna Falęcka is a first year PhD candidate at University College London, examining the role of photography in mediating the postcolonial relations between Algeria and France.


Francesca Brooks

Fran Magnificent David Jones Library

Filled with inscriptions and dedications, collected ephemera and lengthy marginal notes, the Library of David Jones (a collection of 1,500 of his personal books) promises to reveal the ‘mysterious connection between [the writer’s] reading and their own work.’ This archival work represents the foundation of my thesis: an obsessive methodology for reading with David Jones, an imagined attempt to read over his shoulder as he sits with a pencil in hand, ready to mark up the margins of his books. My magnificent research obsession is the creation of an echo-collection of a subsection of Jones’ library. I’m slowing gathering my own shadow-library, in identical editions, of the books he owned that are related to Old English literature and language, and the history of Anglo-Saxon England.

Francesca Brooks is doing her PhD with the English Department at King’s College London, her research looks at the influence of Old English on the twentieth-century poet and artist, David Jones.


Have your own magnificent research obsession? Why not tweet us a picture @stillpointLDN

Getting Started: the PhD thing

Getting Started illustration 12.32.49

So. It’s the 21st of December, which means I’ve been ‘doing this PhD thing’, as my housemates put it, for almost three months now.

I’ve just about pinned down my question into a neat sentence: ‘how do Anglo-Saxon things perform social, cultural, or political work today?’. I’ve scribbled that question on post it notes, each time with slightly different wording, and stuck them around my room, used them to save pages in my library books, and dreamt about them. I have the question, but what next? Continue reading

The Secret Autobiography of my PhD #2

Do I contradict myself?bookcase Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Right now, I do not feel romantic about my PhD. My research does not feel like mining for buried riches or hunting lost promises, but rather like sweatily digging the foundations for a small house that I hope to build some day. (Maybe a bungalow.)

In the first 6 months of working on my PhD I have changed my topic many times. I have written thousands of words that I will most likely not use. I have read books I will probably never need.

I have changed my mind. I have run into walls. I have tripped over my feet. If my PhD is an autobiography, it is proof that I am a work in progress. And that, I slowly realise, is ok.

Ellen Pilsworth is in the first year of her PhD at UCL. She is studying how ideas about social class play out in German public newspapers and folksongs in the period 1750–1810. Follow her on twitter @ellen8989

The Secret Autobiography of my PhD #1

fran

The other week my flatmate stumbled into my bedroom and surveyed the chaos. “Your room is filled with so much paper” she said as she looked in wonder from the books arranged anarchically across the shelves and puzzled together on the desk, to the gatherings of bills and letters, the postcards pinned to the walls, the mind-maps and the folders of work popping with paper-weights. I feel like my life is an increasingly unruly paper trail: paper breeds paper it seems, every book ends with a Borgesian bibliography which propels you towards an infinite library of more books. But my relationship with texts and with stories began before collections of material papers, before bindings. It began with my mother’s voice.

When I was a baby my mother nicknamed me ‘Frantic Fran;’ I seemed to run on an endless supply of hyperactive energy. I didn’t want to sleep and neither did I want my parents to either, so my mother was required to tell me endless stories. Some of these came from books but the stories I remember best of all, the ones I must have requested a hundred times or more, were the autobiographical stories my mother told of her own life. The unrecorded fable and folklore of the anarchic childhood of her and her siblings, the love story of how she and my father came to meet, the adventure stories about her work in Hong Kong as a designer, and eventually, I suppose, her semi-fictionalised accounts of her first child, Frantic Fran. It is in tribute to my mother then that I’m returning to the oral, seeking out the poem as a work of voice and sound, for it is with voice that my love of literature began.

But my project isn’t just about the oral, it is also about the vernacular and a hunt for the peculiarly local and particular languages which help us to recall and preserve our past. This brings me to my own voice and the rootless limbo which my lack of a mappable accent seems to leave me in. I can’t help longing for a voice which might place me.

I grew up with my parents’ Black Country idioms. If the skies were dark and brooding then they’d say, ‘It’s a bit black over Bill’s Mother’s’, and if you’d taken the long way round to get somewhere, they’d say you’d ‘been all around the Wrekin.’ The Wrekin being a large hill with its own Midland’s folklore and oral history and with a name, as I’ve just discovered, which is first mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon charter in 885 (it turns out that my lost vernacular is Old English after all). It took me a long time to realise just how obsessively local these idioms were and that they had no meaning in the topography of my daily life in Hertfordshire, beyond my family. Like the inflections I gave to bath or laugh or grass or even basketball (which had the other children at school in giggles) I soon realised I had no local and linguistic claim to them. I became too self-conscious of my distance to keep them alive in my own speech.

Over the years my accent has erased all traces of geography, place, and locality, it has erased even its heritage.  I have been influenced by my father’s own attempts to neutralise his accent for his work, by the accents of other children at school and the people I grew up with, and by the bland accent-less hinterland of my university days in Cambridge – where everyone’s accent has been provided by their education rather than their hometown. I have lost my vernacular identity.

There is a recording of my lost voice, a recording that is probably lost now too: a redundant cassette tape hidden away somewhere. I’m telling a story, one I had made up, about the rose princess – my accent is in flux, torn between the Black Country trill of my mother’s and the North-London spread of my Hertfordshire displacement. With the long, drawn-out vowels of my hybrid accent, the ‘Rose Princess’ could quite easily be mistaken for a ‘Rogue Princess’, a heroine fallen from grace. In my PhD I’m listening for the voices of irrecoverable recordings, I’m searching for voices from the past. It is with these buried memories and longings that I sit down to do my research and tune my ear to the sounds of Anglo-Saxon vernacular poetry and the resurrection of those sounds in the work of a modern poet – a poet who is also a displaced Welshman and a Celt living, uneasily, with the voice of an Edwardian Cockney.

Francesca Brooks, @frangipancesca

Francesca is in the first year of her PhD at King’s College London, her research looks at ideas of textuality, aurality and oral poetics in Old English manuscripts and the printed poetry of David Jones.

Our editor has been a little cheeky with her words here in order to give you an idea of the brief, but if you’d like to send us ‘The Secret Autobiography’ of your PhD please send 100 words to blog@thestillpointjournal.com along with a short sentence about your research.