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

Rethinking Digital Editions: A Movable Archive of Readings

Title page of 1596 Quarto
Title page from The Raigne of King Edward III (1596) Copyright: The British Library Board, C.21.c.50, A2r

Books – in the form of tangible, material objects that collect in vertical and horizontal arrangements on my shelves and desks – are my most conspicuous possessions. In the context of my research, which looks at the publication of sixteenth and seventeenth-century history plays, and draws on bibliographic studies and the (affectionately dubbed) ‘New Boredom,’ my attachment to the printed text is perhaps understandable.

I relish the feel, texture, dimensions and physical presence of a printed book, and the ways in which my books contain little histories of my reading experiences. Pages are downturned in the corners and covered in markings and marginalia, recording my thoughts, ideas and tangential observations, many of which I have silently ‘updated’ to improve upon the inarticulate musings of my undergraduate days. Rather than replacing my worn editions, I am still drawn by these old, faded texts bearing layers of comments and providing a context for nostalgic reminiscences, as well as the occasional insight or grimace. Continue reading

He’s Not Dead Yet, Keep Scrolling

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‘The machine is temperamental, so when you thread the microfilm through, don’t be surprised if it won’t stay put. We use this little sellotape tab to hold it in place, but it doesn’t always work.’

I look around at the other machines. ‘Should I use another one?’

‘Oh no. They’re actually broken.’

I am in Bristol Central Library. They’ve recently suffered funding cuts and can’t afford new machines, so really this could be any library. I am here to research the local Jewish community for an exhibition. [1] See? I tweeted about it, which makes it Proper Research With Impact, and also Networking.

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Poetry of Place: an interview with ourselves

Poetry of Place took place on 17th May at Enitharmon Press in Bloomsbury. The event brought three poets into conversation about how place and poetry intersects in their work. Fran and I had met for the first time in March, after answering a call put out by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership for two PhD students to run a poetry event. We had a couple of months to get to know each other, plan, meet the poets, and figure out how to bring our own research interests into dialogue, and with the poetry. A real challenge, not least because we’re from very different disciplines  – or so we thought!

Right! I’m studying for a PhD based in the English department at KCL, situated between Old English and Performance studies. My research looks at Sutton Hoo, a seventh century medieval burial ground, and Old English poetry. I’m interested in how poetry and place come together at this site to (re)create history. I’m very much picking up on medievalists Gillian Overing and Marijane Osborn’s ‘conviction – or fiction – of the past as being located through or as place’ (Overing and Osborn, 1989).

Whilst I’m at UCL working across the fields of Architectural History & Theory, and Music, looking at the work of  the architect and composer Iannis Xenakis.    Continue reading

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.

Snow

Ning told Jing not to expect snow in London.

It would just be cold and grey as usual, said Ning, staring at her phone screen.

But what’s the point of being cold without snow? Jing asked, her body slightly leaning
forward.

Well, I don’t see the causality between being cold and snow. You really need to improve your logical thinking and knowledge in geography. Ning frowned. Ning’s patience was always quite transient, but it disappeared faster than usual when she spoke with Jing. Probably because she knew Jing was extremely stubborn, and reasoning with her was just a waste of time.

It’s fine, thought Jing. She still expected to see snow in London, but she didn’t think she was being stubborn. She just believed in miracles.

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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

Valentine

Gertrude Stein didn’t write her poem ‘Idem the Same: A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson’ for Valentine’s Day. She wrote it in the winter of 1922. I have always liked this fact. Valentines don’t have to only be given in February. Nor was Sherwood Anderson Stein’s beloved. He was her friend and the author of the introduction to her collection Geography and Plays.

I love the recording (below) of Stein reading ‘A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson’. Listening to Stein read the poem you can feel the weight and texture of the words, which she speaks in a strong and clear voice as the poem changes rhythm – back and forth.

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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

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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

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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