Research Days

The autumn semester has begun in Stirling and while I continue to work on the book project, it’s now being juggled alongside teaching, admin, organising a research seminar, coordinating my division’s presence at university open days, printing, and all of the other duties that go to make up a semester’s workload.  Stirling, to do it justice, encourages us to keep our research and writing on track during the semester by setting aside one day a week as a “research day” in which we stay away from the office and try to achieve something other than writing lectures or marking papers.  That’s easier said than done and in the process I’ve found myself thinking more about the nature of the time we spend on individual research and writing.

research stock photo

Stock photos are inherently funny and odd, but I particularly like the grim melodrama of this one, found while idly searching on the keyword “research” at pexels.com.

There’s no doubt that I work more efficiently when my time is limited.  Even though I think I became more diligent and organised about managing myself between the doctorate and post-doc, the wide open landscapes of the latter still meant that I didn’t need to feel too guilty about checking my e-mail or going out for a coffee or any of the other procrastinations that can fill up one’s time.  Now that research rubs shoulders with so many other responsibilities, though, the temptation to have that sort of leisurely progression through a working day is much less.  I was reminded of this on Friday – my first “research day” of the new term – when I realised I’d been working almost without break all day on a single project; I was so caught up in the pleasure of actually having the time to think that I’d hardly noticed the hours go by.

But there’s also a problem with assuming we can turn this sort of work on and off like a light-switch.  One of the biggest difficulties I find in keeping up with research during the semester is not so much keeping the time protected (though that’s a challenge in itself) as it is picking up the threads where I left off the previous week.  There’s a flow you can get into when you’re working day after day on a single project and it’s that flow and the consequent feeling of having all the ideas and sources and quotes you need ready and waiting at your fingertips that I miss on coming back to a piece of work that’s sat cold on my desk since the previous week.

Still, some research is better than no research, especially when a major submission deadline is looming just over the horizon (I’ve promised to get my final manuscript to OUP by the spring of next year).  So I’ll take what I can get and keep plugging away at chapter nine in the hopes of having it and maybe also the introduction finished by Christmas.  It remains to be seen if my eleven or so remaining research days this semester are enough time and mental space to make that happen . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Pathfoot Press: Six Months In

When I came to my job interview at Stirling, I was full of big ideas, not all of them very practical.  One particularly far-fetched scheme I had was to propose developing a bibliography course at postgraduate level and equipping a print room for use by the students.  I laid this out in my job talk, emphasising the expense and long-term nature of the project, while also saying that I thought it had the potential to be a tremendous asset.  In the questions that followed someone – I can no longer remember who – piped up and said, “you know, I think we might have one of these hand press things somewhere”.  Twenty minutes later, thoroughly convinced I hadn’t gotten the job, one of the senior administrators was showing me into an out-of-the-way computer lab.  There, squeezed into the far end of the room, was a Columbian Press, an absolute beauty, surrounded by type cases, cabinets, ink stones, and even an Adana 8×5 to boot.

Pathfoot Press by KWW

Our Columbian Press (watercolour by Kenneth Williams).

And so one thing led to another.  I got the job (most surprising of all), I met Sarah Bromage – one of the curators of Stirling’s fantastic art collection – who also had plans for the press, we had a workshop or two, I pulled together what I could remember of my letterpress printing skills, and in March 2017 the newly-founded Pathfoot Press produced its first work: a large bifolium of Scots poetry celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the university.

Printing 2

Our first pamphlet locked up and ready to roll, March 2017.

To find myself suddenly the head printer and designer of a university hand press was unexpected enough.  What I couldn’t have expected even six months ago, though, was just how much and how quickly the press and its activities would snowball.  As the only folk involved with the press who had prior letterpress experience, The Historian and I led the way on the publication front, squeezing in odd hours, evenings, and weekends to produce five broadsides and pamphlets to date, but we were hardly alone.  Together, the two of us and Sarah have given printing displays and practical sessions to the public, been filmed for university promotional purposes, printed limited edition broadsides of poetry written by Stirling’s Charles Wallace Fellow, been commissioned to do a series of typographical facsimiles by Innerpeffray Library, and even found ourselves with our very own intern busy cataloguing and organising our chaotic printshop.

In the Prayse of Writing Small

A seventeenth-century encomium on writing, June 2017.  Copies of this broadside can be purchased from the Innerpeffray Library!

What I had originally imagined as a tool for training future bibliographers has taken on a life of its own, sweeping me along with it, and I have to say that I’m tremendously pleased by everything that’s happened.  As a new and busy semester looms its head (our teaching starts on Monday), it’s proving difficult to give as much time as I’d like to the press, but we already have plans in place to continue growing its staff, its productions, and its reach.  If you haven’t come across the Pathfoot Press as yet, visitors are always very welcome or you can follow us on Twitter @PathfootPress.  At this rate, who can say what we’ll be printing and designing in another six month’s time?

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams