Shut Up & Write! New for Leicester

Inspired by posts on #WIASN (if you’re a woman in academia, you *must* join #WIASN – look them up on Facebook) and fully aware that I struggle to write without any external motivation, I’ve decided to set up a regular Shut Up & Write! session in Leicester (if you don’t know what Shut Up & Write! is, there’s a good summary on The Thesis Whisperer).

The sessions, which will run fortnightly, are not affiliated with an HEI and all established academics, independents, ECRs and PhD students are welcome. If you’ve got something to write – book, journal paper, thesis, teaching materials, funding application, whatever – please join us!

The inaugural session is *THIS FRIDAY*, 3-5pm in the Cafe Bar at the Phoenix. Get there at 2.30pm for pre-writing chat, coffee and cake. If you’d like to come along, please email me or find me on Twitter.

Image by Quinn Dombrowski and used under a Creative Commons license.

A new way (to me) of note-taking

I have long struggled to keep on top of research notes. I have bags and boxes full of comprehensive, very detailed and hand-written notes from my PhD still hanging round my flat, which I still can’t face looking at, let alone deal with – sorting, rationalising, organising, etc.

I have tried various methods for note-taking, in attempts to be more efficient – like the famous Cornell approach. But nothing has stuck and I’ve always resorted to writing (sometimes typing, because even I can’t read my hand-writing!) copious pages, usually set out thusly:

Name of paper
Name of author
Date (of note-taking)
Full bibliographic reference (if I’m being organised/feeling kind towards future me who has to make sense of this mess)

page number
Bit of commentary
Another quote
[Some tangential thought I just had that might or might not relate in any way to what I’m reading, in parentheses]

page number
Bit of commentary
Shopping list
Bit of commentary

You get the idea …

So, just recently I’ve been doing some research for a Council-run project, which has involved reviewing published research and policy documents. I’d been given a set of themes – things that need to be highlighted – and set to work. I will not be the person writing-up the eventual report. So, these set of notes needed to work. They needed to present the information clearly, concisely and effectively. It took me a while to think how best to achieve this. The notes had to be digital (we’re using Google Drive to share and collaborate documents)- hand-written notes would not do.

So, rather than spending hours Googling different methods, I devised a grid that worked for me (and my rather chaotic way of doing things) but also did the required job (I hope!). Here’s what I did:

First of all, I thought about what I needed to achieve from reviewing this collection of papers. What were the key themes that needed to be researched in order to find out what I needed to know? In this context, not a difficult task at all, as I had already been provided with a list of ‘things’.

For my own research (or anyone else’s) this might be more difficult and require a bit of forethought (I tend to approach reading a bit ‘scattergun’, so this could be revolutionary for me!).

Let’s take as an example, a project about heritage sites and wellbeing, with a view to organising a similar programme within my own (entirely theoretical organisation). I’ve already been on Google Scholar and JSTOR, and downloaded a clutch of potentially useful looking papers.

What might I want to find out from my reading:

1. What’s already being done in the heritage sector with regards to projects that directly address the wellbeing of visitors and participants?

2. What’s the theoretical underpinning of these types of projects?

3. Effectiveness and success of these projects – how have they been evaluated, what are the outcomes?

4. Lessons learned?

I will then stick these points in a grid (summarised, so they fit nicely. I might also add an ‘Other’ row, in case there’s something else that I want to note as I’m reading, say, authors/research to follow-up or something that hadn’t previously occurred to me.

I’ll then copy and paste this grid several times into a Word document, thusly:


And then I’ll start filling in the names of the papers to the top line of the table … In Google Drive you can handily insert URL links, but it might be worth adding a full bibliographic reference, just in case.

Here’s a quick worked-up example, using RCMG’s latest report.


This example, perhaps, is more reflective of an initial trawl through the literature rather than close reading/note-taking, but you get the idea.

My summaries/comments/thoughts are in black text. Direct quotes are in blue.

The advantage about this method, for me, is that I can keep all my notes together in one file, save them in the Cloud and have them to hand wherever I happen to be working/writing and I can easily check the original source, if needed. All this, with the added bonus that they are (i) legible and (ii) take up no physical space!

So, all in all, hardly a revolutionary approach but one, I hope, that will change the way I research and write for the better, is flexible and adaptable and which might be of use to others.

Back to Goddard: a pop-up exhibition at 31 Granby Street

The architect Joseph Goddard (1840-1900), designed many of Leicester’s Victorian landmarks, including the Clock Tower (incidentally celebrating it’s 150th anniversary this year), but arguably his masterpiece was the Gothic-revival Midland Bank (latterly HSBC and originally built on behalf of the Leicestershire Bank) on Granby Street; a Grade II* listed building constructed between 1872-74.

The building ceased functioning as a bank some years ago. After lying empty and at risk for several years, it was donated to ISKCON – the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which had lost its Leicester HQ in a gas explosion in 2010 (thankfully no one was injured), towards the end of 2011.

The building is now used as a Hare Krishna temple and community hub. ISKCON has undertaken to restore and preserve the building. An HLF grant was secured in 2016, to repair and restore the stained glass windows.

However, the building remains at risk. Indeed, Historic England has, since 2010, listed it as ‘at risk’. The Friends of Goddard roof appeal has been launched to raise the £100,000 needed to secure the building. It is feared that without this investment, the roof may not survive another winter. I would urge everyone who can – Leicesterarians, Victorian architecture fans, former bank customers and employees,* built heritage enthusiasts, etc., – to donate to the appeal. Every little helps!

So, onto the exhibition, which comprises a number of plan books, drawings and paperwork associated with Joseph Goddard, donated last year to ISKCON by Goddard’s great grandsons.

It’s not so much an exhibition as a display of books and other documentary material, but is nevertheless fascinating and provides an excellent excuse for whiling away half an hour or so. A must for architectural historians and fans of architectural drawing. Leicester people will spot a few local landmarks as well, including the Thomas Cook Building on Gallowtree Gate and the General News Room on the corner of Granby Street and Belvoir Street.

More about the appeal and link to the donation page can be found of the Friends of Goddard website.

Hurry – the exhibition is only on until Sunday 15th April!

*During my visit this afternoon, I was told that at one time the bank employed 500 (500!) people and around half the people who had visited the exhibition so far were former bank employees or customers.

All images by the author.

New MOOC: Discovering your PhD Potential

Just before Christmas, I was appointed as a College Tutor in the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities at the University of Leicester. The bulk of the role is supporting postgraduate researchers (aka PhD students) with English-language skills. However, I am also helping to moderate a Futurelearn and University of Leicester MOOC, Discovering your PhD Potential.

So, if you’re thinking about doctoral research, there’s still time to catch up. Join us!

Image by Catherine Cronin on Flickr. Used under a creative commons license.

Save Garden Street Island!

A quick post in the eye of the storm between lectures and seminars (more about that later), to urge my readers (assuming I have any readers!) to consider signing this petition calling for the preservation of Garden Street Island, which is currently under threat of demolition for the second time in three years.

Garden Street Island is the last surviving remnant of Leicester’s Victorian slums. It’s a remarkable survival and one that can tell important stories of Leicester’s social and cultural history. Joseph Merrick, born just a few streets away, knew this Leicester. I’d love to see it become Leicester’s own Migration Museum!

That it has been allowed to be left to deteriorate by the current owners to such an extent is a disgrace and entirely cynical.

Anyway, please do sign and if you’d like to find out more, these links provide more back-story.

The Garden Street Island, Leicester, is under threat

Campaign: Garden Street Island

Slums of Leicester

Last example of Victorian slum housing in Leicester could be demolished

You can also join a very active group on Garden Street Island (Facebook).

Photo: Taken by me last Sunday (8 October 2017).

Heritage: A Museum Studies Approach

The manuscript is nearly finished and close to submission, and we have a publication date for Heritage: A Museum Studies Approach; the new Leicester Reader in Museum Studies co-edited by Sheila Watson, Katy Bunning and myself. It should, according to the Routledge website, be available from 30 Jan 2018. More details on the Routledge website (note the incorrect title), including a contents list (subject to change) and a URL button for requesting a complimentary examination copy.

I have two papers in the Reader; an exploration of the ‘China Dream‘ as an example of revolutionary cultural heritage and a co-edited paper with Malika Kraamer that looks at multiple migration and transnational identities, based on ideas and issues that arose from the exhibition ‘Suits and Saris’.

Image: La China del futuro by Left Hand Rotation via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license. 

The earliest reference to a person of Chinese origin in Leicester?

The Chinese Giant

Rummaging in the British Newspaper Archive has churned up a few more gems. Ostensibly seeking more information about Mr On Lee and his ‘Chinese oath’, I stumbled upon a reference to ‘The Chinese Giant’ (aka ‘Chang woo goo’).

‘Chang woo goo’ or Zhan Shicai to give him his accepted name today was, according to Wikipedia, born in Fuzhou, Fujian in 1841. He is said to have stood over 8′ and, having first left China to travel to London in 1865, he later visited Europe, North America and Australia, learning some 10 languages along the way. Lady Chang (aka Kin Foo) – who may or may not have been his wife but was advertised as such – died in 1871. In Australia, he met and married an English woman – Catherine Santley – from Liverpool. They went on to have two sons, Edwin (b. 1877, Shanghai) and Ernest (b. 1879, Paris). In 1878, the family settled in Bournemouth and, in his retirement from ‘entertainment’, Zhan opened a tea and curio shop. In 1893, at the age of 50, Zhan succumbed to ‘a broken heart’, just four months after Catherine died. Wikipedia notes that his coffin measured 8’6″.

Here is a report of Zhan’s visit to Leicester in 1866 [steel yourselves for the inevitable racial and cultural stereotypes that follow]:

VISIT OF THE CHINESE GIANT TO LEICESTER, — Large audiences have been immensely delighted during the fore part of this week, with the levees which have been given twice daily at the Temperance Hall, by the famous Chinese Giant — “Chang woo gow,” of Tychow, “Lady chang,” justly called the small footed Golden Lily of the Flowery land, “Chung Mow,” the Tartar Rebel dwarf, and their suit from the Celestial Empire. “Chang” is undoubtedly the greatest of the party in every respect, whether we allude to his stature, position, learning, or intellect, but whether he is not excelled by “Chung Mow” in the individual estimation of each others greatness, we leave those who have attended the levees to form their own opinions. The former in speech, look, and habit, is quite a gentleman, and presents none of those forbidding sights which one usually expects to find with giants. For his height — nearly 7 feet 10 inches — he is exceedingly well-proportioned, while his walk and movements generally, suffer not in the slightest by his enormous weight of about 25 stones. He moves with the agility and grace of a youth of his age (19), and his manners are so urbane that he wins the golden opinions of all who see him, and who evince[?] great anxiety to cordially shake hands with so *high* a personage. Smaller by many degrees and “beautifully less” is Lady Chang, whose twinkling almond shaped eyes (so peculiar to celestials), seem to rivet the attention of the audience, as they sparkle with delight at the enthusiastic reception with which her lord and master is received by them in his Chinchinings[?]. When seated at the side of him, she seems as much a dwarf as “Chung Mow” in comparison with herself. Of “Chung Mow” we may say that he is a small bundle of fun, and greatly rises[?] the visible faculties of his audiences by his antics, for in his walk he seems more like a ball 30 inches in diameter set on castors than a human form. This entertainment while in Leicester has been a decided success, and we doubt not that there are many in the town who would gladly hail the return visit of so distinguished a party.

Anon., The Leicester Mail, Saturday, August 25, 1866 (p.4)

All in all, this is an overwhelmingly positive account of Chang woo goo’s levees [as in ‘formal reception’], and it is striking to note the affection for and apparent joy elicited by this small group of Chinese visitors just a few years after the close of the last Opium War during which British attitudes towards the Chinese reached an all time nadir.*

Nevertheless, what we’re dealing with here is a ‘freak show’ with all the uncomfortable and problematic associations that attend such phenomena. It inevitably puts me in mind of Leicester’s own Joseph Merrick – himself later ‘displayed’ to the paying public – who was just four years old when Chang, Lady Chang and Chang Mow visited the city, and lived in the Wharf Street slum, not more than 10 minutes walk from the Temperance Hall. Incidentally, the Temperance Hall was built by Thomas Cook – yes, he of the travel company fame. Traces of the building still exist but in a very sorry state.


*See Barnes, A. J., 2010, ‘Exhibiting China in London’, in Knell et. al. (eds), National Museums: new studies from around the world (London: Routledge), pp. 386-399.

Image: ‘Chang the Chinese Giant’, c. 1870, via Ralph Repo on Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.



“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” –Japanese proverb

So I find myself job searching, once again. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit.  After 14 months (six months freelance, eight months full-time), I’ve been made redundant. I really thought the whole ‘heritage consultancy’ thing was going to work out. I thought it was the solution to my precarious post-PhD situation. It wasn’t. Still, I now have a fair bit of practical experience in the field – that’s got to give my CV a boost.

When I got the heritage consultancy work, I was probably a bit premature in saying ‘see ya’ to academia quite so fervently. But my academic career never really got off the starting line, despite my best efforts. I have been offered a bit of extra teaching this coming academic year, which is brilliant, but it won’t bring in enough money for me to live on. I don’t feel the need to chase a permanent lecturer position but I don’t want to lose touch with HE altogether. Most of my working life, most of my adult life, has been spent in further/higher education contexts. It’s genuinely where I feel I belong.

I would also like to explore my own research and writing – after all, I don’t have to be firmly ensconced within the academy to publish – but I need the time to do that. I have been so busy these last few months. Some weeks I barely unpacked my suitcase before I was off again on another work trip and ten hour working days don’t leave room for much else than slobbing on the sofa and putting on half a stone.

So my ideal scenario right now is to find a part-time job, perhaps two or three days a week, around which I can carry out my teaching responsibilities and get some research/writing done.

To these ends, I am looking at everything and anything, however loosely related to my experience and skills:

Teaching fellowships – my preference
Associate tutoring
Arts programming
More heritage consultancy
Museum /gallery curatorial positions
Editing and proofreading – my old fall-back

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” –Benjamin Franklin

I have found, applied for and been interviewed for one position since the end of May (encouraging but ultimately unsuccessful).  I am looking in all the usual places – Leicester Museum Studies Jobs Desk, Guardian,, Unitemps, University websites – but there has been nothing, nada, zilch for a couple of weeks now. I have been in this position many times before and I know my situation isn’t peculiar to me. But I am becoming discouraged.

I caught a few minutes of a documentary on Radio 4 this morning about Edward De Bono and lateral thinking. It prompted me to do a spot of procrasti-Googling and I found this. Maybe this time around I need to handle my job search differently?

So, hivemind, I would be really interested to hear from anyone who has gained employment through less than conventional means or has experience of recruiting in the field. Perhaps you or a candidate had something – skills, experience, a turn of phrase – that gave you/them the edge? Do mass-mailouts of CVs work? Is it worth the risk (and potential embarrassment) of making speculative advances to potential employers? Does persistence pay off or does it ultimately ‘put off’? Any advice, tips, leads gratefully received!

Photo: ‘Job search’ by Kate Hiscock. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Archaeology of Wadi Draa

A quick post about a project I was involved in around this time last year. I was asked by Prof David Mattingley and Dr Martin Sterry of the School of Archaeology & Ancient History at the University of Leicester, to help put together a series of exhibition panels about the archaeology of Wadi Draa in Morocco. The principal goals of the project were to engage local people in their heritage and highlight the grave threats to archaeology from industrial agriculture and the increasing local population.

There isn’t a museum in the nearest town, Zagora, so we produced a bilingual (Arabic and Moroccan-French) pop-up exhibition comprising 12 panels organised around four colour-coded themes. The exhibition was designed to be flexible and easy to set up, and move to different locations and venues. By all accounts, the exhibition was well received in Zagora and Ouarzazate and it is currently touring Wadi Draa. Congrats to the whole team!

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The exhibition project is an outreach element of an ongoing British-Moroccan project to research oasis communities in the Draa Valley, from prehistory to the recent past.

Photos of the exhibition launch at La maison de la culture in Zagora, 4 November 2016. Courtesy of Dr Martin Sterry.