Plenty of Trees, No Forest (6th Week, TT)

I began Trinity Term with a confident grasp of my dissertation topic. I made my way through the chronicles and vies in a systematic fashion, added faithfully to my annotated bibliography, and conceived the whole project as just a matter of putting the hours in and getting it done.

Then it all started going a bit wobbly. . .

Determined to nail down my outline, I went to see my supervisor (once I managed to catch him after a few weeks of email chasing), armed with all my lists, bibliographies, and notes. Unfortunately, the breadth of my supervisor’s knowledge usually means that, having entered with one or two ideas for approaches, I leave with five or six, on this occasion ranging from classical models of counsel in Sallust to the characteristics of thirteenth-century historiography. So I’m back to the research equivalent of chasing my tail down rabbit trails, trying to make up my mind and hoping that I’m making my way in some fashion or another towards a concrete topic out there in the haze.

I seem to follow a bit of a U-curve when it comes to writing these papers. The first stage, when I’m reading anything and everything to start building up the background and shape the questions, I quite enjoy. Likewise, the third stage, when the outline is fixed and it’s a matter of filling in the evidence in nicely-crafted prose. It’s during that bit in the middle, when everything is a bit muddled and there are far more avenues than time that my motivation and enthusiasm start to ebb.

Fortunately, the deadline set for my first draft in less than six weeks’s time should give me some much needed incentive to hit the libraries!

Image: Queen Blanche overseeing the education of her son, Louis IX. From a 14th-century copy of Guillaume de Saint-Pathus’ Vie et Miracles de saint Louis (BnF MS Fr. 5716, f. 15v).


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