I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Interdisciplinary Anxiety

I was very happy to start writing my book last Thursday. I have drafted the first thousand words of a chapter which will mostly be about prisons. I have lots of ideas and lots of materials. So far so good.

And then I had a momentary anxiety as I was thinking about structuring the next section/paragraph. It was an anxiety that took me back to my work on the Order of the Garter, when I would sometimes ask myself, "where's the text?" Trained as a literary critic, I am always most comfortable when I have a text to organise myself around. But as with the previous book, I am happy to think about the emotive language used about these bluestone buildings and natural formations; and indeed, that is the main concern of this book. I'm also getting better at reading images, and applying my discursive analytic skills to texts (journalism, reports, histories) that aren't obviously "literary." So I'm pretty confident of my general approach in this book.

But I recall one particularly aggressive review of the Garter book that chastised me for calling that book "a vulgar history". The gist of this review was that non-historians like me should stop using that word "history" so loosely (and also stop writing studies that weren't proper historical ones).

Undaunted, I am thinking of a comparable subtitle for this bluestone book. Bluestone: An Affective History is my working title. So I will be treading into same disciplinary hot water. Similarly, although I have some training in historical method, I won't be writing a "straight" history in the sense of a sequential, comprehensive narrative.

I've also just been reading readers' reports on an essay going into a book collection where most of the other authors are historians. Apparently my essay sticks out a bit because it is based on a single text. Nor does my essay deal with broader social movements like the others do. (That's because it's based on a single text.)

So here are my questions.

  • How does interdisciplinarity really work in practice between Literature and History? There are some brilliant examples in medieval literary, cultural and historical studies, but what about in other, later fields?
  • Do we police our respective territories with equal vigilance?
  • Should we be trying harder to respect each other's starting-points and assumptions? 
  • Should I use "history" in my subtitle?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: a question

Something that has been on my mind a little as I think about bluestone. Is it soft or hard? It's often described as forbidding, gothic, dark and awe-inducing, but I've also read a few things about its attractiveness as a walking and tactile surface because it is soft. Think of all those rounded edges in all those laneways, and our (Melbourney) familiarity with its rippled edges on the foundations of so many buildings, or on the edges of our kerbs as we cross the road.

It's a stone that's hard to carve -- though I need to find out more about this from a sculptor. But what do we mean when we say a stone is soft?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Kickstarting this project

So my plan of blogging daily about bluestone kind of slipped away as the year reached an intense peak around May, June and July. Two trips to the UK; many new papers to write on non-bluestone projects; quite a few conferences and events to either convene or attend. And now I am teaching two subjects this semester. Not a *huge* load, but a few lectures in other subjects in the first few weeks.

But I had a very productive hour or so with the fabulous Anne and Helen, the research assistants on this project, as I started to think about what the next stages of research would be. And even more excitingly, to think about how I am going to shape the book. All a bit provisional so far, but I've just come on here to say the bluestone book is alive and well. I'm going to start drafting my first sample chapter on the weekend!