In the latest in our posts about early career life in 2014, Daryl Leeworthy, who was an excellent contributor to our ‘History, Heritage and the Media’ event at Leicester, reflects on a transitional year …
Academics, unlike miserly old Victorians, don’t sit up at night on Christmas Eve awaiting the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future, to show them the error of their ways; rather, they lie awake thinking of the ups and downs of the past twelve months, hoping that, whatever has happened, a peak rather than a trough is just around the corner. At times early academic careers can appear much like the Dickensian signalman: full of life, very real, and then suddenly vanished without a trace leaving only the memorial echoes of the good times in a seminar room or in the pub after work.
I must confess that 2014 has been a transition year in a lot of ways. From January to July I was still employed as a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield. I had a brilliant group of students, many of whom did extraordinarily well in their end of year exams, and a fantastic set of colleagues. Loathe as I am to draw attention to just a few, I do want to say a special thank you to Rebecca Gill, who has been the best academic partner-in-crime that you could ask for, to Barry Doyle for being a kind of guru to me, and to Jonathan Gledhill, Janette Martin, and Paul Atkinson for making life in the North so enjoyable.
I’d also like to thank my 4th grade cat, my 1st grade hamster, and my goldfish Jack who so tragically died before my picture was released.
Oh, wait…wrong blog!
Finding a new job after Huddersfield was always going to be tough. I had several interviews – only one of which was for a permanent job. All of them were in the South of England. Travelling to this part of the world was more profound a culture shock than living in Canada or spending a lot of time in Ireland. Perhaps it was having grown so accustomed to life in the North, but a big part of me was glad whenever the institution sent the email that goes “we regret to inform you”. I didn’t think this way at the time – I was too focused on the ‘now what?’ – but I’m actually quite glad I didn’t end up moving to the South of England.
Instead I moved home, to Wales, and started writing. After three months, I’ve put down nearly 150,000 words of two books and three new articles. Two articles were finished and accepted for publication just as I was leaving, too. Looking back, the time in Yorkshire enabled me to think more carefully about what I wanted to say about the South Walian Labour Movement and how it came to be (all will be revealed in the book), and long discussions with colleagues in North America (particularly Colin Howell, Lucia Trimbur and Andy Holman) have propelled my long planned, but little actioned, book called Playing on the Border into existence. Added to the book that Rebecca and I are writing and I think this ‘unpaid sabbatical’ has been enormously productive. But it’s not a job, obviously.
Then, out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from Chris Williams saying that Cardiff needed someone to teach some seminars over the forthcoming Hilary Term. It is as if my luck has turned: I had been approaching 2015 with a little bit of uncertainty, but now I can move forward with some teaching and ensuring my research is maintained at its current level. It may not mean that I can move out of my teenage bedroom any time soon, but it does mean that the new year begins with a clear sense of purpose which was not there in 2013 or (being completely honest) in 2014. For that I’m truly grateful, as I am for the means of staying in Wales for a while.
And so to end on a remarkably positive note (I’m not sure I would have a few months ago), I want to reflect on the role of social media over the course of the year. It used to be said that academic research in the humanities was a very lonely experience (obviously by historians who forgot about archivists and librarians who fill the day with such enthusiasm!). I don’t think that’s true anymore. Just the other day, Cath Feely and I shared oodles of tweets back and forth blending the joins of our overlapping research; through the last few months I’ve had scores of emails and tweets from Alun Burge all about co-operatives and the labour movement; and at every moment of despair the academic community on twitter has rallied to support. Thank you never quite covers the debt. It can sometimes seem that we’re all in competition with each other – true enough when it comes to those ever diminishing jobs, I suppose – but I like to think that we support each other because our eyes are open to new possibilities, and because we can see a different way towards the future. As we move forward into 2015, perhaps it’ll be closer to our grasp.
Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi gyd!
Daryl writes an excellent blog at History on the Dole. You should make reading it one of your New Year’s Resolutions! More early-career reflections and plans for 2015 to come next week.