Local Thoughts

In the interim since I last posted here, rather a lot has happened. But in amongst a new baby, the remarkable summer heat and of course the football in Russia, it’s been a really productive time for the project. Right at the moment I’m finalising a book proposal for the monograph that will be the main output and editing out the first journal article from the existing material. 

The two first sections of the project are now pretty much complete, and it is starting to take shape as a whole. Increasingly, the work is interested in the fundamental strangeness of the local, its subjective qualities and unexpectedness, the way in which the specific is never quite exemplary. These effects are all over the place in literary engagements with Dumfriesshire and Galloway in the Romantic period, from travel writing that cannot quite figure out the region, to stories of John Paul Jones in which a global, oceanic world seems to make ‘home’ an impossibility. 

I’ll be moving onto a programme of research on the history of the regional press in due course. Currently, however, here are a few bits and pieces that come to mind: 

  • There are, I assure you, good reasons why I am working within the artificial confines of 1770 and 1830. It is a peculiar limitation though, since even the most myopic scholar of Romanticism would have to concede a variety of precursors and echoes. That act of periodisation does take on a special resonance in this project, though, which is primarily interested in a different kind of containment, that of region – a very porous geographical category. The work is, I suppose, locally situated in both space and time. Or rather anchored, since what I am interested in are the problematic, fluid aspects of location. 
  • Writing a book proposal is an interesting task. This is the third one I’ve done now (a collection of essays I co-edited with Alex Benchimol for Routledge came out this year, and a monograph is contracted to Edinburgh University Press). It puts a lot of pressure on your ability to communicate the essentials of your argument – even more so than is usually the case in critical writing. The idea of ‘tweeting’ your thesis is now a cliché, but a book proposal does test an ability to refine the architecture of an argument into a page, a paragraph, a sentence. When, as is often the case, at least some of the book has not been written yet, there is always going to be a provisional aspect to some of the local details. But it’s amazing how new and ideas and breakthroughs emerge from the process, which is a refreshing opportunity to fine-tune the big picture. 
  • Before I took up this fellowship, I spent two years as a Research Assistant on the AHRC-funded ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’ project in Scottish Literature at Glasgow. I was working on research for the new Oxford University Press edition of Burns, primarily on Kirsteen McCue’s forthcoming volume of Robert Burns’s Songs for George Thomson. That experience was a new direction after my PhD, involving getting to grips with the demands of textual editing, but also with what a modern, flagship research project looks like, including how it manages public engagement, online materials and the necessary, meticulous planning. The Burns job has allowed me to see my work in this fellowship in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. It’s not always possible to plan these things, but from the perspective of July 2018, there is a definite logic to the progression. 
Shameless plug for our new book!

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