Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Anglo-Saxon Period, Archaeology, Britain, Culture, Dark Age, Dark Ages, England, Europe, First draft, History, Nennius, North Sea Region, PhD, Research, Scandinavia, the Dark Ages, thesis
Writing a short essay is reasonably simple and generally involves two steps:
1) Read stuff.
2) Write stuff.
This is nice because you should hopefully know something about the subject before you deign to write about it, and the research materials are easy to synthesise into a few thousand words.
Obviously I can’t take this approach with my PhD. There is no way you could turn heaps of data and thousands of pages of research notes into 90,000 words in one sitting. You inevitably have to write a bit as you go, even if you know that it is going to be rewritten many, many times.
The first stage of my research – what we shall term Research Stage One – consisted of frantically reading anything I could find in the vein hope that I’d eventually be able to articulate an approach through the archaeological material and arrive at new and exciting conclusions.
I now like to consider myself as being at Research Stage Two, which is a more focused scouring of the academic literature to gauge which methods have been previously applied with success and which theoretical concepts are important to bring into the debate. These readings are coalescing into an analytical approach which I hope will improve our understanding of the period. Whilst I still get the occasional dog-at-a-desk-day, things are more organised and I am beginning to feel more settled.
At the end of next month I have to submit my first couple of chapter drafts as part of the review and guidance process here at the University of Reading. It is a bittersweet predicament. At such an early stage in the research process I naturally feel like my ideas and methods are half-baked and not ready for the red pen treatment. However, there is nothing like a deadline to force you to get writing; something which I envision is the primary reason for these review panels.
I have done plenty of reading and thinking, and have constantly written stuff as I went along, but I have been putting off bringing it all together into actual chapters for a while now. After having started the process last week I now present, to those who are interested in reading it, the first draft of the first paragraph of my thesis (yes that sounded awful in my head too):
This thesis employs a suite of multiscalar spatial and social analyses to the available artefactual and settlement data in an attempt to further our understanding of the geopolitical landscape of fifth- to eighth-century England. Although various models have been devised to understand regional and national settlement hierarchies and the processes of kingdom formation in north-western Europe, at both regional and national levels (e.g. Fabech 1999; Näsman 1999; Larsson and Hardh 2003; Garipzanov et al 2008; Herschend 2009; Rundkvist 2011), there is currently no overall framework for thinking about political consolidation and the emergence of places of power in pre-Viking England. In an attempt to address this gap in the scholarship, a series of focused regional studies will be conducted with a view to producing a conceptual model that is both sensitive to regional and chronological variation but coherent enough to be broadly applicable at the national scale. In other words, I intend to analyse the social and spatial fabric of fifth- to eighth-century England to get, as Frans Theuws (2004, 150) would put it, ‘closer to the essence of the early Middle Ages’. Like any thesis this study draws upon a variety of material, approaches and ideas. Unlike the ninth-century monk Nennius, I have refrained from making a ‘heap of all of all that I could find’ (Historia Brittonum: 1), but the thesis has certainly been informed and framed by a multiplicity of previous works. It is the aim of this chapter to critically review these works and in doing so, rationalise the study and situate it within its wider academic context.
Fabech, C. 1999. ‘Centrality in sites and landscapes’. In C. Fabech and J. Ringtved (eds.). Settlement and Landscape. Moesgård: Jutland Archaeological Society. pp.455-73.
Garipzanov, I.H., Geary, P. and Urbanczyk, P. (eds.). 2008. Franks, Northmen and Slavs: Identities and State Formation in Early Medieval Europe. Turnhout: Brepolis.
Herschend, F. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia: Social Order in Settlement and Landscape. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University Press.
Larsson, L. and Hårdh, B (eds.). 2003. Centrality-Regionality: the social Structure of Southern Sweden during the Iron Age. Uppakra Studier 7, Acta Lundensia no. 40.
Näsman, U. 1999. The Ethnogenesis of the Danes and the Making of the Danish Kingdom. Dickinson, T & Griffiths, D. (eds.), The Making of Kingdoms. Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 10. Oxford University Committee for Archaeology. Oxford, pp 1-10.
Rundkvist, M. 2011. Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats – Elite Settlements and Political Geography AD 375-1000 in Östergötland, Sweden. Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien.
Theuws, F. 2004. ‘Closer to the essence of the early Middle Ages’. Archaeological Dialogues, 10(2). pp.149-59.