I’m in the middle of writing my PhD thesis, I’m a part-time, unfunded student. I work 20 hours a week to pay my fees and isn’t very mentally stimulating, so even though I love the people I work with and I‘m really lucky to have bosses who understand when I want to use all my holiday to do fieldwork, it can be very draining. Also, because I’m working I’m rarely able to attend events at the University, especially as many happen with fairly short notice, and so I’ve been feeling pretty distanced from the post-grad community lately. It’s especially difficult when you are studying a very marginal subject like mine to find others who can engage with your research or get excited about what you’re doing. There is a wonderful group of people who meet annually, The Cemetery Research Group, and I always come away from our colloquiums enthused about my research again, but it’s hard to keep that momentum going on my own for the other 11 months of the year, even if I can sometimes attend other conferences. I love my research topic but its so easy to become jaded when you work in such an isolated bubble. I want to use this blog to connect with cemetery lovers around the world; from both inside of and outside the academic community. I’d love to feature guest posts from other academics as well as anyone else with an interest in cemeteries, particular those involved with friends groups or cemetery trusts.
I also have a problem that I’m sure many other PhD students have encountered; my PhD seems to be simultaneously vast and impossible, but also to be too narrow and restrictive. Writing 80,000 words is a Herculean task and the sheer volume of work required often overwhelms me. Writing blog posts is one way of breaking the topic down into smaller, easy to research and write sections; so that I can get this thesis written the same way you eat an elephant; ‘one bite at a time’! Despite the huge word count it’s very important to keep a thesis tightly focused on the topic at hand; if my case studies are all in Europe I can’t start writing about an American cemetery, no matter how fascinating. If I’m using data from the 19th century I can’t start adding in interesting facts I’ve found about Viking burial or Etruscan tombs. This blog will also provide a place to put those tangents so they don’t start appearing in my thesis! It’s also a great way to write in a less formal and more accessible way; so much academic writing is dry and seems designed to suck the interest and life out of a topic. I want to spread the love, not discourage others from finding out more!
This blog is also going to be a place where I can post reviews of the literature I’m reading, texts on funerary archaeology, anthropology, sociology, history, architecture and plenty of other inter-related areas. I want to help others find out which the best books are for any particular topic or field, and which ones to avoid (not really!) Although at times I may caution only approaching certain texts with matchsticks for propping up eyelids or a thesaurus for wading through the verbal flood!
I also want to use this blog to promote organisations and campaigns for saving cemeteries, restoring monuments and encouraging visitors. I’ll be promoting exhibitions, events and conferences I think any cemetery lover would want to see.
Finally, some of the things I post here will be a bit silly; I want to ‘put the fun back in funeral’ and feature artists, music, novels and other pop culture which have been inspired by funerary practices. Expect literature, music videos, recipes, art and undertaker’s humor!
Please note this post reflects a snapshot of my life in Jan 2014, I’ve changed jobs a few times since then…