The History Woman's Blog

Bye bye academia

Posted in Academia, History, Jobs and Fellowships by thehistorywoman on March 12, 2015

cap-and-gownI’m having a break. At least for the next six months or so I will be working in the real world at the foreign languages desk of an international news agency in Berlin. It seems like a crazy thing for a historian to do, and most of my friends and colleagues in academia have seemed somewhat shocked on hearing the news. How could I possibly think of leaving behind such a much-coveted thing as a full-time, permanent academic job?

The thing is, I’m not sure I will. But I wanted to give journalism another go. For the past couple of years, working in the parallel universe that is academia, I’ve been wondering many times what would have happened if I had stayed in journalism, got myself a job with a newspaper or even gone freelance. So I’m trying to find out now whether I’m ‘done’ with journalism or whether there are still avenues I need to explore.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a historian. I enjoy my research and writing, and there are so many things I still want to write about. I also enjoy my teaching, and I can get really excited when one of my dissertation students comes up with a new idea. Supervising PhD students can be great fun too, especially seeing them make good progress, going to conferences, getting their first publications out. You end up feeling like a proud mum.

Alas, research, writing and teaching has come to be an ever smaller part of my job, so small even that I sometimes barely remember I am a historian and not an administrator. While I should be in the archive trailing through manuscripts and crumbly letters, I’m actually stuck at my desk in the office filling in forms and compiling statistics, rewriting programme specifications and thinking up marketing strategies. So I’ve been feeling more and more that this is not the job I once eagerly applied for, and it’s time to reassess my priorities and weigh up my options.

My university was really good about it. They’ve allowed me to go on an unpaid ‘career secondment’, where I can take six months off from my academic duties and follow different interests as long as they would benefit the University in the long run. If I return I’m sure they will. It certainly won’t do the University any harm if their academics learn how to write intelligibly and concisely for a wider audience, nor will it be a disadvantage to have some media connections. Even our students might benefit as I would be able to report back to them on what working in the real world is like and how best to get a placement in journalism. I could teach them about employability and transferable skills – something all history graduates should be aware of. (more…)

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Wolfenbüttel – where Jägermeister and scholarship meet

Posted in Academia, Early Modern, History, Jobs and Fellowships by thehistorywoman on August 31, 2014
The eighteenth-century building of the Bibliotheca Augusta.

The eighteenth-century building of the Bibliotheca Augusta.

The little northern German town of Wolfenbüttel is known for two things: Jägermeister and the Herzog August Bibliothek or HAB. While the popular digestif is made with a large variety of herbs and spices, the HAB research library is the meeting place of a large variety of scholars from all around the world, who gather mainly over the summer months to enjoy a period of quiet research away from their Jägermeister-consuming students.

Home to about 1m items, including more than 400,000 imprints from the early modern period, the HAB is one of the largest research libraries of its kind in Germany and a first-class place to get some quiet writing done, while also meeting a lot of exciting people.

The is a link between Jägermeister and scholarship, but it's not what you think.

There is a link between Jägermeister and scholarship, but it’s not what you think.

With its well-preserved early modern architecture, quaint half-timbered houses and beautiful churches Wolfenbüttel offers an ideal environment for the (art) historians, literary scholars, musicologists and theologians who trail through the documents in the reading rooms of the famous Augusta or in the seventeenth-century ‘Zeughaus’ – a former armoury – next door.

The HAB research centre offers a number of prestigious fellowships for PhD students and post-doctoral researchers at all levels, enabling them to spend between one and six months away from their home institutions, while accommodation is provided in nearby guest houses. If you are lucky, you might even get the chance to stay in one of the visitors’ flats in the Lessinghaus, where the famous eighteenth-century librarian of the Augusta lived during his time in Wolfenbüttel.

The first time I had my daily coffee with the other fellows in the garden of the Anna Vorwerk-Haus (named after the nineteenth-century head of the local girls’ school) this summer I noticed that we were sitting under Jägermeister parasols. I thought this was a good joke, as the bright orange covers looked rather out of place in this scholarly environment, until one of the PhD students pointed out, that Jägermeister was made here in Wolfenbüttel.

The armoury turned research library.

The armoury turned research library.

As it happens, the local company had donated the parasols as well as supporting the work of the HAB in other ways. So we soon started joking that we should encourage our students to drink more Jägerbombs as they were indirectly supporting our research.

On the other hand, the parasols were a daily reminder for me that I yet had to prepare next semester’s teaching and that I had to read my research students’ draft chapters. Instead of letting me forget my students, the omnipresence of the stag on orange ground thus served as a constant reminder of my university duties, while I was away on research leave.

Having spent two happy months at the HAB this summer I now know (among many other things) that there is a link between Jägermeister and academic research after all. I will remember that next time I find myself in a pub with my students. Jägerbomb anyone?

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God Save the Queen in Gotha: Early Modern Research in a German Town

Posted in Art, Early Modern, Jobs and Fellowships, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on August 21, 2011

The brass band on the market square is playing God Save The Queen. It’s Gotha on a Saturday night, a sleepy little German town in the former East. Overlooking the town, just up the hill from the  market, is Friedenstein Castle. Built during the Thirty Years’ War by Ernest the Pious (1601- 1675), the Lutheran Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, it is a symbol of peace arising amidst the carnage and bloodshed of the mid- seventeenth century and home to the dynasty that would also produce Prince Albert (1819-1861) of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, later Prince consort to Queen Victoria (1819-1901). Most of the locals don’t seem to care that much about the traditions of the dynasty as they drink their beer in the little pubs around the market. They live on the tourists. That’s enough. The castle, meanwhile, plain and decrepit as it might look on the outside, on the inside holds one of the most amazing collections I’ve ever seen.

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