Researching Early Modern History

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Research blog entry 1 – T.D. Jacobs

I have decided to blog about my new doctoral research project. I had not previously considered doing so, but it seems that academic blogging is an efficient way to both network and publicize one’s research (Hayden and Nijhuis, 2013). I selected WordPress because it is an established company, relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and the company provides both the storage and security. I intend to post at least once every two weeks in order to maintain readership. Normally, an ideal blog post is short, but in this instance I feel compelled to make a longer entry so as to catch readers up on how I got to this point, and where I am at in terms of my planning.

This was not my original field of study. I began in sixteenth-century international politics with master’s, before moving on to study the evolution of identity in relationship to early modern epistemological changes through the lens of the ‘Indians-as-Jews’ theory. However, my doctoral research in that subject area was not paid for, and as a result of lack of finances, it was not progressing. Eventually, I was offered the chance to apply for a full time assistant’s position at Ghent University, but with the understanding that I would have to return to early modern politics. I began to look for a topic, and was struck by Oliver Cromwell’s 1655 Manifesto Against Spain, and – in particular – the mention of the assassination of the English ambassador to Philip IV. I was prepared to delve into this aspect of international relations at the time, but was unfortunately informed that a book would shortly be coming out on Anglo-Hispanic relations during the Interregnum by Igor Pérez Tostado. However, a conference organized by a colleague on the subject of Habsburg inaugurations and coronations had got me interested in the matter of ceremony, and what its potential role was in diplomacy. So I refocused my research, and incorporated this theme. Contrary to what I’d thought starting out in my academic career, what you wind up doing is sometimes determined more by what is feasible and available than what you may have initially desired.

My application was accepted, and my employment officially began on December 1, 2016. I have spent the last month outlining my initial parameters, broadly sketching my research questions, and obtaining the necessary equipment. This project concerns the way in which diplomacy was conducted by Charles Stuart during his exile in the mid-seventeenth century. The political aspects are, of course, a concern, but my primary focus at this time is on how he carried out diplomacy with limited resources at a peripatetic ‘court.’ I am especially interested in the ceremonial and protocol employed, and how they may have been used to help to legitimize his authority. Additionally, I am interested in how Oliver Cromwell may have done likewise.

So as to embark on this six year project in an organized fashion, I decided to make greater use of software designed to help keep track of materials. I am using Papers to order my collection of sources and literature. I have some experience with using this program previously, and while I do not like the note taking function, the other aspects of it meet with my expectations. I will employ an Excel sheet for notes taken from archival series, and Word for all others – again, both programs are easy to use and I am familiar with them.

One new program that I have decided to employ is Gephi; I will use it to track and visualize the diplomatic networks as they emerge from the sources. Considering the fundamental challenges faced by Charles – lack of funds and formal governmental apparatus, and no fixed abode – I rather suspect that much of his diplomacy was carried out through unofficial channels. In analyzing such a situation, I think that the ability to trace connections between all intermediaries will prove a necessity. Moreover, research shows that mind mapping is an aid in dealing with complex subjects – a facet of human cognition that I intend to take full advantage of (Dixon and Lammi, 2014). There are other network analysis tools available, such as Cytoscape, but Gephi is an established, flexible, open source program, intended for use in the social sciences. Moreover, it is relatively simple to use in comparison to Cytoscape, which is also somewhat overpowered for my needs considering the project size of the network I will be charting.

In addition, I have obtained a PDF processing program – Wondershare Pro- that will help me to convert document JPEGS into readable files, with filters for improving image quality, and – in the case of printed materials – editable text. I also have improved my hardware by purchasing a better camera phone, as well as an additional monitor for my laptop, in order to facilitate document examination and note taking. Finally, I have upgraded my OS, considered my storage capacity, and decided that in addition to my external back up drive, I will use Google Cloud Nearline Storage as a fail safe. I will be backing up my data according to a regular, weekly schedule, but I do not need instant access to stored files, so this suits my needs.

With all of these preparations made, I feel that I am in a good position to begin my research. Here’s to my new project, and a Happy New Year!

Thomas Donald Jacobs

References:

Cromwell, Oliver. A True Copy of Oliver Cromwell’s Manifesto Against Spain. London: T. Cooper, 1741.

Dixon, Raymond A. and Matthew Lammi. “Cognitive mapping techniques: implications for research in engineering and technology education.” Journal of Technology Education 25, 2 (2014). doi:10.21061/jte.v25i2.a.1

Hayden, Thomas and Michellle Nijhuis, eds. The science writers’ handbook: everything you need to know to pitch, publish, and prosper in the digital age. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2013.

Pérez Tostado, Igor. Anglo-Spanish Relations During the English Civil Wars: Assassination, War and Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe. London: I.B. Taurus, 2017.


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