DPhil Diaries Ten: Exciting Times

January turned out to be a surprisingly big and important month for me. After a refreshing Christmas break, I managed to shake off the negativity I had with work and make some really good progress with both writing and research.

My biggest achievement of the last month is that I finally finished the first draft chapter of my PhD thesis! If you've read my previous entries to this series you'll be aware of the problems I had writing it at the end of last year, of fearing that empty page and not knowing where to begin. With the pressure of knowing I had to get some amount of writing to my supervisor, I set myself a goal of writing a manageable 1,000 words each weekday to get it done and slowly but surely things began to fall into place.

There were definitely a number of days when it all felt like a complete mess, but I eventually managed to figure out a logical structure that meant I could pretty much drop in my pieces of research and analyse them from there. My chapter is actually the last one of the thesis and deals with the post-war impact of the YMCA. That means I had lots of strands to draw together, but also quite a bit of early-1920s context to fit in, which is something outside of what I normally do.

It was a great relief to finally get the chapter written, but then the next daunting moment was actually feeling ready to send the file to my supervisor and get his opinion as to whether what I had written was any good. As I'd pretty much expected, his response was mixed. My work is good in a lot of areas, but there are also several bits that need finessing or clarifying and that I need to look at again. It all seems manageable now though, so I'm going to put it to one side while I move on to the next area of the research.

The last month has also been an exciting time of lining up a few exciting trips for the year ahead. For this year's Spring battlefields visit I decided to go somewhere a little further afield than my usual Belgium and so have booked a trip to Israel! I'm really excited to be spending a week visiting both First World War and much older history, staying four days in Jerusalem and then three in Nazareth (with trips to Haifa and Galilee). I'm very much still in the early stage of planning what I'm going to visit, but there's so many places I want to go and things I want to see. I already know I won't get to it all.

This month I've also applied for and been offered a place on a super exciting summer school in Peronne, with the International Research Centre of Historial de la Grande Guerre. It's a week in July with other PhD researchers from across Europe, focussing on the theme of 'supplying' the First World War. It's going to be a great opportunity to meet so many new people and we're also going to get some really great research sessions and trips to the Somme and the Argonne. I'm sure I'll document the whole thing here on my blog, which, along with Israel, will make for some interesting battlefield blogs for the year ahead.

While on the topic of great opportunities, this week my episode of the Western Front Association's podcast 'Mentioned in Dispatches' was released! You can listen here or via podcast apps for what is a brief introduction to the work of the YMCA and my PhD research. A big thank you to Tom Thorpe for offering me a chance to go on the podcast and for the interview; it was a really good opportunity to share my work, even if it was really daunting to do so in a new format.
A sample of the London YMCA map
I really love being able to share and discuss my research with a wider audience (hence this blog!). As part of this, over the last month I've been working on a project to map the YMCA's locations across the world during the First World War. At the moment I've got more than 280 locations in 20 different countries, but this is still only a fraction of the thousands of huts that the YMCA operated. Once I've made a bit more progress I'm hoping to launch the map on my blog later this month. I've built it on a custom Google map so it will be fully interactive and allow people to see where the YMCA worked in their area during the war, as well as some of their locations on the active fronts.

In addition to all the work excitement, over the last few weeks I've spent a lot more time getting to grips with rowing. Last term we were hampered by bad weather that stopped us getting out on the water, so after a lot of land training I've finally now been able to get out in a boat and learn how to row properly! It's definitely the hardest sport I've ever done - there's at least 10 different things to think about at once - yet I'm loving it and there's a great satisfaction once I manage to get it right. Hopefully the rain will hold off for the next few weeks so we can get more practice in, as we've most likely got our first races later this month.

So, that's pretty much the round up of what I've been up to and some of the things I've got coming up soon. As ever, make sure to follow me over on Twitter for more frequent updates, and you can also follow this blog via email (there's a box on the right) to make sure you don't miss a future post.


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