academia

New post for AHA ECR blog: Surviving academia without permanency

I am very excited that the ECR blog for the Australian Historical Association has featured an article by me on surviving in academia without tenure. Here is the first paragraph:

I have decided that the best way to write about being a non-tenured academic in Australia in the humanities/social sciences is to talk about surviving. But it is not about personal resilience in an attempt to overcome the problems of academia, but about recognising that working in academia on a casual, fixed-term or independent basis requires survival in the face of institutional pressures and pitfalls.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

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Precarity and overwork in academia

In December last year, I stopped work on all of my research projects. The following week, I compromised with myself and said no primary research (reading archival documents) or writing for the next month, only secondary source reading. I had one conference paper to present at the end of January, so for the week leading up to that, I got back into the swing of things slowly and wrote a 2,500 word paper, but nothing more. For a co-authored piece that needed revising, I asked my co-author to take the lead. I said no to working on a project with a colleague that had an interim deadline of February 2018 (then a major deadline of June). I declined a request to submit an article for a special issue.

For me, this was really hard. A combination of a slightly obsessive personality and the academic culture of ‘publish or perish’ had meant that for nearly decade, I had been unable to switch off. Thinking, researching, writing, publicising, engaging – every waking hour saw academic research creep into my consciousness. Over the past few years, I had been, for all intents and purposes, quite prolific in my field (history), with books, edited collections, articles and book chapters published as both single author and co-authored pieces.

However, my employment was precarious. A series of longer and shorter fixed-term contracts, as well as bouts of casual teaching and research work, meant that I had had to publish profusely in order to be competitive, while doing work for others, writing job applications and sometimes working outside of academia in a 9-to-5 job. This means that except for a 3-year window, all of my research over the past decade had been done in my own time. This is, of course, on top of all the normal life stuff, such as family and friends. During this time, my very understanding partner and I had two children and moved three times.

My experience is far from unique. Informal discussions with my colleagues in Australia, as well as overseas, has revealed that the pressures of publishing and maintaining an active research profile, while at the same time working casually or in a fixed-term position, are felt by many. Overwork by those in precarious work and at the edges of academia is very much the norm.

And it comes as a huge price for those experiencing this, as well as academia as a whole. For many, the pressure, the anxiety and the relentlessness of it is too much. Burnout and disillusionment is a regular occurrence for many of those academics not in permanent employment. While some kind of permanency doesn’t absolve academics of all the pressures they face, those working in casual or fixed-term employment are amongst the most vulnerable.

For my own mental health, I resolved myself to saying no to things and pushing back against both internal and external pressures to publish. However this culture is not something that individuals can overcome by themselves. Institutional pressures may be internalised by the individual, but the solution can’t just be personal resilience. We must recognise that overwork and the compulsion to constantly be working is pervasive within academia. Furthermore, it is those at the margins of academia who are possibly most likely to be unable to resist these compulsions, especially if the outputs of this overwork are held up as desirable for permanent employment. In no way do I put any blame for this on the individual – overwork and the internalisation of this culture is not their fault. There’s enough to feel bad about without the burden of feeling that you need to just absorb the pressure.

Nothing I have written above is new and I certainly don’t have the solutions to this. A discussion of overwork and the pressures on early career researchers and other academics in precarity seems to be emerging in academic circles, particularly after the USS strike in the UK. I just thought I’d publicise my own story and my own struggle with overwork and the internalisation of the ‘publish or perish’ mentality. The more we talk about these issues, the more we can talk about their solutions.

Solidarity with my precarious comrades!

Starting a discussion about self-archiving political movements and the international left

I have been in discussions with various people over the last few months about how movements ‘remember’ themselves and how they engage with their ephemeral history. I am interested in how these movements have often self-archived their materials and what they have done with these materials – are they open to researchers and people interested interested in the history of these movements? Some organisations and movements (as well as certain individuals) have donated their historical papers to various university archives or museums. These are valuable to researchers, but still privilege those who can gain access – usually academics and independent researchers who can afford to do archival research on site.

However some organisations and enterprising researchers are overcoming these obstacles by scanning and digitising the materials of the various progressive and left-wing movements across the Anglophone world. Sites such as the Marxist Internet Archive have been scanning many American, Canadian, British, Irish and Australian documents from the international communist movement, including various Trotskyist and anti-revisionist groups. A number of institutions across the globe have followed, such as the University of Wollongong’s Communist Party of Australia journals, the collection of South African radical material digitised by DISA, the Anti-Apartheid Movement collection at Oxford University, and the Amiel and Melburn Trust collection of British new left journals and the CPGB’s Marxism Today. As well as these institutional initiatives, others are digitising their historical documents at the grassroots level. This can be seen with the Red Mole Rising website, which is archiving online the materials of the International Marxist Group, the Irish Left Archive, the Red Action archive and the Anti-Fascist Archive, amongst others.

The wonderful thing about these online archives is that they are democratising the research of these movements. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can now access these documents, without incurring the costs of doing archival research. This is particularly helpful for those conducting research internationally. The downside is that these initiatives are often costly in terms of equipment and labour, with individuals having to volunteer a lot of their time and effort to provide these resources for others. Also by relying on the efforts of individuals with access to certain collections, there are significant gaps in what is available online. For example, I would like to see more stuff from Militant and the Workers Revolutionary Party made available.

It is exciting to be conducting research in this era of increased digitsation, but there are limits to what we can access at the moment. More people need to get involved – either providing original documents, or offering their services in the scanning process, or by helping out with the costs of hosting the websites (particularly as Scribd and Dropbox are increasingly used to hold these large file depositories).

At the same time, many original activist documents are languishing in people’s attics, basements, garages and other storage areas. These need to be located and preserved. If you have a collection of left-wing ephemera stored away somewhere, do try to find it and think about donating (or selling or at least, lending) it to people who can digitise it and preserve this (often obscured) history.

I hope this starts a discussion about how historians and activists can work together to help ensure that the documentary history of the international left is not overlooked.

New article published in TCBH on CPGB and gay rights

This is just a quick post to let everyone know that Daryl Leeworthy and I have just had an article published in Twentieth Century British History journal on the Communist Party of Great Britain and gay rights. The title of the article is ‘Before Pride: The Struggle for the Recognition of Gay Rights in the British Communist Movement, 1973-85′ and is available here.

Here’s the abstract:

This article examines the role of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and its youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), in the advancement of gay rights in the 1970s and 1980s. Although the CPGB was the first major organization of the British labour movement—and the British left—to advance a policy of gay rights, its participation in the gay liberation movement has tended to be neglected by scholars. In contrast to the general perception of the CPGB in the last decade (or so) of its existence as a party of declining influence and cohesion, easily ignored by the mainstream of the labour movement, we argue that the embrace of gay rights provided communists with a means of pushing for a diversification of labour politics. This coalesced in the mid-1980s with the co-founding of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) by the communist activist Mark Ashton. With the recent scholarly and public interest in the LGSM and its impact upon the Labour Party’s attitude to gay rights, this article aims to reveal that the ‘pre-history’ of the group is firmly rooted in the CPGB/YCL and the Eurocommunist section of the British communist movement.

If people cannot access the article, let me know and I can send a pdf.

Turning that blog post into a journal article: A quick guide

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It feels like this sometimes…

One of the popular blog posts for academics that I have seen over the last year has been on turning your journal article into a blog post. I am assuming this is aimed at academics who don’t blog regularly and may be considering contributing to multi-authored blog as an opportunity to showcase their research. This post is on the opposite and probably the more likelier scenario for those who actively blog – how do you transform a blog post into a journal article?

As a blogging academic, I have often used one or several blog posts as the framework for a journal article, with the blog serving the purpose of working out my ideas by getting them down onto the (electronic) page and getting feedback. The following post is a general guide to how I go about this process and some of the key things that I consider when trying to shape a blog post into a workable draft article. In many ways, it is similar to transforming a conference paper into a fully fleshed article, but it also differs, especially as a blog post caters for a general audience and a conference paper is probably already in more formal academic language. I don’t aim for this post to be definitive in any way, but thought that it might be helpful to some…

  • Does the blog post have a clear and explicit argument? What is the purpose of the blog post?

Blog posts obviously have a variety of functions. I often use my blog posts to discuss a particular research document or archive, using the post to highlight the research potential of something quite discrete. Other times it is to try to relate something historical to contemporary occurrences or debates. Then other times it is fleshing out a new analytical idea. These, although they don’t happen that often, are the best for transforming into a journal article. While they may be a bit rough in their analysis, they probably have a clear enough argument to serve as the framework for the article. From there, you can start to take the more practical and straight forward steps to transforming the blog post into that journal article.

  • Proper introduction and conclusion

Blog posts don’t need much introduction and may need to be snappy, bold and condensed to grab the attention of the general reader. Often with my historical blog writing, I will try to work in some link to the present or try quickly to frame it within some wider contemporary debates. However a journal article needs a proper introduction, outlining the main points of your argument and often placing the article within a broader academic context.

Blog posts need to be much more brief than a journal article and a conclusion is usually a quickly tied up affair. A journal article conclusion needs a lot more care and needs to reinforce the argument already made. No cliff hangers or meandering final sentences!

  • More formal or specialist language

Although primarily intended to facilitate communication between academics in your field across the world, academic blogs also, for the most part, try to engage with the general reader and therefore the language and terminology used may be toned down for greater accessibility. In my academic writing, I also try to eliminate all the personal pronouns, such as ‘I’ and ‘we’, which crops from time to time in my blog writing mode.

  • Insert relevant sub-headings

This is something that I will do with most articles that I write, but I find that blog posts are quite stream-of-consciousness in their composition and are likely not to have the structure required for a journal article. Inserting relevant sub-headings sign posts to you (and to the eventual reader) what you’re doing to do and where you’re going to go argument-wise. It also helps break the article up into manageable chunks. In some cases, I have put together several blog posts into one journal article, with each sub-section being a blog post in itself.

  • Expand/insert literature review

Even when engaging in a debate in a blog post, there isn’t the space to delve into a deep and systematic literature review – especially as most literature reviews would bore the pants off the general reader. But part of a journal article is situating your research and arguments within the broader academic context, which means at least a nod to the existing literature.

  • Insert references

Depending on the blog’s audience, you may or may not have references included in your blog post. If I am writing on my own blog, I often do include footnotes (and sometimes in-text citations). However some more general blogs do not use references at all, relying only links to relevant material. This can be one of the more tedious exercises in transforming a blog post into a journal article, but it has to be done (and done properly).

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With these tasks done, you should have a framework to work with and the blog post should look more like an article – all you need to do is flesh it out. I hope this post is helpful. I am sure many people can ably write both a blog post and a journal article, but I find these steps easy to remember and handy list to check off as I go.

Good luck writing comrades!

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CFP: XXVth Conference of the Australasian Association for European History, Monash University, 11-14 July 2017

Monash would like to invite you to the XXVth Conference of the Australasian Association for European History, to be held at Monash University’s Caulfield Campus in Melbourne.
Europe’s Entanglements
Location: Monash University (Melbourne), 11 – 14 July 2017
Contact: arts-AAEH2017@monash.edu
Website: http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/australasian-association-for-european-history-2017/
First deadline for paper and panel proposals:  30 September 2016

As Europe commemorates the centenary of the Great War, current conflicts nearby spark the largest influx of refugees since the Second World War. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom considers (once again) leaving the European Union, and economic downturn and the re-emergence of far right politics throughout the EU threatens its unravelling at the seams. What intervention can historians make to understand these developments? This conference invites a reconsideration of Europe’s entanglements – with the past, with its neighbours in the world, and within itself ­­­– and how these have been forged as well as unmade through the commemoration and forgetting of its history, the movement of people across its borders, the clash of political and economic interests, the encounters between different ideologies and worldviews.

We invite established scholars as well as postgraduates to discuss Europe’s entanglements (and disentanglements), their historical roots, contours and contemporary resonance, from the eighteenth century to the present, on the topics below. Individual papers are welcome, and we also encourage panel proposals.

  • The formation and dissolution of borders, blocs and empires in Europe;
  • The foundation, expansion and maintenance of overseas colonies and empires, their dissolution and legacies;
  • Efforts at national and regional unification, as well as the resistance of ethnic and religious groups against integration within nation-states and across the continent;
  • The movement of people as migrants, refugees, expatriates;
  • Social and cultural networks and movements – monarchies and aristocracies, entrepreneurs and business people, journalists, scholars, public intellectuals, artists, entertainers and writers;
  • Europe’s efforts, attempts and failures at integrating within a global community, through legal, economic and political institutions;
  • Entanglements with the past through commemorative practices and communities, representational practices, custodial institutions and museums, and through traces and monuments in the landscape (natural as well as urban);
  • The historical trajectory of environmental entanglements, between humans, animals and their habitats, urban and rural;

 

CONFIRMED KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

Glenda Sluga, University of Sydney
Professor of International History, ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellow, Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Jennifer Sessions, University of Iowa
Associate Professor of History

Tony Ballantyne, University of Otago
Professor of History, Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand

For those on academia.edu, join my feedback session on transnational communism & anti-racism in WWII

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I just thought I’d post this there for anyone on academia.edu and has an interest in transnational communist history. I am currently running a feedback session on the site for my paper ‘”Our Soldiers Need Guns!” Communists and the Enlistment of Black Soldiers in the Second World War in South Africa, Australia and the United States’. If you have an academia.edu profile, you can ask to join the session and provide feedback for the next 6 days. I have already had some really good comments from various scholars, but would be very interested to hear from others, particularly those with a knowledge of Australian left history. So come join the academic fun!

Picture credit: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2016/jan/24/racial-harmony-in-a-marxist-utopia-how-the-soviet-union-capitalised-on-us-discrimination-in-pictures