Awash in a sea of text

Working in academic research involves a lot of writing. This is especially the case when you are coming towards the end of a project, and even more so when that project has been running for a long time. I work on EngLaId at the University of Oxford, a project that has been running for 5 years now and will be coming to a close towards the end of this year. My job was to work on the GIS and database aspects of EngLaId, but I’ve also been heavily involved in producing the various written outputs from the project. Currently, therefore, I am spending most of my time either writing, editing, making figures (especially maps, my favourite part of the job!), or thinking about what to write. Just in the last week or so, I have worked on:

  • Final edits for a paper by the project team accepted by the Archaeological Journal. This is a paper that has taken a long time and a lot of work to get to its current point, but is looking rather good now I think.
  • I have finished a first draft of a paper that will be going in an edited volume on “critical cartography” in archaeology. This is a solo effort and has turned into as slightly odd mix of autobiography, polemic and cherry-picked theory. I like it!
  • I am co-authoring Chapter 6 of the project monograph with Chris Gosden, the boss. This is an interesting exercise in reaching a balance between my more quantitative and Chris’s more theoretical approaches. The chapter is on field systems in England from the Bronze Age to the early medieval period, in particular their morphological characteristics.
  • I am also starting to write text for the project atlas, which I am collating in a database as a first step. This seemed the easiest option as there is no point getting into page setting etc. before we know the dimensions of the pages, and it also allows me to keep track more easily of how much I have written for each page (more easily than in Word, say), by setting up fields that automatically count the number of characters in a text field.
  • Various other bits and bobs in various stages of preparation.

Today, I am mostly working on the atlas text. I want the atlas to be very visual, with lots of large maps, so I am trying to keep the text on each page to a minimum. This is harder than one might think, as some of the concepts being explored are quite complex and hard to summarise in a few thousand characters without being fatuous / over-simplistic.

Obviously, one isn’t really able to spend all of one’s time writing and still produce decent text, so I am also distracting myself from time-to-time by reading bits of Chris Wickham’s excellent Framing the Early Middle Ages. And by eating the odd Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer biscuit.

Chris Green