Today is one of those days for me. When I was at school, I had to be virtually unable to get out of bed for my Mum to allow me to have a day off, and I still can't help but hold myself to this ballpark. I've had both mumps and tonsillitis (three times...) as an adult, involving the kind of mind-numbing illness that makes it difficult to eat, let alone do academic work. I am not at that stage today. But I'm also not feeling well enough to write coherent prose (as you may have gathered from this ramble!) for my literature review, which had been my plan today. So, without further ado, here is the Historian's Desk guide to the type of PhD work that you can get done when wearing a dressing gown, sitting on a sofa, and nursing a bug whilst piled under blankets:
1) Reorganise your computer files. Much like my physical desk (which is currently nowhere near as tidy as it is in the photographs on this website), my file folders on my computer tend to get a bit clogged up with detritus. Like the articles I've printed off but have yet to buy a ring-binder for, and have thus just left piling up beside my reading stand, I don't always save documents in the most appropriate folder; when in a rush, seminar notes or reading suggestions just get saved in the root folder. Going through one's entire collection of computer folders, sorting them out, and creating new sub-folders so that the initial 'my documents' screen doesn't look like an explosion of MS Office icons is the kind of task that is usually just too boring for the entirety of one's brain to feel satisfactorily occupied with, but it's the perfect job for when said brain feels as if it's been partially replaced with cotton wool. I turned on some of my favourite work music to keep me alert, and now have a beautifully organised set of file hierarchies, with no stray documents at all in the initial folder. Success!
2) Blog, albeit at the risk of mild incoherency. I am well aware I haven't been blogging as much as I should have lately. The concentration required to write a blog-post is a bit different from that required for writing academic prose intended for a thesis introduction - rather fewer footnotes, and thus fewer references to chase up, for one thing. So I figured I'd take this opportunity to get a post out after a month-long hiatus.
3) Choose gentle reading. My supervisor has recently recommended that, in preparation for handing in 15,000 words for the first-year PhD review (I'm planning on handing in a text that will hopefully vaguely resemble the introduction to my thesis), myself and my fellow supervisees* read Show, Don't Tell by William Noble. Reading it is very much work-related, but most days my reading time goes towards busying my annotation hand in the margins of various academic articles and book chapters.** Right now, however, I have a feeling that such annotations might not be so intelligent, and I mean no disrespect to Mr Noble when I say that I suspect his book may be somewhat easier reading than an essay on emotional communities and history. So, my plan for the next hour is to have a read, sans notepad, and just see what ideas I can absorb, safe from the usual anxiety that I should be spending quality time with the excellent Barbara Rosenwein instead.
4) Construct reading lists. I love making reading lists; hunting through Historical Abstracts Online, doing dozens of variations on a Google search and being pleasantly surprised by apropos material, downloading articles and noting down shelf-marks. However, it is a bit like organising files; there's a lot of quite mechanical searching-and-clicking to do for the ultimate pay-offs, and it isn't the most intellectually demanding task. So, if you're feeling under the weather, prepare for the days when you are feeling better, have a think about what subject, individual, theme, or idea it might be handy to have some secondary references to, and get trawling.
5) Play Civilization V. Well, it is a very historical game...***
* I feel as if there should be a good collective noun with which to capture the sense of 'people all supervised by one PhD supervisor'. A PhD flock?
** In the case of library books, the annotations are of course purely metaphorical, or written as commentary in a word document. Although, historical marginalia can be very interesting indeed...!
*** Sadly, in reality this will be left for post-5pm. I'm not that ill.