King's College, University of Aberdeen
While the end of days goes on around the world, I'm holed up, here at Aberdeen University. It's a comfortingly progressive corner of the country (decide which country you want that to be). My mini-world events are just emerging from a state of shock and awe thanks to my recently starting a PhD in History. I recall an American friend, twenty years ago when I was living in Ecuador, told me, "Hey, you can have four careers in your life." Our friendship didn't last, but these words have always stayed with me. I'm now on my fourth reincarnation. Each time I've done it, I've felt exhilarated as I marched my way into a new exciting venture, only to arrive around day 2 in a state of "wtf was I thinking?" When I'm planning these big moves/departures/ventures many of my friends tell me I'm so brave. I never really get why they say that; it seems so obvious to me and I think how brave they are to stay put, and tolerate the work they, often, no longer enjoy. Yes, here I am again, having jettisoned all the structures, networks, knowledge, expertise I built up, only to start again at zero. Of course, I exaggerate but it felt a little bit like that, and as the weeks turn into months, I am now building a new nest.
Maybe it's harder the older you get. I had a level of seniority and status, I guess, in my last profession. I had credentials. It's only when you enter a new world how you realise that you rely on them, and how much hard work all that was to build up. I felt like this when I first launched my fashion business; a complete beginner. I don't feel like that was a mistake, nor is this, but, boy it's an undertaking. I've spent the last couple of years doing a bit of consultancy, a bit of reading and a lot of independent research, here in my beloved archives at the University of Aberdeen, but I was answerable to myself. Eventually, I tunnelled my way onto a PhD programme (quite a lot of work that btw) and here I am, full time for three years. I graduated in Italian 25 years ago from Edinburgh University; you can imagine the changes.
I realise now that all those books I've read, all that Guardian I've read, all those Radio 4 programmes got me somewhere. But, this is a whole new level of intellectual rigour which I have to somehow harness, from the exploded internet of academic things. The funny thing is though, I don't feel like I'm in the jungle of life that heretofore I have been. Apart from having one really good boss, who taught me a lot, aeons ago, my career(s) to date have had to be self-managed. I've run my own business, I've had to manage up, with managers who are incompetent, way-too-stretched, way-too-political, disinterested and so on, however nice they are down the pub. You have to take it in your stride and manage your own career, and that's how you get on in life, especially, in London. It's gruelling and occasionally exciting, once you realise you're in charge. Here, I've got this thing called supervision, and not only one supervisor but two. It's all rather, exposing somehow, after years in the independent wilderness. I've got nowhere to hide, but I have decades of scholarship to tap into, and also to be worthy of. There is so much to take advantage of in this relatively small university, it's quite hard to know where to start. It's also great being in Scotland, and feeling part of a pan-Scotland academic community, thanks to the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities.
My research, which given it's early days, is somewhat of a moving target. It is focused on an archive, in fact, of my ancestors. They were a minor gentry Aberdeenshire family of whom letters survive in an era when many of the sons had to travel abroad to make a living. The period is 1740-1840, an early era of empire; they went to North America, Russia and India and of course, London. I'm currently investigating areas such as the history of the family and the history of emotions; the latter being a particularly new and dynamic area of research. I was particularly struck, in my first read through of the archive, at the emotional tenor of the communication between these siblings, parents, sons and aunts. In addition, I wanted to explore what it was like for a family to have so many sons at such a distance, often dying well before their prime.
King's College Campus, University of Aberdeen
Quite a change from ethical fashion. University life is, if you speak fashion, a totally normcore kind of place. So that means, if you're into ethical fashion, Howies, Finisterre, Veja, Patagonia, depending on your budget. Need to give up the tax-dodging Apple products, but one thing at time; I now only buy reconditioned products.