“New Year, New Moon” – An update on my PhD project!

‘The Werewolf’ – Maurice Sand 1857, French Engraving

Happy New Year!

Well, as much as it can be with the current lockdown rules now being placed across the United Kingdom. With not an end in sight, I thought it perhaps useful to give you all a bit of an update on my current PhD project. I’m hoping to do these every 6 months as a kind of work in progress blog of my work. A way that if anything, I can keep track of my project, as well as share my work with yourselves and stimulate discussion.

The current Covid-19 restrictions and rules have affected us all in many different ways. Many have been forced to shield themselves, while others have been put on furlough, with entire industries now closed due to the pandemic. For me personally, I’ve been working from home and haven’t stopped since March. During this time, I’ve had to postpone getting married to my partner (twice no less!), lost a close family member to dementia and been told that an immediate family member is also seriously ill (not the dreaded vid). It has been a tough year, but I don’t want this to be a sob story at all. Despite this I’m very lucky to say I’ve had it much easier than some. Working from home has given me more time with my partner (and 2-year old Rottweiler). I’m also less tired than I was 9 months ago, which has meant I’ve had more time to spend on my studies. I’ve also painted a lot of Warhammer, but the less said about that obsession the better for my street cred.

Which brings me to the key point of this post. My thesis! Despite all the issues I’ve had over the past 9 months, my PhD project has been one of the few things that has kept me going even during the darker days of 2020. Its been a refuge. A way to go on and escape from modern life for 2 hours a night. I’ve not been able to secure any funding, but that has actually worked a little in my favour. I’ve been able to take my time, not pressured by deadlines, with work that won’t be hampered by the cutting job needed to hit them. I still want to do more networking and extra curricular stuff, but it’s proving difficult with the current provisions.

So far, I’ve written around 50,000 words (most of it the written equivalent of the verbal brown stuff on the history of folklore studies in the 19th century), which will eventually be spaced across my thesis in various portions. While I would say this is kind of an achievement, barely any of it is worthy of submission just yet. But perhaps the biggest success has been that I have been able to hone my research down. For the very first time, I have something to focus my research on after months of slipping between various different subjects.

The answer to this has been surprisingly simple: Werewolves.

I been drawn to them since I began my research at Birkbeck. Starting with Sabine Baring Gould’s The Book of Werewolves, I found myself being drawn back to them on a constant basis. Whether it be on social media, by reading the inspiring work of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project (particularly Sam George, Bill Hughes and Kaja Franck, who have written some of my favorite pieces on the subject), or by their presence in some of my favorite modern horror films, nearly everywhere I looked, I kept being pulled back to werewolves. They wouldn’t leave me alone!

Then, after a conversation with my supervisor, we hit upon an area where very little research had been done. EcoGothic and feminist approaches are abound in the field as of late (of which there has been some really amazing work) and while stuff has already been written about the 19th Century British werewolf as part of a wider history, I wanted to do a more detailed cultural historical study in relation to this specific period. I wanted to know why the creature blooms in the popular culture of 19th century after being neglected from the first wave of the Gothic. Furthermore, I also wanted to know why it begins to thrive. What did the werewolf have that other monsters didn’t? How did it fit the period and how did this inform its presentation going into the 20th century. While there has been writing on the werewolf during this time, there was a lot of important work that I felt still needed to be said and interrogated.

By finding inspiration in that research area, I have been able to find a motivation that I haven’t had in months. While the libraries haven’t been open, I’ve been able to source books in readiness for their return. Others I’ve managed to buy on the cheap – normally second hand from ebay or other places. It has been my first steps in delving further into the history of the werewolf and I have already been blown away by the already brilliant work being done in the subject… and also the duds (looking at you Elliott O’Donnell).

Perhaps most importantly though, it has given my research an identity. I now have a ‘go-to’ symbol to pin my research on. I have something to focus it on. To really pin down and concentrate on when it gets difficult. To shout when people ask what I’m studying, rather than mumbling something about folklore and Gothic fiction. It has also helped me creatively. Not only am I writing fiction in my spare time again, I have a couple of potential ‘irons in the fire’ that I am loathe to share just yet. Hopefully I should have some more news in the coming future.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to share. Enough rambling from me. Hopefully I will be able to give you another update in the near future – hopefully when I can visit an archive. In the meantime, stay safe and try and keep positive – otherwise I’ll send the Wolf-man after you. Not that he’d bite. Not all werewolves are that bad.

Published by cthomsonphd

Craig Thomson is a PhD candidate from Birkbeck, University of London whose research interests include: Horror/Gothic literature, Monster Theory and Folklore Studies. His current research focuses on the re-emergence of the cultural figure of the Werewolf within the popular Gothic literature of the late 19th and early 20th century.

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