Michelle Staff is the author of “‘Herstory’ and Biography: Recovering the forgotten woman’s voice”, recently published in Volume 5, Number 1 if History in the Making.
Michelle has shared her writing process and her plans for future research, and her experience of the peer review process.
What historical period would you like to visit?
There are so many interesting times and places I would love to time travel to, but if I had to choose one historical period to visit I would definitely go for the early years of the twentieth century in Britain. I’m studying women’s suffrage at the moment so it would be really interesting to be able to see all the protests, demonstrations and controversies first hand, to really get a sense of what this whole movement was actually like for women at the time.
How do you juggle your studies and the rest of your life?
I think it’s so important to have a really good balance between studies and other aspects of life, particularly as you don’t want to burn out in the process of getting your work done. I try to be really productive when I sit down to do my work – my best time is in the morning and early afternoon, so I get up and do as much as I can then, without distractions, and let myself unwind come the evening. I think that taking time out for other activities, whether that means part-time work, exercising or going out to see friends, ends up being more beneficial for your wellbeing and your studies than trying to sit at your desk 24/7. There’s no point staring a computer screen but achieving nothing, and sometimes a break might let you come back fresh and ready to work hard and produce your best work.
Why do you think the study of history is important?
I really think history is an important discipline. Even though it may at times seem quite removed from the present, in fact so many things that we study about the past have direct implications for or parallels with the issues of today, so it is certainly of relevance for us now. In a broader public context, narratives about the past are continually communicated and referred to – in museums, on television, in bookshops, in school curriculums, by politicians – and I think that historians need to have a central role in contributing to these stories in ways that try to truthfully represent people’s experiences in the past.
What did you learn from the peer review process?
I found the peer review process really helpful for refining my writing to improve both the style and clarity of my article. It’s always really useful to have someone else read over your work to tell you what’s working and what’s not. Editing your own writing can be really difficult, especially if it feels like the hundredth time you’re reading over it, so a fresh perspective is so useful. The peer review process allows you to reconsider your structure and approach, which is always a good thing.
What’s your writing process?
Writing and communicating stories is probably the part of history that I find the most interesting and rewarding. There always come a point in the research phase where I become so overwhelmed with masses of information that I find it really useful to put pen to paper to start to make sense of it all. I am a big fan of making plans before I write, as that process really starts to get ideas flowing and allows you to see where you are headed. The writing process itself then allows you to be more creative with how you present your ideas and, of course, involves lots and lots of rewriting, editing and re-editing.
Where would you like to take your research next?
I’m currently doing my Masters in the UK, working on women’s suffrage and feminist movements in the early twentieth century. I’d love to continue down this route of women’s and gender history, as there is so much more to explore. In particular I’d like to look at different people, issues and experiences from around the world related to this “first wave” of feminism.