History in the Making author in focus: Liz Heffernan

Liz Heffernan photo

Image supplied by Liz Heffernan

Liz Heffernan is the author of Civilian Women and War Trauma in World War I Britain, recently published in Volume 7, Number 1 of History in the Making.

As part of our ‘author in focus’ blog series for 2020, Liz reflects on her research and writing practices and has lots of helpful advice for other history students interested in participating in the peer-review process.

How did you come to the topic for your History in the Making article?

My article was originally written as part of an Honours history seminar on war and trauma at the University of Sydney in 2019. The parameters for the essay were broad but I decided to focus on World War I history, as that was also my area of study for my thesis. I wanted an approach different to that of my thesis, however, which focused on Australian soldiers and the environments of the First World War. Studying British civilian women in the war was certainly a refreshing difference!

As a long-time lover of literature, approaching the history from that angle was also an exciting new method of analysis that I thoroughly enjoyed. Historical research is never a hardship, but the novels I had to read to write this article were a nice change from the academic texts I’m used to.

What’s your writing process?

I like to finish as much research as I can before diving into the writing as it gives me a much more solid footing when it’s time to construct my argument. I usually map out my main ideas and paragraphs in handwritten dot points first, then write the essay from start to finish on my laptop. The introduction I begin with isn’t usually the one I end with, but I prefer having something there in the beginning than nothing at all.

After the first draft has been written, I print the essay to annotate it by hand and read it to myself aloud – the best ways I have found to pick up continuity errors or odd turns of phrase. I then make my edits on my laptop, sometimes just rewriting out entire paragraphs until I’m happy with them and have read them aloud so many times I could recite them off by heart! I usually try to find at least one other pair of eyes to look over the finished product to pick up anything I might have missed – I find it’s best to use someone with very little experience in your field of research, as they are able to make sure the argument is as clear as possible.

I also tend to fully reference my footnotes throughout the drafting process, as I have learned from past (painful) experience that going back to tidy everything up at the end can take a lot longer when you can’t remember which source your reference comes from!

What did you learn from the peer review process?

It’s a cliché, but be prepared to kill your darlings. Not everything you write will agree with everyone who reads it, and it’s important to realise that nothing is immune from the firm hand of the editor. The peer review process exists for a reason! And my essay, as I’m sure is true of all essays submitted to this issue, is the better for it.

What advice would you give to someone considering submitting an article to History in the Making?

Don’t be afraid to submit! You’ll lose nothing from the experience and will probably gain quite a bit. Be proud of what you’ve written but be prepared to make some changes if your article is accepted. Don’t take the critiques too much to heart – the peer review process is there to help you, not to harm.

Do you have any advice for history students trying to study and conduct research during the COVID19 pandemic?

Try to accept that some things – access to archives, meetings with supervisors – will be completely out of your control for the time being. Do the best that you can with the resources you can access but remember that this is an extraordinary event and you can’t be expected to not be impacted by it. Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you don’t accomplish as much as you would have liked on any given day – these times are stressful and unpredictable, and taking care of yourself if the most important thing. And enjoy your study and research as much as you can! History is a vibrant, exciting discipline, especially now.

Where would you like to take your research next?

Though I finished my Bachelor of Arts (Honours) last year I have not ruled out a possible PhD in the future! In the meantime, I write blog articles for the Royal Australian Historical Society and have been applying for jobs in the public history sector. I would love to explore yet another aspect of WWI history – or any kind of history! – in any manner I can.

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