qiānlǐ zhī xíng shǐ yú zúxià


A journey of a thousand li starts with a single step.[1]

It is a very wise saying, but every time I read this or hear it, I think of Winnie the Pooh.

‘Pooh looked at his two paws. He knew that one of them was the right, and he knew that when you had decided which one of them was the right, then the other one was the left, but he never could remember how to begin.’  [2]

Working out where to start and how to put together a workable plan that takes me forward, keeps me on track and gets me to the end, is giving me a headache.

I am comfortable that I know of most of the original source material and where to find it.  I know that there will be a lot of effort in transcription and using software to analyse – I suspect that I shall use NVivo so will need to practice.

I have a chapter outline based on the research questions that I hope to answer – so will probably be able to work to that.  Writing will need to happen sooner rather than later so I can spend a lot of time rewriting.

The biggest problem will be my reading list.  So far, I have identified more than 140 interesting looking books, journal articles and theses.  I can do speed reading but am not brilliant at speed note taking.  For years I had adopted a technique of reading an item three times: speed read once, ignore anything you don’t understand and keep going; read again and highlight points of interest; read through again and  make notes from the highlighted points but cutting them down to only those that will be of real use.

This is brilliant for journal articles which you can print off and deface, and for downloaded theses which can be marked electronically.  It does not work well for library books – unless you can cover you tracks well – but I am not comfortable with marking books anyway and don’t approve of those who do.

Getting to a point where I am very familiar with core aspects of the key topic areas: the poor law timeline, settlement, bastardy, apprenticeships, outdoor relief, the workhouse, officials etc is critical.  I also need to work on a comparative view – what have others said about those issues and the treatment of the poor in other areas?

Do I see a plan forming?

In the very short term, I shall codify the sources that I know of and do some further desk research using the National Archives Access to Archives tool to see if I can identify what original source material is available.  I know that more will present themselves later and I shall uncover some by going off at tangents.  Newspapers and parliamentary papers etc will be covered later.

Next I shall work on the reading list.  A great deal of what I have identified so far is available in the university library so I can spend a day or two skimming books to see whether they are worth reading.  I have a number of theses and can get abstracts of the journal articles I have found through my own research.  Reading theses and journal articles will no doubt point to more articles.

If I mark up the reading list by topic area, I should be able to do some concentrated reading so that I can work on a critical literature review.  I suppose I should book myself on an EndNote course too.  I can also start a bare bones outline of what is planned as chapter two of the final thesis: a context chapter detailing the relevant economic and social structure of Cleobury Mortimer and the surrounding area.

signpostAll set then …

Setting it all out on paper has simplified the problem and provided much-needed clarity.  All that headache for nothing.  Now … how to decide which is my left hand?  Maybe a large americano and a muffin would be a better start … or two muffins …



[1]  老子 Lǎozǐ, 道德經, Dào Dé Jīng, (China, 6th-5th C BC) ch.64 line 12.  The Chinese word li (里, lǐ) is often translated as ‘mile’, though is actually standardized today at 500 metres, or 1500 Chinese “feet” (about 1640 imperial feet).  Historically, like many measurement units, it was variable.

[2] A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, (Glasgow, 2009) ch. 7

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