Now that I finally got my thesis sent in to my committee, the only thing I have left to worry about is my defense. My advisor told me to prepare a talk (max. 10 minutes) in which to describe how I came up with my topic and recap the major points of my thesis. While I was working on it, I realized I’d forgotten (again) to keep up with posting here, so I decided part of my preparation could be a post about creating my topic.
In my Cultural History class my first semester of grad school, I wrote a paper on the evolving memory of Hampton Court Palace outside London, as presented through guidebooks and other promotional materials. I really enjoyed that topic and wanted to expand it and look at other castles and palaces for the required thesis (since I didn’t really want to do an applied project since one never knows whether they count if you decide to go back for a doctorate, which I don’t want at the moment, but I could change my mind about).
My original ideas were to either compare Hampton Court with notable palaces in other European countries like France, Denmark, and/or Russia or to compare Hampton Court with the other palaces under the banner of Historic Royal Palaces (HRP). When I discussed my ideas with my professor, she recommended not doing the other countries since that would be more complicated and thus possibly a better dissertation topic; I’m not very good with other languages (I only remember a little of my forays into ASL, Danish, French and Spanish) so finding English sources over a period of a couple hundred years could be difficult, especially if I wasn’t planning on a lot of time to go there. My advisor also mentioned that since all but 1 HRP are in and around London, a broader scope might be better to see how regional and national differences affect presented memory.
When deciding what other palaces and castles to use in my thesis, I decided to put some of the digital humanities’ skills I was learning by putting the castles I knew about (and found through a Google search) onto a (Google) map, shown above. This map did not include castles/palaces that are ruins or have been turned into hotels. I looked into several names in each region that caught my eye and narrowed it down into a few that I was interested in (for the story) and could easily be visited during and after my participation in the Open Palace Programme during June-July 2014. I also had a couple of back-ups in case I changed my mind after visiting, or, as in one case (Glamis), a current guidebook was not available when I visited.
When I returned that fall, I had finally settled on my four palaces: Hampton Court Palace outside London; Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland; Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales; and Chatsworth House in Devonshire, England.