It’s a source of wonderment and some embarrassment that this blog has reached its ninth birthday. On the one hand, I’m really glad to have kept it going for so long—it’s been helpful as a record of what I have done and still need to do, as a venue for the first rough draft of later writing, and, as a mechanism by which to reach an audience, it’s allowed me to connect with lots of interesting people. On the other hand, the blog’s birthday is a reminder of quite how (embarrassingly) long this project has been on the go—it was already a year old at least by the time I started the blog. I am, in that respect, now ten years or so into my work on Macintosh and it may yet be another three or four before the planned book finally materialises.
I have been very fortunate throughout the project not to have come under institutional pressure to prioritise other research projects that might offer a quicker return, even when—year after year—I failed to secure funding for this one. Given the ever-changing landscape of higher education and the growing emphasis on “generating income” (through applications for challenge-led research funding, for example), I cannot overstate how important it has been for this project that I have never (yet) been compelled to prioritise income generation over intellectual curiosity. I do worry, however, that the financial difficulties that the higher education sector is now experiencing as a consequence of the pandemic and lack of state support will mean that this sort of work—the slowest of slow scholarship—will become increasingly untenable and our individual priorities as academics will be recalibrated primarily along financial lines, rather than lines of intellectual inquiry.
Thanks to the support of the Leverhulme Trust, I have, however, made more progress in the last seven months than I have done in the previous half decade (even taking into account the impact of two lockdowns and months of home-schooling). The night-and-day difference that being relieved from teaching and administrative duties has made to my work on Macintosh is palpable, and it confirms something that I had often felt but had not quite been able to illustrate: that the time available for research (what is often pejoratively referred to as “unfunded research”) has, year on year, shrunk. When I was working with Charlie Withers and Bill Bell on writing Travels into Print, I remember being able typically to devote a day and a half each week of term to the task. Over the course of a term, I would have written a chapter. Viewed in retrospect, that situation seems barely believable. For at least the last five years or so, I have almost never been able to do any research or writing during term time at all and the precious remaining windows of the Easter and summer breaks have gradually, almost imperceptibly, been eroded by marking, meetings, and administrative tasks that seem never to let up. These windows are, of course, also the only time of the year when it is really possible to take annual leave. These observations are not in any sense new—every academic will be familiar with them—but the cumulative effect of changes to workload and its distribution across the academic year has really been brought home to me as a consequence of the fortunate position I now find myself in.