Alison Ryan


I am at the stage where my PhD thesis has been submitted so along with the obvious relief that the process is nearly at an end there comes the reflection on what I wish I had done differently.

My research on informal learning within medieval re-enactment is something that I have written about before: Reflections from the field - an insider view, Identity in medieval re-enactment, emerging themes, and The role of apprenticeships in medieval re-enactment.

One of my concerns throughout my research was that I could find little that related to my topic. While this is clearly a good sign in terms of my contribution to knowledge it did make me feel a little alone in the research world.

My literature review was restricted to a handful of papers that mentioned re-enactment and most of that was either in the context of heritage management or was about other eras such as American Civil War re-enactment. While useful, the mentions were sometimes brief and despite going through every issue of the journal that I had found some relevant articles in and using the references list from the articles I had found, I was restricted to little in the way of actual research or writing that I felt was really relevant to me.

Colleagues encouraged me to find a conference to attend


I chose to go to the Leeds International Medieval Congress as one of their themes was reproduction and recreation of material culture. 


It was there that I found my people. 

Similar to the experience recently described by Dr Kate Lavender (Networking, working across borders and academic solidarity), a chance meeting with someone I sat next to in a session led to her coming to my presentation and not only giving me feedback about my research but also very kindly sending me her PhD and a paper from it. While not directly related to my topic (which is why I had not found it earlier) the references from both sources pointed me to other things to read. Another attendee at my presentation had done research (as yet unpublished) within the same area and although that was a conversation rather than a paper, still as valuable.

I left the conference feeling renewed and so enthusiastic. I have a community! It may only be a small one but there are other people to talk to and I have promised to keep in touch with all of them.

The moral of the story? 

Finding your people is important. You might not be able to find them immediately through journal article searches, but they might be out there somewhere. My advice would be to try going to conferences and networking. I went to the conference on my own and it is sometimes difficult when you are surrounded by people who all seem to know each other, but the social events in the evening led to me having some really interesting conversations about other aspects of research.

I attended the conference in order to present my research but left with a new sense of purpose.


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