Some Lessons Learned
Posted By Hope Walker
Those of you who have followed my research know that I have been working on Hans Eworth--his life and his pictures--since 2005. The changes in my research project over the last seven years are natural in academia. One plans a project and, over time, that plan changes, expanding, shrinking, twisting, turning, opening, and closing as it develops. New discoveries are made. Old ones are debunked. New pictures are found and old ones are re-evaluated. Papers are planned and presented, written and published. Some ideas are formulated only later to be rejected, either by oneself or with the help of others, while other ideas continue to grow and (one hopes) flourish. All of this is natural and par for the course. Over the last seven years I have also earned my BA and MA in Art History, both with high honors, and spent several years at the Courtauld, working on broader questions of transnationalism and migration in Tudor art. I have also traveled extensively in search of London's elusive emigre painters, whenever possible trying to locate them in old houses, pictures, and archives. All of this has meant that what was once a project rooted in questions about Hans Eworth has expanded to one that asks a different set of questions about Netherlandish painters in Tudor London.
Working on an art history dissertation can be a challenge. Often we are all alone on a sea of research and words, tied with the thinnest of lifelines to our advisers and peers, our pictures and painters, struggling through what can be some truly harsh seas. When working on Tudor art history one also expects (and hopes!) that other scholars will appear with (or continue to develop) ideas of their own or in collaboration with others. Indeed, since I began my work on Hans Eworth several years ago many important articles on his pictures have appeared. Other scholars have also published important contributions on transnationalism, social networking, and migration as it relates to Tudor history and I am quite sure that still more are coming. Scholars can be funny fellows, though, no more so than when they begin work on a project, staking a claim, and then perceive the artists/subjects/resources they use are entirely their own. Perhaps it was how I was raised, but I am not and have never been possessive about my work, the artists I study, or the resources I use. I am, of course, careful with my work, less so that I can protect it from 'poaching' by other scholars--a circumstance that frankly had never occurred to me before recent events--and more so because I want to present it in its best possible light and where it will do the most good. I believe that the artists and patrons, pictures and themes, deserve the best that I can give them and I strive to bring that approach to everything that I do.
The vast majority of my site visitors are fascinating and fantastic people who, if I were blunt, often bring much more than I offer them here. Some really wonderful exchanges have occurred because of this site and I continue to be grateful for those who visit it and utilize it as a resource. I have also developed some wonderful e-friendships via the site and have had some brilliant collaborations with scholars and lay-people alike. Unfortunately, though exceedingly rare, the site does sometimes draw negative attention. Last year a site visitor decided to send along a snotty missive, complaining that I was remise in updating the site and demanding to know when the latest findings would be posted. On the one hand, it was flattering. It is wonderful to know that visitors are truly keen on the material I present. Still, the delivery was fairly rude though nothing I spent more than a moment worrying about. More recent events, however, have caused me to reevaluate the site and the material presented herein.
I have no interest in going back over a play-by-play of what has happened over the preceeding months. Most of it feels like a bad cable TV drama and I truly have no desire to return to it again, ever. Ultimately, however, it appears that my work and, by extension, this website drew the attention of a graduate student who has apparently determined to poach my work by producing a dissertation that, as far as I have been led to believe, is essentially a copy of my work. At present I feel quite confident that nearly everything that this student told me during our conversations over the last five months was either a complete fiction or a series of colorful half-truths. The goal, I believe, was to milk every last piece of information this person could out of me for their own ends while, at the same time, doing as little as possible to reciprocate. Though I did my level best to be supportive, going so far as to provide unpublished research materials, contacts, archival guidance and recommendations, and dozens of hours of advice, my reputation as a scholar has been directly attacked and the long-term results of that are presently difficult to quantify. I am fortunate that I have been working on this subject for many years and my colleagues know me well enough to know that high-school drama is not something I engage in. But one thing is clear--my approach to how I share my work will have to change and as part of that change I have decided to shift the trajectory of this website.
When I developed the site I had planned to present findings and resources as I found them so that other scholars and interested laypeople would have the opportunity to access materials. Primary sources were to be shared, along with substantial databases and articles. I planned to present a catalogue raisonne for Hans Eworth and perhaps other Netherlandish painters working in London so that fresh eyes and new debates would appear. The site was also meant to be a place where collaboration could occur and others might feel free to engage with the work and, perhaps, develop their own pages. One of the things I am most confident about is that this student began or furthered the development of their proposed research project by trolling my website for ideas and direction as well as data--data that they are now apparently claiming for their own. As a result, most of my previous plans for the site will change and the site has been edited down so as to prevent further uncredited/cited liftings. I will, of course, continue to present findings on specific aspects of particular pictures. None of these findings are themselves enough to publish, but I know that there are many visitors who truly enjoy them and I enjoy sharing the work. As the work is posted to the site via .pdf, with copyright notices attached, I also feel comfortable that those who do use the material will credit me for my efforts. I will also continue to share various entries for the Eworth catalogue. A catalogue raisonne for Hans Eworth is extremely unlikely to be published in print, but I see no reason why this website could not function as a digital version of such a volume and again, citing it as a source will be less problematic and much easier to trace back. But for much of the rest, things will change. The plan to present a database of details about Netherlandish painters in London on this site, for example, has been put on hold. From this point forward articles on specific topics related to my research will only be presented after they have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Details of the lives or works of specific painters will first be published and then, only then, discussed here. I will no longer be nearly as open with my work as I have in the past.
I am sure that there will be readers and fellow scholars who will describe my response as naive. After all, some will probably say, we all must protect our work because academia is like any other field--there are those who have no ethics and who will happily steal, lie, and manipulate for their own ends. And perhaps it is true. Indeed, I was naive. In the whole of my academic career I have never had another scholar steal my research or ideas. I will admit that it was not something that had ever occured to me. In fact, the last possible thing I expected out my interactions with this student was that they would not only attempt to steal my project, research, and ideas but also slander me in the process. There was a point, however, when I should have walked away and it was much earlier in the exchange than I care to admit. It was at that moment that I ignored my instincts and in all of this, it is that failure that I see as entirely my fault. I should have stepped back and away much sooner than I did and that is, more than anything, a lesson learned.
I know that many visitors have wondered why it has been so long since the website has had an update and I hope that this, in part, explains the delay. Of course, my academic research has always taken priority and that was part of it. I have a lot on my plate, both academically and personally, and the site often had to take a backseat to other ventures. Still, a full update was planned for January of this year but was put on hold until these fairly recent events sorted themselves out. I also hope that visitors will appreciate that this was a difficult decision for me. Collaboration is a core intention of mine and a method I will continue to pursue in working with many of my peers. And I am indeed saddened that site visitors will have even longer delays in material due to the length of time it takes to publish work. I do hope, however, that visitors will exercise patience with me and the site. I believe some wonderful and fantastic work is coming--an article was just submitted for publication and another is nearly completed, a third is being planned and a fourth has been outlined. My dissertation also continues a pace and more news on that front is coming, too.
If you have questions about this blog post or the site in general, please do contact me.
- Hope Walker
4 June, 2012
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