How the RCHS can help

RCHS Journal:  The Journal, which is published three times a year, contains a variety of well-researched and referenced articles, authoritative book reviews and letters & comments.

RCHS Bibliographies:The society publishes an annual bibliography of books, theses and periodical articles.

Railway History Research Group and Waterways History Research Group:  These Special Interest Groups are designed to help members conduct research by linking members who are active researchers (or otherwise very knowledgeable).  They mainly work as moderated internet groups, but copies of the transactions are printed & circulated regularly to give a permanent record.  The principal content comprises members’ queries and responses, and the publication of occasional papers — these may be brief items written specifically for the Group, republication of members’ articles which have appeared elsewhere, or drafts of articles submitted for Group members’ comments.

Other Special Interest Groups publish short articles and other information about their particular subject areas.  The Railway Chronology SIG has published much on the dates of opening, renaming, relocating, closing etc of stations.  The Modern Transport SIG has published detailed chronologies of events since 1948.

Workshops:  The Society holds occasional workshops to give advice to researchers or to give them the opportunity to present work-in-progress for comment.  These are sometimes held jointly with other organisations.

Research Advice:  We have recently complied a register of topics of our members’ expertise and their willingness to support others, including non-members. The vast majority are (or have been) active in research in the topics listed in the register and all are willing to answer queries, comment on draft papers and/or give talks to other societies. The register, which will be updated periodically, may be accessed through the link: RCHS Register of Members’ Expertise (July2017). Please contact Peter Brown, the society’s secretary, for further information: secretary@rchs.org.uk

Research grants:  The Society gives grants of up to £500 to help defray the cost of of original research being undertaken which is intended to lead to publication.  Our RCHS Research Grants document gives further details.

Publication

Research is not complete until it is published.  The act of putting one’s thoughts into writing is a good discipline.  When you give a talk, you can usually get away with some vagueness on points of detail, but when you write you are forced to be accurate; it can also reveal gaps in your knowledge.

Publishing your findings and conclusions invites others to read them, to comment and perhaps to challenge.  In this way knowledge increases.  It is a basic principle of ‘the scientific method’, and is equally applicable to history.  It can also stimulate others to build on your work, and so extend knowledge further.

Publication — seeing one’s name in print — can be deeply satisfying.  Even more satisfying is seeing your book or article cited by someone else in their writings, giving a public seal of approval to what you have done.

When to publish can be a difficult decision.  As Charles Hadfield once wrote, ‘A time will come when you reckon you had better publish.  I will not say when you reckon the job is done, for that time never comes.’

In the Society we know of numerous instances of members doing decades of thorough research for a book but dying before they felt they had done enough to go into print.  Often the fruits of their labours are thrown away by their heirs; sometimes their notes are offered to the Society but rarely can anyone be found to complete the work.

One solution to this conundrum is not to save up everything for the definitive book on your subject, but instead to write articles for transport history societies (including the RCHS, of course), for your local railway/canal society, or for your local history or civic society.

Writing

The basic rule is: ‘Remember the reader’.  This determines the amount of background knowledge that can be assumed, the amount of jargon and understanding of abbreviations that would be understood, and even (to some extent) the level of language to be used.

The requirements vary depending on the intended audience.    At one extreme is the degree thesis or academic journal, both of which have special requirements.  If you are writing for the RCHS Journal or transport magazines, that is, for people interested in transport history, you can assume good background knowledge but not that they are specifically interested in your particular topic.  Or you may be writing for wider audience, where you must not assume they know the basics.

A series of articles about writing for publication appeared in the Society’s 5oth Anniversary Journal:

Each of these gives advice on the craft of writing.  The respected railway author, Michael Robbins, summarised it when he wrote, ‘The kind of history I want is accurate, comprehensive, and readable.  That’s all.’

Always get somebody, preferably several people, to read your draft before you submit it.  They may notice gaps in your argument, ambiguities, lack of clarity, grammatical errors — possibly even questionable statements.

Particularly problematic issues are copyright and reproduction rights.  These are addressed in the attached article: An introduction to photographic copyright.