John Shinn (1837-1925): Researching Writing Lives

After the success of the Prison Voices module last year, I knew I wanted to continue with the Writing Lives project. I love the unique aspect to this module, it allows you to escape them daunting essays and instead enjoy researching and blogging about a particular author.

At the beginning of the module I was given the choice of many working class autobiographies that I could use to research further. There were hundreds of authors that all had captivating lives, however I stumbled across author John Shinn who instantly intrigued me through his incredible achievement and social mobility. His focus on music seemed a unique theme that was not present in many other autobiographies. After deciding on this author, I clicked on his memoir which at first scared me! Shinn’s handwriting was extremely messy and awkward to read, but due to his fascinating life story, I was determined to transcribe his work.  From that first seminar I began unpicking his memoir that offered great detail into his life and never failed to inspire me. If you would like to read Shinn’s memoir, here is the transcription.

Researching into Shinn was initially difficult as I failed to find much about the author on the internet. However, I soon discovered this was due to his first name actually being George, not John.  After tackling this, I was able to discover various newspaper articles, birth certificates and censuses that provided great depth. I used websites such as ancestry and the British Newspaper Library to conduct my research that was of great value throughout my blogs. Using such sources has developed my research skills that I would not of been able to achieve on any other module. I was able to discover Shinn’s family tree that he never mentions in his memoir. Ancestry was a helpful source that informed me of Shinn’s children which then led me to discover his son was also a famous organist. Finding out certain parts of information about my author gave me such a satisfaction that does not compare to other modules. As the year progressed, I therefore found my researching and writing skills expanding and it felt extremely rewarding to be noticed for my hard work.

The social media aspect of the course is something I particularly enjoyed engaging with throughout the year.  To be able to share my blogs to the world and attract many diverse readers is something that feels very rewarding. I have had many people acknowledge my work of transcribing Shinn’s memoir and have even took the time to read his powerful work.  I have interacted with various people on Twitter who were able to help and direct me to interesting information about Shinn that I could not of accessed without using social media. I believe that Shinn would have felt proud to of had his achievements and consistent hard work published to the world.  As well as this,  using Twitter has allowed the Writing Lives project to work together as a team to share each other’s amazing work and raise awareness for such a fantastic website. This module has emphasised the importance of team work and demonstrated the successful outcome that has happened through this. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading other authors and encouraging others to check out their blogs.

The Writing Lives project has given me the opportunity to develop key skills that are vital for any future career which I would not have been able to access if it was not for this module. After blogging for two years, I now feel more confident in my style of writing and believe I have  started to grasp the world of blogging. I have enjoyed sharing my work and creating unique and interesting blogs that are dedicated to such a inspirational man.

Works Cited:

Shinn, John. ‘A Sketch of my Life and Times’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:622.

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