I love my dissertation.
Now, if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might think I have a funny way of showing it in that I…uh…don’t really show it. But after a series of recent academic events, some truly unfortunate and some truly freeing, I am feeling up for my project again.
No, not just that…
I’m feeling raring. RAWR-ing. Ready to get at it and tear this thing up.
So, moving forward, I will be posting weekend updates on my progress, much like I did for my PhD exams. Not only will this keep me accountable to my project, helping me to complete it in a timely fashion, but hopefully this will be helpful to others working on their dissertations, or thinking about undertaking such a task. I want this to be an open and honest exploration of the process of research, writing, discovery, and setback. An open book.
Here’s what I’ll be writing about:
Research Organization: Over the past summers, I’ve been privileged to undertake research in London and Surrey. I took these trips with the utmost of seriousness, and collected over 40,000 research images of everything from asylum minutes, to case books, to annual reports, to newspapers. Now…I need to organize this research. I will be experimenting with organizational systems and posting about my success with each of them. Do I want these images organized by chapter? By location? By archival box number? Some combination of the three? We’ll see. I’m really not sure. But what I do know, is, I’ve got to complete this stage of the process sooner rather than later so that I undertake my final research trip (summer 2015) in the best possible shape with a great system supporting me.
Research Annotation: Ah, right, you can’t just organize your research…you also have to read it and understand it. Therefore, as I’m organizing, I’ve also set aside two blocks of time each week to carefully scour what I’m throwing into folders and files. To jump start this process and provide some motivation, I’ve submitted an abstract to a research conference in April. The paper for the conference? Not yet written. And therefore, I will have to spend time with Annual Reports if I don’t want to make a fool of myself. Scary? A bit. Necessary? Absolutely. I know from experience that deadlines lead me to produce good, solid work.
Show and Tell: This is pretty self-explanatory. In the process of organizing and annotating, I’m bound to stumble across wicked awesome stuff that I just can’t keep to myself. Expect those discoveries to include topics such as asylum life, asylum functioning, Victorian medicine and treatment, patient lives, infighting among boards of governors and commissioners, and philanthropy. And, of course, expect those discoveries to include lots and lots of history. History of Britain, medicine, masculinity, science, technology, psychology, parliament, and so on.
Historiography: Related to the above, expect posts on how historians talk about history. I’ve set aside an afternoon each week to stay up to date on new history, to rehash older histories, and to see how the two work together. So expect me to occasionally wax on about how historians talk to each other…or fight with each other, as it were.
Theory: My dissertation is not just historical, it is also quite theoretical. Posts on theory might pertain to my dissertation, to attitudes within the profession in regards to theory, to the nature of theory itself, to the sorts of theory that are useful to particular areas of study, and so on.
Experiments: I’ll be damned before I submit a boring dissertation. So, these posts will consider the sorts of experimental tactics I’m considering for my project. Novelization? Choose your own adventure paths through the project? A dissertation in the form of a blog? Who the hell knows! But I’m excited to have the freedom to think about such things. Finally.
Teaching: Dissertations do not happen in a vacuum. I’m going to be teaching an STS seminar next semester which will undoubtedly inspire me to greater thoughts and ponderings. I’m not going to shy away from posting when my students inspire me to think about things in a new way. I 100% recognize that I won’t be the sole author of my project, simply because humans are relational. So look for posts that consider how I’m being helped along the way by budding academics, as well as by experts/advisors.
Life: This isn’t going to be a tell-all or an autobiographical snapshot. But I will likely end up posting about things that I find make one week easy or another, difficult. Expect posts where I reflect on health and wellness, social vs. academic life, inspiration and uplift, failure, and success.
Enthusiasm: By god, I’m going to enjoy this. Neil Gaiman writes in Make Good Art that when he was a young novelist, Steven King approached him and said, “this is good. You should enjoy it.” Gaiman was too bewildered by the pressures of writing, by the encompassing all-ness of his craft, to take it to heart. It was only in retrospect that he looked back and went, shit…I should have enjoyed that.
Now, I don’t expect to be able to immediately do what Gaiman couldn’t, or, by implication, what Steven-freaking-King wishes he himself would have done. But I am absolutely going to give it my all–heart on my sleeve. I’m going to take joy in my work. I’m going to get productively frustrated. I’m going to stay up until three in the morning hot on the trail of an idea so sweet it won’t let me sleep.
And, yes, I’ll do other less romantic things, too, like throw books, or spend four days banging my head against a sentence, or get rejected from conferences or conversations.
But I’m ready now, for all of it.
Here I go…
Hope you learn something along with me. And feel free to ask questions if you feel like you want to learn more.