research and daily life


Now I understand why so many people do the short research trips. Several people in my program (not including those working on US history) prefer to travel abroad for short stints, a few months here and there. I’ve never understood this concept (except for people with families); it seemed more expensive and I don’t like living in mid-atlantic town enough to make it my home base during this phase of my program. I needed to be out of there for a year or more for my sanity. I also love traveling and the opportunity to travel was one of the reasons I decided to get into history. But I think I understand the short trip a little bit more: it’s easier to motivate yourself to work hard for a shorter period of time.

I was talking to a friend yesterday who, like me, struggled to motivate herself to go to the archives. She was on a brief return trip to an archive in a state that I consider fairly remote so I reminded her that she probably didn’t want to have to return for a third or fourth time.

The conversation reminded me how I felt in April and early May when I was in Global South Country. I had no time for all this indecisiveness because I was crucially aware just how precious each research day was. I also knew that I didn’t want to have to keep returning to that particular country. Yes, I’ll need to go again next year and if I continue in academia, I’ll return when writing the book, but it’s not the kind of place I wanted to keep running to for missed citations or missed documents. So I went to the archives every single day and got tons of work done.

My move to London has none of those built-in motivational tools. I’m here until November, a period of time that seems much longer than it actually is. Each day is not so precious. I also love London, so coming back for short trips seems ideal (aside from the jet lag). I’m not as wracked with guilt over wasted time.

So the short trip makes sense; its shortness is the best motivational tool. But I’m still not a convert. I realized pushing through the doubt and insecurity and forcing myself to do something I need to do even when I don’t feel like it is in fact part of the process of becoming a professional historian. How else will I figure out how to make research and writing part of my daily routine instead of something that happens infrequently or something that’s a special occurrence? I can’t make research part of my daily life if it’s relegated to one month here and there.


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