day 1


I see today as the first day of my dissertation research here. I’ve taken a week off, in which I did little other than sit around, think, get settled, etc. I’m still paralyzed and overwhelmed about the project, about whether I should be doing this, about whether I can finish my degree but I feel like I can take baby steps now and somehow force myself to get back into action.

So this week, the goal is to go to the archives every day for four hours. From the time I enter the archives, I’ll stay there for four hours (including a reasonable lunch break) and I’ll leave.

Each day I’ll remind myself of one reason why I like my dissertation or one question I’m really interested in because I’ve lost a sense of why I’m doing this particular project in the personal and professional chaos of the past several weeks.

Hopefully I’ll get back into a rhythm and the summer will be productive. It needs to be because I had hoped to start writing a chapter in August and because I’m supposed to be setting up a meeting here in London with my advisor sometime this summer. Given how she and I are not on the same page, I’m not going to meet with her unless I have something to show her, whether it be written work or a detailed outline or something other than what I have now.

Funny enough, supergradstudent wrote a post this morning about archival work and how unique the process can be, depending on your individual work style and the regulations of each archive. It’s good food for thought. Her point about the individual regulations of archives is so crucial: I’ve never been in an archive that allowed scanners and this spring I spent a month and a half in an archive that charged about $0.70 for each picture I took with a digital camera. (Luckily, I’d asked about fees months before I arrived, so I had time to apply for additional funds.) But beyond things out of researchers’ control, how you work the archives depends on you and what you’re comfortable with. My first experience with archives four years ago taught me that I really hated coming back with boxes and boxes of printed documents. It was simply too daunting to have done all that work just to have to redo it in the bustle of the school year. Since then I’ve tried to avoid relying on the photocopy approach, preferring instead to take notes on my laptop. It’s a slower method but at least I have some sense of what’s in the documents and I generally have a sense of where to look for things. Transcribing the documents also allows me to search the text later. My last research trip demanded that I use my digital camera heavily, despite the fee, since the alternative would be to spend several months, maybe even a year trying to get the documents I needed. I’m still uncomfortable with this method, even though it’s quicker, because I don’t really know what I have, even though I was careful to take detailed notes. It’s a process of trial and error but I don’t really have a lot of time for error.


One Response to “day 1”

  1. You are so right about the trial and error approach. You’ll work things out eventually.

    Don’t get discouraged about stuff! Think about it this way: you get to be in a beautiful city with a vibrant culture and lots of neat things to explore, so embrace it! I so wish I could go back to England (I studied in Oxford for a year). Instead I get stuck researching in po-dunk towns where the main entertainment is taking a trip to Wal-Mart.

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