on a related note…

08Sep10

So one of the issues driving what I wrote in my last post is the question of controlling our professional identities, our scholarly affiliations. For various reasons, people do not label me in the same way I label myself professionally. Part of this has to do with the fact that my interests shifted towards the end of college, meaning that I spent more time in college on a different subject than where my interests now lie. However, my senior thesis was written on my current interests so every major piece of work I’ve done has been on the same place(s) and roughly the same time period. Another reason this has happened is because one of the regions I study (my secondary affiliation, if you will) is not represented at my graduate institution. There were supposed to be several faculty members who worked in this area; by the time I actually started my graduate program, every single one of them vanished. Third, my advisor doesn’t work on my time period but instead is an expert on a previous time period (although certainly incredibly capable in my own time period). This has had two effects: first, I haven’t been trained specifically in my time period because said advisor didn’t bother to offer courses in that time period until well after I had finished coursework. But more importantly, I think there is an expectation that I have been trained in my advisor’s period of expertise (which to a small extent is true) or worse that that time period is my time period, even though my project clearly shows otherwise as do my exam fields.

And finally, because I had to take classes in something, even if they had nothing to do with anything I worked on, I ended up taking courses that dabbled in that methodology that I loathe. But here again, the methodology I’m employing in my actual work goes against the practices of historians who use that other methodology. I ask different questions and do a different kind of work and I’m fine with that. (To be clear, it’s not that I think this other methodology is bad per se. I just have no interest in it nor are the questions it asks ones that I’m excited by.) Moreover, and here’s where I’m really befuddled, this methodology has a specific chronology that its historians have gone to great pains to explain and justify, a chronology that ends almost 50 years before my work even begins. Almost to a man, the historians who work in this field have written extensively (and defensively) about why this field ends when it does. They’re serious about this. Now I think there’s a very valid argument to extend that chronology; in fact, I think to a large extent that the endpoint of this chronology is arbitrary and dumb. I think the approaches this field employs and the questions it asks remain valid after their announced cutoff date. But that’s not really my battle to fight because I don’t use those approaches or questions.

Now this field and I could exist peacefully together if it were clear to everybody that I am not this kind of historian. But it’s become increasingly evident that what appears to me to be obvious is anything but. People somehow manage to read the title of my dissertation (which has at least one key word that eliminates me from this field) or even read brief abstracts of my work or even hear me say what kind of historian I am and yet still say that I work in this other field. (Even worse today I was told that I both work in this other field and in the time period of my advisor; it’s completely beyond me how this is possible.)

This worries me. It worries me of course because I just don’t do this kind of history. But it worries me more because what I see as my primary affiliation (and I feel this very strongly) doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s radar. Now I recognize that my transcript doesn’t suggest that I work in my field. I also recognize that I’m poorly read in my field. I recognize that I haven’t really worked with anyone in my field. But there’s not much I can do about that. I was accepted to a program having announced that I was planning to work in this field. I was naive enough to assume that people would make sure that that happened and I was too young, inexperienced, and clueless as to what academia actually was to realize that I wasn’t getting what I needed to get and that I was never going to get it. (I know this sounds incredible but I always grew up thinking that you made the best of a situation and so I did that, with no guidance, and it didn’t work out so well.) By the time I realized both that nobody cared if I got trained and that I hadn’t been trained, it was way too late and the only people I could turn to, my friends, didn’t believe my sense that something had gone horrendously wrong. (I’m notoriously hard on myself so they assumed I was overreacting.) But despite all of that, this is the only field I want to be working in and I want to be seen as somebody who works in this field. I just have no idea how to do it in a hurry. I’m stuck with the dissertation I have, which, apparently, people don’t see as a project that can be done in my field. (And let me just say: it’s incredibly disturbing to me to realize that people make assumptions about what a person does based on something other than what that person’s work is about.) I’m stuck with the training and the advisor I’ve had and the institution I’ve been at. But I need to gain control of this situation fast. I should be the one who decides what I do, not everybody else.

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One Response to “on a related note…”

  1. You are the man ! good bye


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