Here's the backstory: just before I finished grad school, I published an article on a fairly sexy topic that I had stumbled across while researching my dissertation. Oddly enough, no one had really worked on it before, at least not that I had seen. It was exciting: I had a pre-Ph.D. publication in a fairly high-profile journal, and a second topic ready to go once I had turned the diss into a book. I put it in my job application letter in that "next project" paragraph, and figured that I had staked out my territory.
Funny thing about staking out your territory: it only works for so long. In the five years subsequent to the publication of that article, at least two other people begain work on the topic. Both are now much further into the topic than I am. Sure, I had a plan for which archives to visit and what questions to ask, but after a conversation I had today with a senior scholar in my field who knows the state of both of these people's research, it seems that I've once again got to shelve the project, wait for one or both of these projects to be published (another four years or so?), and then see if there's room for me to get back into it.
I'm not feeling bushwhacked or anything. I let the topic go cold, and it's little wonder that others got interested in it. But now I find myself needing to think about what to do next. I've written my sabbatical application and a couple other things as if I were going to take this project on, because my other possibilities are too early in development for me to speak or write intelligently about them at this point. But today I had to face facts that the thing that has always been in the back of my mind as the "next project" won't be, after all.
So, it seems like Shiny New Project may be the way to go. There are complications with this one, but more on that in a later post.