Okay, I suppose that yesterday´s post requires a bit more elaboration.
I´ve decided there are two ways** to embark on a new project. The first is to cast about in the documents until a pattern emerges, and then write about that pattern. This is what I did with my dissertation-cum-book: I had a vague idea of a topic I wanted to study, and decided more or less arbitrarily*** on a collection of documents that would be "mine." I dove into these documents, gathering up everything that was vaguely related to my topic, then began arranging them into various patterns until I had a dissertation. Then when I wrote the book, I went back and rearranged those same things. This meant that both times, I ended up tossing out a lot of material that I had collected (Anybody want to buy a discursive footnote or two?) because it didn´t fit my chosen pattern. In other words, I cast a broad net, which meant that I caught a lot of fish I didn´t need.
The second way seems to be to have something very specific in mind. In the case of Shiny New Project, I have one "core" document that I find really interesting, from which I have drawn a list of about two dozen people I need to find in the archives. So the net isn´t as broad. this time, I know exactly which (fairly obscure) fish I´m angling for.
The problem is, the ocean is just as big.
**Likely more, or more variations on these two themes, but these are the two that I´ve encountered so far.
***Okay, so what I actually did was to start where the microfilm stopped. I hate working with microfilm.