Friday, February 26, 2010

Hope-y Change-y (Academic Version)

unrelated photo

So, the academics in Exotic Research Country are famous for being territorial. I "grew up" (archivally speaking) on stories of archivists who hid documents, professors who sabotaged the students of other professors, ones who refused to let you work in "their" territory. So when I discovered that two people were already working in areas close to the project I had finally settled on, you can imagine my trepidation.

But you know what's nice? Change. Seems that as a new generation of scholars has come up, they have discovered the joys of collaboration – even transatlantic collaboration. This generation seems much happier to share information, discuss ideas, and critique approaches in a helpful way.

Case in point: I wrote to the two main people working near "my" topic (to be fair, it was "theirs" long before it was "mine"). One is in the U.S.; the other is here. And dig this: both of them were excited to have another person working on it, and eager to meet up and talk. Imagine that!

So, I'm going into my weekend, eyeballs sore from staring at documents, but otherwise very happy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Days

illustration: a place where I did my best impersonation
of a person who isn't a complete stress case.

Two (2): apparently the maximum number of work-days I can take off from the archives without feeling guilty. On this, my friend's last visit day, I sent her off to explore a local attraction with instructions to meet up after lunch, so I could get some archive time.

Nevertheless, I did have a good time. But true relaxation seems to be beyond me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Another Photo

Today, I spent 2 hours at Famous Landmark with my friend and my camera.

And yet, my favorite photo for today turned out to be this one:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What I did with my Sunday

1) Hung out and played tourist with a friend who I haven't seen for years
2) Ate excellent food
3) Took pictures**

I liked it so well that I think I'll get up and do it again tomorrow.

**Aided in large part by the loan of friend D.'s 50mm lens, which does some excellent stuff, like above. And now I have another something to spend several hundred dollars on.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rain, and a Few Days of Rest

So, It's Friday night in Exotic Research City. Where am I?

In the archives, of course.

Then again, sitting at a table in a modern room in a renovated gothic bishop's palace next to a window looking out on the cathedral with a medieval manuscript open on the table and the rain coming down outside -- well, that's not such a bad thing, really.

This situation is typical: as mentioned in an earlier post, I tend to do short trips, so I tend not to get to see Exotic Research City much at all. And trust me, it's one of those places that people ooh! and ah! over.

But here's the deal: This time, I'm here for 3 months, and three different individuals have already made plans to visit. The first -- not an academic, but a photographer friend -- is showing up tomorrow night, for four days. I've spent the last couple of days practicing telling myself that it's really, really okay to take a few days off. Really, it is.

So: We'll see how that turns out, shall we?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Problem solved.

Okay, so last night, after several e-mails, a phone call, and four illicit stress-provoked cigarettes, I figured out the solution to my project problem, a way to work this project in a way that I'm sure no one here will do.

This is one of my many character defects, one of the many ways that I am a work in progress: I tend to panic first, and think and solve later. And it's one of the many reasons that I'm grateful for people who put up with me, make soothing noises, and know that it'll blow over in very short order.


Here's a picture of a pigeon:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No. No, no, no.


I just found out today that at least three people (two here and one in the U.S.) have been working on projects related to mine -- the one I finally committed to.

My last "second project" got severely stepped on, and I backed off. But not this time. I'm gonna write to the people in question, politely, and figure out what's going on. But I'm going to stay on this one.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

How long is this research thing going to take?

A good question, and one that I’m contemplating right now. The only way I know how to even begin to answer that is to start with a related question: How long does it take to research a dissertation?

So let’s start from there. I know that a lot of lucky folks get year-long fellowships to pursue dissertation research in foreign archives. Not me, sad to say.** Instead, I had the following:
  • One six-week trip right after my comps, in which I spent a month polishing up my main research language in-country, and then two weeks (after I had gathered my nerve) to poke around in what would be my main research archive, just to get the lay of the land and determine if my project was feasible.
  • One three-month trip the next fall – this was my main research trip, and my longest stay to date: 88 days. [As you may guess, I didn’t get to do a lot of sightseeing.]
  • Two mop-up trips over the next couple of years, three and two weeks long, respectively.
  • And then: presto! Dissertation! (okay, well maybe not quite so simple, but you get it).
After that – quite a bit of time after that, in fact – there were two month-long trips that allowed me to visit other archives and gather documents that I hadn’t gotten before, and these were added to what became my book.

Total archive time logged in pursuit of the dissertation/first book: 25 weeks, spread out over the course of 7 years

So, I’ve found myself idly wondering how much archive time I’d be logging for this book. Maybe less, because I know what I’m doing, and know the collections a bit better? Maybe more, because I’m forging into new archives? Hard to say. But here’s the tally so far:
  • 1-month reconassiance trip
  • 3-month major trip (in progress)
…and counting.

**I was a finalist for that One Big Fellowship that grad students apply for, but missed the final cut.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Starting at the beginning

Yesterday (Thursday) was my first day really diving back into the documents. Hoo boy.

I remember the first time I encountered the actual documents I’d be working with. It was about 10 years ago, on my first reconaissance trip to the archives. After looking at the guides for quite some time, I ordered up a couple of registers. Opened one. Tried to read something – anything – and failed utterly to do so. By the time I opened the third register at random, I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and I remember thinking “That’s it. – I’m going to have to give this whole idea of a Ph.D. up, because I can’t do this.” Fortunately, I stumbled upon an angel in the archives who took time out of his own research for two weeks to help me struggle through the paleography.

I quickly picked up the trick of it, and within a couple of weeks was able to do that scanning thing with fair facility. But there were hundreds of registers, each with hundreds of unindexed folios. If I could get through three 200-folio registers (that’s about 1,200 handwritten 8 1/2-by-11 pages, to those of you who don’t do medieval stuff), it was a good day. If I got three usable documents out of that day’s work, that was a really great day.

But here’s the thing: that shit takes time. And now I sit here at the beginning, a register open at my side, wondering how to approach the work. And kind of quailing at the prospect. Whaaah!!! I know I can do this, because I’ve done it before, when I was much less expert. But boy, howdy, do I wish I had indices for these things.

This document was better than many I've seen...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

First Days

So, after an extended weekend of jetlag, errands, seeing friends, and getting the apartment (sort of) set up, and after a reinforcing morning cup of coffee, I made it back into the archives yesterday.

Now, don’t think that I just dove straight into the documents when I got there. I did not. Of course, the plan had been for last summer to be my suss-out-the-projects, locate what I needed, so I could jump right in. But what I discovered on that trip was that the project I was really excited about was going to take to long to be book #2, and the alternative was something I was unenthusiastic about. So that trip ended up being about gathering info for a project that is on the back burner – definitely simmering, but not going to be the first thing out the door.

So these first few days – this first week, in fact – is all about recon on the project idea that I finally decided on about two weeks before I left. And as far as reconaissance goes, it’s been pretty successful. I’ve been digging around in catalogues in two archives, and finding references to documents that I had missed the last time around.**

And there’s something good about recon, if you have the time: it’s a nice way to ease yourself into a work rhythm. I feel like this will be a successful trip.

**I even found document references to something that I’ve labled “Project Impossible”, because it’s a great idea, but there seem to be only a very few references. This is not even back-burner; it’s just a glimmer.

Monday, February 8, 2010


...and only with one or two minor inconveniences. I landed Friday, spent Saturday stocking the kitchen, Sunday wandering around and eating a lot, and Sunday night/Monday morning with godawful jet lag. Seriously, this was the worst ever -- couldn't get to sleep until 6 a.m. This morning, I got up and staked out a bench outside my apartment to wait for the butane-tank man to come by. Needless to say, I haven't made it to the archives yet, but I'm hopeful that tomorrow will be the day.

I just need some sleep first. there's only so far that caffeine can take you.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Headed Off!

fig. 1: the locals eagerly await my arrival

Ready or not (I'm not), I'm headed for Research City in a couple of hours. I'll be posting from there whenever I can. Pictures when I find a good wifi connection.

Let us now praise sabbaticals!

hugs & kisses,


Monday, February 1, 2010

Something I Just Remembered about Myself

I love having a good, fluffy book -- either absorbing fiction** or popular history not in my field*** -- to read in bed for half an hour. I'd gotten away from this over the last god-knows-how-many years, when I had first netflix, then hulu to distract me. And I honestly believed that the last thing I wanted to do at the end of the day was read another book.

But you know what? I was wrong.

**Read: nothing that will "improve" me. Booker prize winners and "important new voices in literature" can stay away from my bedside table, thank you.

***Current Example: The Professor and the Madman. Linguistic geekery! Murder and mayhem! No footnotes, and no reason I should care!