Monday, June 29, 2009

A Phrase I´m Getting Tired of Hearing

"Those records all got burned up in the civil war/war with X/when the anarchists came through."

At this rate, I´m lucky to be finding as much as I am. But I have only one more day, so it´s winding down, at least for now. More updates (with photos) when I´m back home in July.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Afternoon off

With less than one week to go in the archives, and everything closed for the weekend, I´m starting to feel pressured. But today, I´m taking the afternoon off. Notorious is a year older today, and is celebrating by going to lunch and a hamam with one friend, and dinner with another.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tales from the economic crisis: Academe edition

Well, it seems that Urban University may be headed towards furloughs for TT faculty. And they tell us it´s not a pay cut, but two unpaid days a month (where we´re not supposed to work -- yeah, right) comes out to 6% of our work days, which means that my tenure raise is effectively wiped out before I ever see it.

Add to this the suggestion from our dean that the course releases that allowed us to teach 3-3 rather than 4-4 may be going away (but with no decrease in research expectations), and you can see why I´m cranky.

Frankly, I´m getting discouraged. As someone (I forget who) recently said: "When someone is praising you for doing more with less, they´re usually about to ask you to do everything with nothing."

What about the rest of you? How have you been hit at your universities? Anyone come up with any creative solutions to make things better? Or, if not that, then any small acts of rebellion to make you feel better?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Going Fishing (A Tale of Two Research Methods)

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.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Well, I´ll be darned

Turns out that researching a new book is hard.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Suspect Development

Here in Exotic Research City, there is an important archive. In this important archive, there is a Very Grouchy Archivist.

I´m sure many of you have encountered the VGA before. He or she seems to delight in snarling, denying you documents, and generally refusing to be helpful. If you get something wrong, she or he barks at you. VGA here has yelled at me before -- I mean really, really yelled -- for a rather minor infraction (followed him into his office when I was supposed to wait outside). Otherwise, he has mostly ignored me. I´ve been told that he dislikes both women and Americans,** as groups. Fortunately, other personnel here have been generally helpful.

Yet, for the past three days, VGA has been positively friendly towards me. Helpful, accomodating, all that. And it wasn´t that he was having a good week, because I heard him out in the hallway on Thursday, yelling at someone for 3 full minutes. But to me he´s been nothing but kind lately. For example, when I made a petition to see one of the normally inaccessable documents, he came upstairs after it was delivered to him, and when he saw it was me, he said "Oh, it´s you who requested this" -- but he said it in a good way. He even smiled at me once.

I am officially suspicious of this behavior.

**Although I´ve been told that he despises French researchers even more than American ones.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Baby Steps Towards a Second Book

First of all: My apologies for not being a good blog-visitor lately. I´ve got very limited internet time in poor facilities, so I´m keeping it to a minimum. But I promise to catch up with all those back posts when I return.

In the few weeks before I left for the city I´m in now, amazing neighbor and I were sharing mild panic about our upcoming research trips (she´s also in her own fabulous research destination right now). I proposed an idea: that we hold panic at bay by telling ourselves that these were reconaissance trips, and that the real research trip would come next spring, at sabbatical time. This has kept me calm so far.

But I´m happy to report that I am making tiny steps towards getting the lay of the land on Shiny New Project, and figuring out where the bodies may be buried (metaphorically speaking, of course). Today I visited an archive where I´ve never been before, and tomorrow I return to get an idea of how the materials look, and what sort of time commitment I need to plan for. Next week I´ll be working in another new-to-me archive where I have high hopes of finding some stuff. I´m collecting references to useful books that I didn´t even know existed. And I even have a lead or two on some other options for cover art for the first book.

The problem is, I don´t think I´ll be finding tons of documentation on these people in particular. There are two dozen of them, mostly merchants and artisans, so no one well-known, and from a poorly documented period. But I think that the early progress may still bode well. Cautiously optimistic.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

It´s local! It´scholarly! It´s fun! (or: a good way to spend a Sunday)

I´ve been coming to Exotic Research City for a little over ten years now. I think this is my sixth trip. I´ve seen the major tourist sites, been to a few of the dozens of museums large (giant art museum) and small (the museum of shoes, about half the size of my 1 BR apartment). I´ve gone on long rambles in the old medieval city.

But for some reason, I´ve never made it to the book market.

This is a city that is absolutely chock full of bookstores. None of them (so far) seem to be of the Borders/B&N variety -- almost all specialize in something or other. And they´re great. But every Sunday morning, one of the giant city markets is given over to booksellers, new and used, who set up in stalls for about six hours. I kept hearing about it, and it kept getting put on the "I ought to do that someday" list. Well, apparently today´s the day, because last week I discovered (in the medieval institute library) an out-of-print reference work that happens to be owned by a used bookseller who, though he is 20 miles to the south, comes in with a selection every week. So I´m gonna check it out. It´s heavy & expensive, and I may only be able to get the one volume I really need, rather than the three I want, but I´ll just have to see.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Taking Pictures (a post without pictures)

So, one of the things I do when not digging through old documents is: I take pictures. I have, so far, had one person close to me who had non-complementary things to say about my aesthetic, but most people like what I do, as do I. It helps to keep me calm and creative, and it´s nice to do something where the end product doesn´t take months or years.

In fact, one frequent commenter here told me that she was expecting to see lots of pictures from my trip. So yesterday, computer restored, I headed out in the early evening to capture bits and pieces of Exotic Research City with my camera. Got some pretty good ones, too. Unfortunately, it´s going to be a while before they get posted, because my pictures are all in my laptop (Did I mention that it´s fully functioning? I guess I probably did), and my internet access is limited to public terminals.

But this is just to let those of you who like the pictures that show up from time to time know that illustrated posts will be forthcoming as soon as I possibly can manage it. And -- not for nothing -- that I´m actually managing to carve out a little time for fun while I´m here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Glory Hallelujah (third in a series of three tech crisis posts)

The power source/AC adapter is indeed fried.

The motherboard and hard drive are not.

I have a new adapter. All is well. Now, if you´ll excuse me, I´m going home to watch an espisode of Lost on my fully functional computer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Update on the Computer Meltdown

First order of business: the recent passing of my laptop means that I can´t check my e-mail on any of my dot-mac aliases, including the NotoriousPhD one. So if you need to contact me, you should do so via my work e-mail (which you can get by looking me up at my employer´s website, and if you don´t know who I am, then sit tight and be confident that I will be reading your e-mail as soon as I´m home).

Second: Thanks for the sympathy on the last post. No need to pick up a laptop for research. I´ll just do it with pen and paper like I did that time three years ago when I was in the same city and my computer got stolen (yes, I do seem to have some bad luck here).

The problem is not the box -- I was planning on getting a new one next month anyway. The problem is the data that´s on it. Unless I can find someone to fix it (and I am checking into this, by the way) and/or do data recovery, I´m stuck like this for the next month. I miss my data. And I miss having a little music in the morning and at night. ::sigh::

I´ve already e-mailed FabEd´s assistant to ask her to send me copies of the readers´reports, because there were two documents I was supposed to check on. And I hope to whatever gods there are that none of the files got corrupted in the backup process. But other than that, there´s little I can do, other than to more forward.

So... wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In which Yours Truly is well and truly screwed

Yes, I made it to exotic research city.

Yes, I made it to my apartment fine.

Yes, I am jet-lagged.

But most importantly, my first act upon arriving in the apartment was to take the computer out of the laptop to plug it in and charge the battery... and promptly fry the hard drive.

No file access. No secondary e-mail account. No Lost videos.

No computer. For a month. Research on a legal pad.

Thank god I backed up my files (including my book MS!) before I left. Thank god I printed out the information most critical to my research trip.

But damn. This sucks.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I blame Clio Bluestocking

So, about a week ago, Clio posts this, which, like many of Clio's recent posts, references the TV series Lost, which she has just started Netflixing, and to which she has become addicted. But this post was different, in that it came right when I had turned in my grading and had a week or so devoted just to cleaning, packing for my trip. So I went to my standby free-TV interwebs thingy, and started watching.

Seven back-to-back episodes later, I realized that it was 2:30 in the morning, and I had to be on campus at 8:15 for commencement the next day.

Aaannyway... I've now gone and watched all of season one, and halfway through season two, and downloaded other episodes for the trip.

Now, you might not think that watching a show about an entire airliner that goes down over the Pacific, lands on a not-so-deserted islands with unfriendly natives and at least one monster and weird electromagnetic stuff and no way of getting home might not be the best choice for someone about to embark on a transatlantic flight. But I'm totally cool with it. Really.

Until this morning, the day of my departure, when I woke up to the news that an entire Air France passenger jet had disappeared -- due to some sort of electrical storm -- over the Atlantic.

So, if I end up disappearing, some of you all better come looking for me. And I've named Clio Bluestocking as proxy for my book MS.