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.


Belle said...

Wow, this is an eye-opener. I spent years in my archives. Yes, I did other things (earning a living, for instance) but every spare minute was in the archives. Day after day after day when I could. I guess I did it differently... which is one of those 'duh' moments. I always do things the hard way.

clio's disciple said...

I also did the bulk of my research in a 3-month trip. I had classmates who seemed to be off researching for years, and I couldn't quite figure out what they were doing. I do think having a short period of time forced me to work efficiently.

Historiann said...

Notorious--there's really no clear answer. It all depends on how many of your sources are published or available digitally, how much archival material is available period, etc. I tend to think that more, shorter trips with time in-between for writing and presenting your project in progress are better than one long trip, because it's in the time you're OUT of the archives that you discover what you need to look for once you're back IN the archives. And no one, not even very senior scholars, can anticipate what they'll need to re-check or search for later. (Unless they're very dull and uncreative senior scholars, that is, and I know that's not you!)

Anyway, I'm envying you intensely right now. I hope that helps to make your time there more enjoyable! I've never been to your research country, but I'm dying to visit someday soon. Soak it all in! And stay open to the mysteries of the archives. . .

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your comments. I do feel like the shorter trips did force me to be more efficient, and like Historiann, I profited from the time away. But I know my language skills would be much better by now if I'd had a full year. Ah, well.

Really, I could have stayed for a full 7 months this time, if I'd wanted to mess with getting a visa -- another advantage of the short stay!

Susan said...

I had a full year, but I had a few small grants, and I got work while I was away. If I recall, I had less than %5000 for 14 months. And I made it work. Not much traveling though. I think Historiann is right about the advantage of separate trips. I had an archive friend who would come for 6 weeks at a stretch, and then really work through her data. So she was much more focused, knew where things were going. I, on the other hand, spent lots of time collecting stuff I didn't use...