Sunday, October 30, 2011

On my work, part II

Me in the Elbe River while back in Dresden in July 2011
I had the nagging feeling that half-written posts were waiting to be finished and published--and I was correct! This is the companion to my last post (several weeks ago); a retrospective remains to be illustrated, and that will end my "Germany entries," conceived/written while I was still in Europe.

In the first part of this post, I discussed some of the quirks and annoyances about archival and library research. You may have wondered why I want to go through all the trouble! That's easy: I love research, because I love the thrill of the chase. The slightly ADD part of my psyche relishes when a search for one piece of information leads to another and another and then connects back to something else I already knew. This means I often end up opening multiple browser windows while looking stuff up online, as my thinking branches off in one direction after another. Then I have to work backwards to reconstruct the bits of knowledge I was after, like so many parenthetical comments or tangents in a conversation with myself.

Another thing I like about research is finding sources that referenced each other, or at least the same event. I have plenty of sources, too many probably, so that’s not a problem. And I could say many things from each of them. However, when more than one source mentions the same question or controversy, then it feels like that event really happened and isn’t just a fragment from an archive or a figment of my over-active (or desperate) imagination. Now that I am outlining, I am pulling these inter-textual references together into case studies about various concepts, like food for the sick or the pleasures/dangers of home canning.

I always like finding stories, too, especially about patients or other ordinary people. The last project I worked on while in Dresden was seven copy books of letters written by a nutritional chemist working in or just outside Dresden. The copy books included both personal and business letters, so I could learn about both his work and his family life. Because there are so many letters from this person, who hasn't been written about in English yet, I will probably include him in at least two of the six chapters in my dissertation.

As I transition from researching to reviewing to writing, maybe I will introduce you to this character in a future post. There are joys and frustrations about writing, too, and those will probably be subjects of musings (or rants) as well. Finally, as fun and as frustrating as the privilege and duty of research can be, I honestly want to devote a larger portion of my career as a historian to teaching. I am TAing for the History Department for the first time this semester, and now that I am beginning to settle into a rhythm with that new task and identity, I expect to share some of what I learn about myself as a teacher and about history for non-majors. As you can see from the photograph at the head of this post, I've barely gotten my feet wet in the wide river of the historical profession.

1 comment:

  1. These nuggets of personal stories, perspectives, and historical breadcrumbs you're bringing over into English and into today... they're gifts into the future.

    May you never find a cure for polybrowsertabitis! :-B


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