Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The "Work of a Historian" and The Final Chapter

Off and on since the end of July, I've been working on the last chapter of my dissertation. Chronologically it's the first chapter of the diss, and its main purpose is to survey the kinds of texts that were concerned with my specific topic prior to the period that I focus on. Early on, I considered this my "easy" chapter because, you know, how hard could it be summarize this material? All I had to do was read it, present it in a logical, coherent, and somewhat interesting manner, and viola...a full draft version of my dissertation! Yeah, not so much how that works.

It wasn't the job market stuff the slowed me down. It wasn't the fact that I was organizing a symposium. It had nothing to do with being pregnant, and teaching didn't take up any more time than it usually does. No, the *chapter* slowed itself down! For the past couple of weeks, I've been feeling like my husband, a PhD candidate in history who researched for two years before drafting a chapter! Some of the primary texts I had to go through were 100-200 pages, and I did my best to read them thoroughly, taking notes all the while, and this was just a sampling from about 1600-1725. Out of the hundreds of texts that were published and deal directly with my topic, I'm discussing 24-30 of them in this chapter. After more than two months of work, however, I had a mere 5 pages of writing, an outline, and tons of notes.

Time to see the advisor.

Fortunately, she put everything in perspective by explaining that I was no longer doing the work of a literary critic, but rather "the work of a historian." Uh...okay. I guess that does make sense. But, I'm not a historian, so I was a bit unprepared for this *kind* of work, and I think this is why I was taken aback. She said I'm doing everything right by being thorough, taking notes, pulling only the most interesting examples of texts, etc., and all this made me feel warm and fuzzy (a rare feeling to get from my advisor).

I guess the thing I'm still not sure about is how I feel about doing this kind of work. Technically, it is literary history. On one hand, I love finding some of this stuff because it's just hilarious! The titles are a hoot, the ballads are ridiculous, and what these texts "say" about my topic hasn't really been touched by anyone in the field. On the other hand, this kind of work can feel tedious, unproductive, and down right boring at times. I'm thinking that's just part of the job, and one eventually gets used to it.

Anyway, the meeting helped me feel better because it helped me understand why this kind of chapter inherently takes longer than those that function primarily as literary criticism. I don't feel like a dissertation loser anymore, and I actually have lots of notes to use as a frame for the draft. Looking at the holiday schedule, the dates we'll be travelling, MLA time, etc., I have 17 solid working days in which to finish this chapter. I have 7 pages drafts, and I anticipate the chapter being around 35-45 pages. For now, I'll be happy with 30-something.

The goal: to write 2 pages per work day and submit the draft - come hell or high water - on December 22nd. This is feasible, yes? Only if I stop blogging and get to work :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Random Bits of Goodness

I've been waiting for the moment when the job market makes me crazy, yet it still hasn't come. There are several reasons why this is: the MLA trip is paid for with award funds; I don't truly expect to get any interviews this year; and I'm plenty busy with my final dissertation chapter. I haven't gotten any rejection letters, but I know a couple of the schools I've applied to have already sent out requests for writing samples or interviews (and I did not receive one). This week, however, a job opened up in my field at one of my university's satellite schools. I applied for the job and did some poking around, only to find that the department/search committee chair is a graduate of my university *and* my current department head knows hir. So, I trot my happy self into the department chair's office and let him know I applied for the job, and he explains that our satellite schools are traditionally quite happy to hire our grads and, even better, our grads usually are pretty happy with the jobs they take at our satellite schools. Anywho, he was more than happy to offer to pass along a e-mail of recommendation on my behalf to the dept/search chair and indicated that they'd be "really happy" to see my application. Yes, a random bit of goodness today :)

I'm still hoping for the best but completely prepared for nothing to come from this year's search. I've done everything I can do at this point, and my focus is on finishing the dissertation, the final chapter of which will be the topic of my next post.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


- My colleague and I successfully hosted our very first all-day symposium, which centered around our time period/specialization. The keynote speakers were amazing, and everyone who participated (and some that weren't able to make it) were singing our praises. I think I got quite a bit out of the experience, especially in terms of contacts in the field, but I'm not itching to do it again anytime soon.

- I've discovered I do not have the endurance for the whole job market thing. I applied to about 15 or 16 jobs, and I had 3 left that required a writing sample up front. I revised and revised, and I have only minor revisions left, but I decided I'm not investing the time to finish them, at least not right now. I started resenting each minute I spent on the writing sample, because it was time not spent on my last dissertation chapter (which I'd hoped to have done by the end of October!) The three jobs that required the writing sample in the application packet were long shots anyway, and one of them was for a position in Canada. The ad for it explicitly said they'd give preference to Canucks, so I don't feel like I'm missing any opportunities here. I just sorta got to the end of my job list and felt done. That's the best way I can describe it. The process, thus far at least, hasn't made me crazy, and I still don't expect anything to come of it. My decision is simply that I'm not finishing the revisions on the writing sample unless somebody actually requests it.

- The whole family was stricken with a nasty stomach bug this week. Eliza had it on Monday, Hannah and I had it yesterday, and Hubby got it today. All of this has made for little work getting done on the diss this week, but at least it's on the top of my workpile again!

- I finally told my advisor I'm pregnant. It wasn't a big deal to anyone but me, I'm sure, but I'd been dreading that conversation because of my own irrational fears. I was afraid that she'd be disappointed in me, think I wasn't "serious" about my scholarship, think I was plain crazy, or think I was a failure. As it turns out, she thought none of these. Indeed, she laughed out loud! Not at me, mind you, but laughing in the sense of disbelief that I'd add another thing to my plate. She actually had lots of very nice things to say, and the conversation went better than I could have imagined.

- In addition to braces, it looks like Hannah will need glasses too! I think I'll need to have a long talk with Santa Claus this year.

- Eliza has started referring to herself in the third person and by full name, as in: "Eliza Grace ______ is eating raisins." Good to know, Your Highness!


- I've started having Braxton-Hicks contractions at 15 weeks pregnancy...WTF? I've never had them this early before, but apparently it's not uncommon for women who've already had more than one pregnancy. I've also put on a few pounds now...this does not make me happy, but I keep reminding myself this is my third child.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Comic Relief

Hat tip to Professing Mama for posting this. As she rightly put it, a "macabre" but hopeful bit of comic relief for those of us who'll be checking poll numbers every 15 minutes throughout the day.