Sunday, February 22, 2009

PhD Reflections #7

Entry #1, January 26 through February 9

Spring semester seems easier at Maryland with that delicious long break of over a month. I find that I have a million ambitions for the break – not all of which are realized, but so much work gets done that I am eager to return to classes and dive in. One thing I learned during the last part of the fall semester and the winter break is that I am deeply in love with archival research and want to organize my schedule in such away that I have time to do more of it. I am looking at some sources at the Lesbian Herstory Archive and will be able to be in New York a few times this semester to pursue that research. In addition, I found a fascinating day-long conference at Columbia University called “Archiving Women” that I attended on Friday, January 30. This was one of those day-long symposia with a variety of speakers, all of whom were senior scholars and interesting and stimulating in their presentations of their work and their thinking about the archive. It was an incredible day and time well-spent, even though it was a long train ride home after an exhausting day. This conference is one of the activities that confirmed for me my commitment to spending more time in and thinking about archives.
The other unique opportunity that I had this week was to attend the lecture of Marilyn Lake, a historian from Australia, and to spend an hour talking with her about my research into Helen Caldicott’s life and activism. She was a tremendous resource with great ideas and recommendations for additional sources and ways of thinking about Helen’s work. Lake’s most recent book looks at how ideas about race circulated not only within countries but also between countries during the years 1890 through 1940. From attending Lake’s lectures on campus and talking with her, I have been challenged to think about how transnational history can be a part of my work. Lake was very useful in thinking about ways that my research – both in relationship to Helen Caldicott but also in lesbian print cultures – had a transnational historical element to it. This has been a new and challenging way to think about it.
A new direction for my thinking comes in reflecting on the way that proximity affects people’s scholarly careers. Part of this comes from reading Sarah Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology in which she analyzes the ways that philosophers use tables to talk about their arguments are a result of the proximity of the table – they are sitting at one while writing. It also comes from hearing other professors and graduate students talk about how their interests are shaped by one another – by proximity within a department, field, university. Of course, this isn’t totalizing. Some people develop their interests not in relationship to the people close to them but in opposition to the people, and there are many other variations. The notion of proximity, however, is a useful one to think about because it reminds me to think about what is shaping my interests based on proximity and that if I wanted my interests to be shaped differently, one thing I can do is change what is proximious.
The dilemma in my thinking for this week is not intellectual but practical. How on earth am I going to organize all of those PDFs on my computer in a way that I can recall and use them in the future? This question is grounded in my belief that to master the administrative tasks of life is to provide the possibilities for greater creative productivity. The PDF challenge is a new dilemma. Well, not entirely new, I’ve been in graduate school for two and a half years now, but I still haven’t figured out how to hand this and I very much want to. It’s a goal for the semester, but I do fear that it won’t be totally tamed until this summer.

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