Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Finding That Spark: Slogging Through Writer's Block

This post will be a bit different from anything that has gone up recently, which you might have noticed has been nothing. With the past semester's writing projects (including, I'm happy to report, three pending publications), I set aside writing on the blog in favor of academic work. Additionally, I've been struggling with perhaps the most difficult elements of thesis work, burnout and writer's block. So to that point, I'm going to outline roughly what projects I've been working on and what still lays ahead. My hope is to (1) provide an update for anyone who might be interested, (2) offer up some possible directions for future work — and to seek out potential collaborators on that work — and projects, and (3) to break through the latest round of writer's block by changing gears.

Publication Pending

Three of my recent projects are working their way through the printing pipeline. Each is a little different, and each one provided unique opportunities.

Cooperative Extension

The first of these publications provided the chance to look at two categories I don't typically work in: organizational and labor history. For this project, I looked at records from the Cooperative Extension Service in White County, IN. I outlined what these records can tell researchers about government programs during the Great Depression and how genealogists and family historians can use them to gain insight into the lives of ancestors. Along the way, I was fortunate to work with some records generated by one of my own ancestors, Ralph Alvin Chitty, who was one of the first C.E.S. Agents in Indiana, and for that matter, in the U.S. That research will reach print later this summer in the Indiana Historical Society's The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections

Bible Records

Another publication analyzes the role of family bible records related to a mid-nineteenth century lawyer from Fountain County, Indiana. These records are discussed as a tool for genealogists as well as for other historians. These records are discussed in relation to using newspapers and campaign materials as sources for understanding political action in pre-twentieth century America. This article will be published sometime in early fall.

Historic Diaries

My third and final pending publication looks at using historic diaries as sources of finding names, as well as understanding social dynamics between individuals. The diary of interest relates to a teenage girl from Martin County, Indiana in the early 1930's. As a part of that work, I've indexed the names of individuals included within her diaries from the period. This article will be published sometime in early fall.

Completed, For Now: Paratext and Education

One of the most interesting projects I had the chance to work on this spring was a "big" history of paratextual development in European education. Spanning from ancient history to the mid-nineteenth centuries, this term project focused on how paratextual elements including typography, tables of contents, indicies, page numbers, and marginalia came to be incorporated to form what we now know as "academic" texts. Special emphasis was placed on how major educational figures over time would have experienced the texts that they studied and produced. I am hoping to post a more user-friendly version of that work at a later date.

Current Research

As to current projects, I have two major efforts, and a significant search for a permanent job, underway. Both still have significant hurdles ahead, but both hold the possibility of providing fascinating insights into twentieth-century America.

 Understanding Factory Work During the Depression

The first project is using the diary of a young woman who worked for a shirt factory in Loogootee, IN to understand issues related to the private and working lives of Hoosiers during the Great Depression. The company she worked for had factories throughout the Midwest, and her experience provides a personal window into understanding the daily struggles of a working woman during that time. 

Thesis: Public Intellectualism in the Early Cold War

This is the biggest project I've ever undertaken, I suppose as it should be. Though this project has morphed over time, the major theme has remained the same. My hope is to look at the milieu of public intellectuals in the early Cold War. While the topic does, as most of my family knows, involve fiction author Ray Bradbury, I will forgo explaining further at this point in time (namely so I don't invite a competing thesis or article). 

Future Directions/False Starts

Along the way, there have been several false starts on projects which might provide interesting avenues for future research. Interesting prospects and possibilities exist when time permits. I'm happy to potentially collaborate on these projects, or for resources that might be of use.

Scouting in American Society

Being an Eagle Scout, I have long held an interest in scouting related materials, and think that working with those that I've managed to cobble together (including several decades of manuals, magazines, and field guides) might provide a unique opportunity to look at changes in American values.

Rural Electrification

A tangential topic to the aforementioned article on the Cooperative Extension Service, rural electrification was aided by CES under the auspices of the Tennessee Valley Authority and other New Deal programs. My hope is to look at both the impact this had on rural families as well as the lives of early employees of the electric co-op system.

Indiana's Fighting "Basketbrawlers"

While working on another project, I came across numerous references to riots and fights breaking out as a part of basketball games in Indiana. I'd like to go back and see if these incidents were limited to the court or if they occurred during other sporting events. I would also like to see what life was like for these players after they moved on from sporting.

Big Picture History in Daily Lives

In exploring several diaries while working on another project, I noticed recordings of what many people might consider to be "big" events (presidential elections, assassinations, scientific discoveries). I would like to go back and explore whether individuals' recordings of these types of events in diaries and other unpublished sources hold up over generations. Does the speed with which we now receive news change our perception of its importance to our everyday lives? Have we fundamentally altered the way we commemorate these events as individuals? Are our heat of the moment responses to major events any more accurate today than they were in centuries past? So many questions exist, and there seems to be a treasure trove waiting to be examined.

Records Retention Policies in Public Universities

In the category of what my wife calls "boring historian stuff" is an interest in looking at the records retention policies of public universities. I would like to try to look at this issue from multiple perspectives including from those of records producers, facility managers, administrators, privacy advocates, information technologists, and historians. While the topic may seem dry today, the retention (and disposal) of records changes what stories will be and can be explored by the historians of tomorrow. My hope is that this would lead to some form of policy recommendations for universities and other public institutions that try to balance stakeholders concerns.

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