The Answerable vs. The Unanswerable

An untimely trip home to see my doctor after prevented me from being able to tour Beneski with the rest of the cohort, however I’ve heard quite a bit about the visit and the tour itself. An anecdote which seemed to stick very well with my fellow interns was the story of the Oxbow courtesy of a Kate Wellspring, whom I have yet to have had the pleasure of meeting. The story, as it was related to me, goes that Edward Hitchcock was sitting on a hill somewhere, presumably contemplating life, death, rocks–the usual when he took special notice of a certain river. After a few days of observing this same, misshapen river change course due to erosion, Hitchcock’s perception of life and of the land were revolutionized.

I can hardly say that I feel like my views on any particular aspects of Hitchcock’s life have been revolutionized, although the convergence of concepts such as time, geology and Hitchcock’s psyche proved to give me and my fellow interns a shape, or umbrella if you will, that covered or touched upon each of our individual research interests in the collection. We’ve become familiar with a decent number of methodologies at this point and now we must refine. Iterate. Re-refine. We had a meeting yesterday during which some of the senior members of the team gave feedback on our research process/progress so far, and the primary concern that we had was with the concision of our research question. We discussed some of the pros and cons of simply having a research exploration? (I personally cannot fathom simple exploration. I feel like I would drown in a sea of Archival and secondary source information) A fellow intern referenced some fancy Harvard lit during the discussion, arguing in favor of having a question for the sake of focus. I agreed, as I believe that at this point in our program we need more data, but with such a large collection and no real focus or clear goal, further exploration of the collection would simply mean accumulating more surface-level insight into a lot of different aspects of Edward and Orra’s (but mostly Edward’s) lives.

I’m definitely feeling some tension in our research process right now. Everyone wants to move forward with something, its just that nobody is one hundred percent sure of what that something is. And digging through the collection without any real focus or angle feels a lot like how this guy must feel. And again, simultaneously deciding upon a methodology and a research question feels difficult and unnatural, but I think back to the Trevor Owens post and realize that it is necessary to do so. During our team meeting we discussed a tactic that seems like the solution to all of my personal qualms with the research process at this point in time. One of the Research librarians brought up the idea of exploring a number of mini mock-projects, coming up with small proposals and dream-experiment like explorations of these topics. We are to come up with between 6-8 of these like project proposals, all on different aspects/research topics from the collection and pick the tools and the appropriate methodologies for each so that we can gauge how a larger version of each of these small projects would come to fruition. I thought that the idea was genius, and while the prospect of having a little extra homework typically doesn’t excite me, I feel that these projects will really help us jump over the proverbial brick wall that we’ve run into in our research process.

So the transition from (or lack thereof? Maybe more appropriately named the inevitable coalescence between or convergence of) skills and methodological training and research has been, confusing to say the least, but I think that making the jump will do us a world of good in terms of narrowing our scope. Woo progress! Woo courage! Woo confidence! Now to get to work.

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