I still haven’t posted all of my class summaries from last semester that I intended to do. Never fear, should you have some inner desire to read about historiography, there’s more where that came from! Nevertheless, I have begun my second semester as a Queen’s student. I’ll try to be more proactive in summarizing the history classes, for those of you who find this interesting.
First off, I now have a dissertation supervisor. I was assigned one, I’m assuming based in part on my research interests in the Troubles. Bragging moment, or perhaps moment of fear: he is the chair of the history department at Queens. Yes, I am mildly intimidated. But I met him for the first time Monday (actually, he led the discussion on Archives last semester–I met him for the first time in regards to my dissertation on Monday), and am excited to work with him. He definitely knows a lot, but seems like he’ll be supportive of my work too. He said he liked the general idea I had, and thought there would be plenty to write on (always a good sign!). I have to turn in a rough proposal outline next week, so I am currently skimming books and planing archive visits for the next few days. So much I want to do! Ah, I love academics.
Tuesday marked the first meeting of the ‘Historical Documents’ course. What, you may rightly ask, is historical documents all about? Well, aside from the obvious, the class is targeted at practical research skills. In fact, the ‘class’ is not so much a ‘class’ but a very, very large project. We’ll only meet regularly for about the next month, after which time we’ll be turned loose to produce fantastic original research aids. There are three options for projects in the class:
- Calendar. No, not the wall variety with cute puppy photos, or the popular doomsday Mayan calendar, this document is perhaps described as an annotated summary of a body of texts. Or to be more direct, a list of a collection of primary sources (such as newspapers or leters), which includes a transcription (perhaps the full text, or poignient quotations) and annotations (brief biographies, information on places, etc). It could be compared to a critical edition of a text, though a whole collection of material rather than a single text.
Supposedly about 80% of students choose this route. Oh did I mention length? All projects have a 5,000 word introduction, the Calendar itself must be around 10,000 words. Final product therefore will be about 15,000 words, or approximately 50 pages, give or take.
- Finding Aids. Essentially a list of primary sources on a given subject. It aims at directing the reader to everything that might be relievant to a given subject. Fun subjects like ‘Northern Ireland & Canada: A Guide to Northern Ireland Sources for the Study of Canadian History, c.1705-1992.’ (lest you think I’m poking fun at some poor student’s topic, not only will I have to pick an equally narrow field whatever project I choose, but this was actually a book published by PRONI). Just in case you think this is somehow easier than a calendar, it’s not. It requires lots, and lots, and lots of comprehensive research. Remember I said everything? Yup.
About 18-19% of students go this route. Goal is about 8,000 words, so mercifully a bit shorter than a calendar, though of course by the time you add your 5,000 word introduction, that is a small savings.
- Historical Database. This option, chosen by 1% or so of students, is certainly the most challenging of the three. In fact, no one has submitted one for the past several years. Why so few? Presumably because historians are generally afraid of numbers, and the database is essentially a statistical project and wholly devoted to numbers. Therefore the prospect of manipulating large amounts of them is quite terrifying. Equally terrifying is the prospect of using advanced computer databases and software. If this didn’t scare you, the size might. The website ‘London Lives‘ was given as an example. Check it out. The scope of such a project should scare you.
Ok, in all seriousness, while difficult, this certainly would be interesting. And if you checked that site out, you’ll notice that a database need not be wholly devoted to numbers. It could also be, as in the case of ‘London Lives’, prosopographical (see what fun we historians have??). Also, it need not be as extensively large as the example.
Most likely, I’ll follow the route of 80% students, and produce a calendar. Maybe a collection of newspaper articles during the start of the Troubles, or something like that. The goal is, with any of these projects, to produce something useful to the wider scholarly audience. Some student projects even get published.
All in all, I’m quite excited, in a way, for the course. While I expect it to be a great deal of work, I think it could be quite rewarding.
Read more from History at Queens:
[catlist name=”class summaries”]