Skip to content

Winter Ramblings

March 11, 2015

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”

~ William Shakespeare, Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1

This “winter of our discontent” thwarted my dissertation progress, full-stop. I live in New England, and we were rapidly buried by one major snowstorm after another, which pretty much derailed everybody’s lives. Now, however, the mounds are newly melting, the sun is emerging, and the coming of spring – and just behind it, “glorious summer” – is finally becoming something more than a distant fantasy.

But first, that dastardly wintry period. Weeks would go by before I’d have any time to myself to devote to revising a single paragraph, let alone completing a full chapter draft. My chapter on coroners, which I was on track to finish by the end of January and then send on to my advisors for feedback, still remains unfinished now, in mid-March. Other deadlines (a major fellowship and a book review submission), not to mention teaching prep and  babysitter-less snow days, meant that essentially nothing got done for the entire month of February. I am slowly, slowly getting back on track; spring break is next week (!) and my new plan is to complete chapter two by the end of spring break week. This, I can – and will – accomplish.

But that’s not my only grievance of late; my other major hardship  has been my paleography project. I am attempting to transcribe Latin documents relevant to my first chapter, from stunningly beautiful digital manuscript images, and I’m finding it insanely difficult. Some of the script is just plain illegible – I can’t make out individual letters to save my life – and then, when you throw medieval abbreviations and my abysmal Latin vocabulary into the mix, BAM! – it feels nearly impossible. So I stare at these documents and wait for them to begin to make sense to me, and then I cry a little when they don’t. Seriously, I cry a lot; this is the most frustrating project I’ve ever taken on, and when I work on it I often wish that I had chosen early American history instead. I know I’ll get there; I know they’ll make sense, eventually, but I don’t really want to wait for “eventually,” because in the meantime deadlines loom: a trip to the Dublin City archives to see the originals this summer. So I at least need to know what I’m looking at before I sit down with these documents in the archives and moisten their beautiful, ancient parchment with my frustrated tears. I know this is a vital part of my training as a historian, but I sincerely wish it wasn’t. I’m not a natural puzzle-solver, and this, in conjunction with linguistic talent, I think, is what distinguishes a really successful paleographer from a half-assed mediocre one (like me).

But I should also acknowledge that this mostly demoralizing winter has brought some positive developments as well. Although the job market for historians in academia is fairly dismal, and my chances of snagging a satisfying, tenure-track position in a location I might actually enjoy hovers somewhere around null (I have no illusions whatsoever that this will be an easy, or even successful, venture) I am beginning to realize this: I have zero regrets about embarking on this Ph.D. journey (except maybe the aforementioned paleographical dilemma…). I genuinely love what I do; I love writing about history and playing with words. Coursework and colleagues and teaching have also broadened my world so much, and that’s something I can never regret. Not being able to work on those dastardly, babysitter-less snow days has taught me that I am truly happiest when I am working on my own projects, that I need my work to give me balance, a sense of accomplishment, and a way to keep my mind sharp. Not only that, but my specific project actually excites me; it is something that nobody has done before, it has allowed me to venture down so many fascinating trails, and because of it the city of Dublin has now become an intimately familiar place close to my heart. Wherever this academic life leads me, job or no job, I am grateful for this chance to do what I love to do, and I honestly do not feel that one single day of these past six years has been wasted.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: