May 12, 2009 by Lo
Purpose of this Blog
This is a blog dedicated to chronicling my progress, or lack thereof, on my PhD dissertation. It is called “Crescent City Confidential” because my dissertation is about New Orleans in the early years of the nineteenth century, and the changes that took place in the city as a result of being attached to the United States after 1803.
The idea is that this will serve several purposes. It will be a) an ongoing journal of the work I do, including reading, researching, and writing, as well as administrative matters like applying for funding and meeting with my advisor; b) a journal of my ongoing thought process related to the intellectual substance of my work, a place to ruminate about the historical issues involved; c) a place to make notes or write mini-essays of an informal nature about the sources I read, both primary sources and works of scholarship; d) a destination for thoughts and bits of writing that come up during the dissertation process, but don’t really belong in the dissertation–including ideas about methodology, philosophy pf history, career matters, etc; and finally e) possibly a place to post ideas and thoughts that have nothing to do with my dissertation.
What I haven’t yet decided is how public (or conversely how private) this exercise could be. The arguments for keeping this private are many and obvious. This is going to be a window into my thought process, and I will use this space to say and think things that may be ill-formed or undeveloped or crazy or just plain wrong. When I go out and search for a job, I don’t want prospective employers to see that side of my work process; I want them to think a brilliant dissertation emerged from my brain fully formed, like Athena, with no view of the messy backstage.
On the other hand I’m strongly tempted to make this an “open-source” dissertation, and keep this site completely public. Would anyone ever look at it? possibly authors of books I write about, when they Google themselves; possibly the 3 or 4 other graduate students in the world working on similar or related topics; and possibly an occasional close relative. Being public might be a little constraining in terms of what I might feel free to write; but it would also impose a certain discipline, which after all is really the point of this exercise.
In my former life I was a guitar player, and I well remember the years 1987 and 1988, when I went to Manhattan School of Music and practiced my guitar from 6 to 12 hours every day, and kept a meticulous journal to monitor my practice sessions. Those journals kept me focused and motivated, and I am hoping that this blog will do the same for my dissertation. Dissertation writing is a notoriously unrewarding, solitary, amorphous activity, and doctoral candidates almost by definition get distracted, are inefficient, and suffer from motivation problems, feelings of isolation, and a sense of futility. This blog is part of a strategy to contain that whole complex of problems.
I should also mention that blogging is fun, this will be my 3rd blog, and the challenge is to keep up with it over the long term. Kind of like quitting smoking–the first couple weeks are relatively easy. (I’ve succeeded in that challenge, by the way, although the birth of my kids provided a powerful motivation.)
On the public/private issue I still haven’t made up my mind. It’s private for now.