Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Afraid to ask.

On the way home from the NAI today, I spent some time thinking about the feasibility of my dissertation topic. If my committee had tried to persuade me to take a different tack, would I have done so? I guess they could have failed my proposal, that would have sent a clear message. I'm just now wondering--did they let me go off and research this topic because they actually believed I would find a way to make it happen, or did they just not want to argue with me about it? I'd love to know, but...see title.

The other historians at the archives seem to have clearly delineated resources for which they are hunting. As an example, anyone doing a dissertation on disease and epidemic and how it relates to nationalism, resistance, colonialism, etc., would have no problem finding material at the NAI. The Home Records indices for the beginning of the 20th century are saturated with discussions on plague, epidemic and famine.* Similarly, if I wanted to construct on argument about definitions of "assault" as it relates to class, caste or position in early 20th c. India, I would have pages upon pages of assault records to scrutinize.** I spoke to someone today who is working on marriage laws and citizenship, and she seemed pretty upbeat about what she's finding in the Home Records.

Anyway, what I think at the end of today is that the big idea behind my research--the production and mobility of knowledge--is a good one. I think I made it really difficult for myself, however, by trying to base my argument on 5 sites of production, when there are only archival records available for 1 of those five (those records are in Bikaner, not Delhi). I should have chosen five science laboratories with clear construction and production records, not some obscure 18th c. monuments that apparently few people even noticed in the landscape. So, my idea's good, my application of it--not so much.

When I was paging through indices today, I noticed a lot of records about bicycles ("petition to let peons ride bicycles while in service") and typists/typography. I'm not sure why they jumped out at me, other than the fact that there were several of them, spanning across many years. When I was getting my bag out of the locker at the end of the day, I glanced down at a stack of research notes another fellow had placed on the table while stowing his own bag. It was a list of Home Records he was intending to consult, all of which pertained to bicycles and typists. I'm mystified by the connection, but it must be an important one, given that it came to my attention twice in one day.

[Interruption: Kush just brought me a bowl of hot pasta! I think they feel sorry for me with my cold.]

Well, tomorrow, I have another idea for another approach. We'll see if it works.

*Based just on my research today, I can say there is a great dissertation to be written about the policing of religion through restrictions placed on Hajj pilgrims because of the fear of the spread of disease. I also found, but did not read, a discussion about the possible spread of the plague during the Coronation Durbar of 1903--all the people required/requesting to pay their respects to Edward VII threatened to bring disease to Delhi with them. A real concern, or a method of policing motion?

**For the record, in 98% of the entries I saw today, only the European involved in the assault--whether the assailant or the recipient of said attack--was given a full name; the opposing party was generally listed as "a native," or "a coolie" or "a peon." Welcome to the colonies.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Stupid historical record. Well, I, for one, think your topic is fantastic - the questions, the wondering, the hunch that there are links - are completely valid and relevant, even if the resources aren't there for you to build further.

Wow, that's not very helpful. But I think your brain has been, and is, totally in the right place