Tag Archives: dissertation

Research Update

Since my last post, I’ve begun my dissertation research in earnest, which is why I’ve been off the grid for a good while in terms of this blog. For those of you who don’t known, my dissertation explores the ways that free people of color in the urban Atlantic World engaged a common discourse on race, freedom, and respectability—and developed what can be viewed as a “pan-American” protest strategy—carving out a place for themselves within their communities and nations against a broadly similar ideology of white supremacy, one that viewed the mobilization and civic participation of people of African descent as a destabilizing influence. To get at such an expansive theme, I am comparing the lives and experiences of free people of color in two port cities of the Greater Caribbean: Charleston, South Carolina, and Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

Having already spent a few weeks researching in Charleston, I spent the majority of April and May conducting researching in Columbia, South Carolina, primarily at the SC Department of Archives and History, but also at the South Caroliniana Library on the University of South Carolina campus. I was quite disappointed to discover that the records of the Court of Magistrates and Freeholders for Charleston (where free blacks would have been tried) no longer exist, but I was able to find a great deal in legislative and court petitions, various legal documents, tax records, and other municipal records. In addition, the papers and records of various free black voluntary associations in Charleston have been particularly helpful.

At the end of June, I relocated to Bogotá, Colombia, where I’ll be living for the entire Fall 2013 semester. I’ve begun researching at the Archivo General de la Nación, where most of the documents for the late colonial and early republic period are housed. I’ve been working through early census returns so far, but plan to move on to criminal and civil court records, military and militia records, and a variety of other sources soon. I’ve also enrolled as an external graduate student at the  Universidad de los Andes, which will be my academic “home-base” while living in Colombia.

So that’s kind of what’s going on with me right now. I’ve made a lot of progress researching, but am still in the process (obviously) of really working through it all and putting it together. I hope over the next few months to provide more regular, and more substantive, updates on what I’m finding. One will certainly be coming this week, so stay tuned.

Organizing Research

If you started your dissertation or book project again tomorrow, from the beginning, how would you organize your research?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. Time and again, historians and other scholars come in to speak about their research, and offer some type of lament about the way they began organizing their research when they started their project x number of years ago.  Whether their research is in some form that is inefficient to access, or they had to spend hours converting crappyprogram files to lesscrappyprogram files, I have heard from a number of different scholars over the last few years about how they wouldn’t organize their research if they did it again, or mistakes they will avoid for their next project.

No matter how much I think about this problem, though, I still can’t seem to come to a solution that I really like. For about the past year or so, I’ve been using Evernote, and really enjoying it.  Aside from being the perfect program for studying for comps, it seems to work really well for seminar paper-sized research projects, where I can have to notebooks, one for primary and one for secondary sources, within a larger “notebook stack” for that research project.  I’m not sure, however, that this is the best way to organize my research for a project as large as a dissertation.  Since I’m only now beginning my dissertation research, I really want to organize things in a way that I’m not going to hate 2 years from now (or 6 months from now).

In trying to use Evernote for the preliminary dissertation research, I’m creating new notebooks for every archive I visit, and then separating each collection I view into a different note, but the notes have become somewhat unwieldy doing it that way.  I feel like I need stacks of notebook stacks, but that kind of seems like it’s getting ridiculous, and that perhaps there’s a better way. The other major problem with Evernote is the way it organizes photos, which I’ll probably end up having a lot of, due to limited archive time.

So how did you, or how would you, organize your research for a dissertation or book project if you were starting today? Any suggestions, digital tools, other blog posts about this subject, are very much welcome. I realize that to a certain extent, every project is different, and should be organized in a different way, based on the types of sources involved (for what it’s worth, I’ll be accessing a lot of legal records, will have a lot of document photographs, and will also probably have to do a good deal of transcription). But I think to a certain extent, all projects of this size probably across similar problems in terms of research organization.