Gunlord’s Dissertation Saga, Episode 15 (Season 1 Finale): At last, victory!

Post theme:

The weather’s gotten lovely where I am. While this year’s winter was pretty mild overall, there was still plenty of snow, ice, and darkness to go around. Over the last few days, however, the snow has melted, the grass has turned green, there’s a wonderful warm breeze in the air, and in general, it seems like a great darkness has been lifted from the face of the land.

It’s as if the outside world mirrors my own personal state. Because you see, my friends, at long last, at loooooong last, I’ve completed the first draft of my dissertation.

I don’t even know what I should say at this point. I feel accomplished, sure, actually fairly accomplished. Yeah, it’s just a rough draft, but it’s still over 60 thousand words of academic writing, which is something not everybody can claim to have on their resume! And even though it’s kind of late (I wanted to have it done by the end of February), my schedule says I had to give a rough draft of my first chapter in *december,* so I am WAY ahead of the curve! I think I can feel good about myself ;D

Of course, I shouldn’t speak too soon…I emailed my dissertation to my profs last night but haven’t gotten a response. But that’s to be expected, because they’re really busy…there’s an ton of drama going on at my university which all the faculty, my advisor and readers included, have to deal with. So I’ll just be patient and wait.

I suppose it’s strange, but as I came close to the finishing line on this project I…actually slowed down somewhat. Maybe it was my subconscious, but I felt (and again, I know this is just a rough draft and I have a TON more work to do) that I didn’t want to finish it. This dissertation was the only other major milestone in my life aside from Wayward Son. It was the only other entry on my “bucket list”–not a list of stuff I wanted to do before I died, necessarily, but the minimum of things I needed to finish to make my life seem ‘complete,’ so to speak. Now that it’s looking to be steadily on the course to being done, I feel…almost empty.

Yes, I know the dissertation is supposed to be the beginning of your academic life, hardly the end! But it was the only real challenge remaining to me after Wayward Son. As I put the finishing touches on it, I started to ask myself, “what now? After this, I won’t have any meaningful challenges to overcome, no great foe to struggle against…no real purpose to keep me going forward.” I almost feel like Frederick Douglass after the Civil War. Quoting from his autobiography,

“My great and exceeding joy over these stupendous achievements, especially over the abolition of slavery (which had been the deepest desire and great labor of my life), was slightly tinged with a feeling of sadness. I felt I had reached the end of the noblest and best part of my life…The anti-slavery platform had performed its work, and my voice was no longer needed.”

Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (The Frederick Douglass Papers, eds. John McKivigan and John Blassingame, Series Two: Autobiographical Writings, Volume 3, Book 1, Yale University Press, 2012), 292.

This is, of course, terribly melodramatic–I’m nowhere near as eminent as Douglass, and completing a dissertation is nowhere near as much an accomplishment as all of Douglass’s abolitionist activism had been. But it does capture my feelings a bit. After years of researching for this dissertation–you could argue my adult life led up to it, ever since I first started studying American history in high school–to finally have it all finished is a little bittersweet. Now that I no longer have a goal to head for or obstacle to overcome, I almost feel…rudderless.

But it’s something that will pass soon, I’m sure. I do have the edits to the draft to occupy me, after all! And I bet I’ll find a new great purpose to motivate me further in life after this soon enough ;D

And, of course, I suppose I shouldn’t get too full of myself…I have just completed a very rough draft, not a polished final one. And who knows, maybe my profs will hate it and say, “Gunlord, this sucks! We’re kicking you out of the grad program!” Morbid, I know, but as the old saying goes, you always have to prepare for the worst. I think that’s REALLY unlikely, though. First, my advisor and readers are really super nice and lenient, and they really want me to succeed, so I’m 99.999999% certain they’ll be generous with me. Second, I do genuinely think I’ve written some pretty solid stuff for a “0th” draft. Yeah, I’ll prolly need to find more primary sources if I can, but I think the analysis and textual comparison I’ve done is reasonably good.

But even if such a worst case scenario comes to pass…I won’t mind so much. I’ve done work that satisfies *me.* Even if it flunks me out (which is, again, an *infinitesimal* possibility), I’ve still written over 60,000 words of academic prose. PhD-worthy or not, that’s an accomplishment few people can claim to have, so just the knowledge of having done it is enough to satisfy me.

Anyways, this is probably gonna seem very nerdy, but who’s up for some comparative stats? As I mentioned earlier, the only thing I’ve done comparable to this dissertation, IMO, is Wayward Son. I have to admit, that Fire Emblem fanfic is my true magnum opus, my true masterpiece, the true culmination of my life and my life’s work. I’m proud of my dissertation, sure, but I didn’t put nearly as much of myself into it, or even nearly as much time, as I did for Wayward Son, and no matter how silly it sounds, that fanfic represents far more of what I feel is important, along with socially-redeeming themes. But my dissertation, as lengthy an academic monograph as it is, can at least approach it, if not meet or surpass it. So let’s put ’em next to each other! I can’t show you my dissertation cause it’s not good to show off too much of it before it’s published, but I can show you WS:

So, the stats–

Wayward Son Word Count: 1,088,528

Dissertation Word Count: 63,151

Time Spent on Wayward Son: Aug. 31, 2006 through Nov. 15, 2015 (3367 days)

Time Spent on Dissertation: December 22, 2o15 – March 11, 2016 (81 days)

Average Words Per Day Written for Wayward Son: 323

Average Words Per Day Written for Dissertation: 779

Max Words Written in One Day for Wayward Son: ~10,000

Max Words Written in One Day for Dissertation: ~4000

Total Footnotes for Dissertation Rough Draft: 322

Huh, looking at it, those are some interesting numbers! From the sheer size of Wayward Son, and the max words I wrote for it in a day, you’d think the “average words per day” would be much higher for it than my dissertation, but the opposite is true–on average, I wrote more than twice as much per day for the dissertation as I did for my true magnum opus. I think that’s because I took some long breaks from writing Wayward Son–like, breaks of months–and worked pretty steadily on my dissertation. I was also occupied with school, other responsibilities, etc. while writing Wayward Son, and since WS was just a fanfic, it took a low priority. For the past 81 days, however, my dissertation was my main and only responsibility, so I cracked down on it with essentially no distraction, and certainly no months-long breaks of inactivity! I think that explains things 8)

I promised a longer entry today, and this is getting reasonably long, but…let’s make it go even longer! For those of you interested in the mechanics of writing, here’s a copy of the email I sent to my profs, which explains some things I wanted them to know as they read it, and which should also shed light on it for my fans and interested inquirers 😀

“This is only a rough draft; indeed, a very rough draft–perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a 0th draft than a first draft. There are some idiosyncrasies of style I’m sure will be changed later on; for instance, I repeat the definitions of “paternal” and “paternalistic” a lot for my own benefit to make sure I’m not conflating the terms, since I was told to be very careful about that. Once I’ve been assured I at least have a firm grasp of the definitions I can certainly remove those. I’ll probably need to touch up the citations; I wrote each chapter of the dissertation on a separate word file originally, so I probably repeat full citations a few times and make less of “Ibid” than I will in the final draft.

It is also likely I’ll be sent on journeys to accrue more primary sources, though, curiously enough, I think I’ve actually managed to secure a reasonable amount of them in this early draft. There are, to my everlasting gratitude to various archivists and digitizers across the country, many, many sources available online; I have provided links to them in the footnotes so you should be easily able to see them yourselves just by clicking, if you so desire. Much of Garnet and Douglass’ writing was up at the Black Abolitionist Papers project, most of Fitzhugh’s De Bow’s articles were (with only a handful of exceptions) digitized and scanned online,and for chapter 2, there were many news articles and book reviews online as well. I suspect I’ll need more primary sources for chapter 3, my analysis of my subjects’ family lives. While I was able to write a lot about Douglass, Dabney, and Hammond, I wasn’t able to write so much for Delany, Garnet, and Fitzhugh. Alas, I fear I may not be able to do much about that. All of the information about Fitzhugh’s wife and children came from Harvey Wish’s Propagandist of the Old South, and he got that information from recollections given to him personally by Fitzhugh’s grandchildren (Wish wrote the book during the 1940s). Dr. Wish, unfortunately, passed away in 1967. I suppose I can hope Case Western University has the letters from Fitzhugh’s grandchildren stashed away somewhere, but I wouldn’t bet on it, and I’m not sure where else to look–perhaps Rappahanock, Virginia, where Fitzhugh sent one of his sons to academy, has some family letters, but I wouldn’t bet on that either. In the case of both Delany and Garnet, while I could continue to look for letters in the American Colonization Society papers as well as the Gerrit Smith papers, fire destroyed much of the personal correspondence of both men, so I was told. 😦

Aside from that, again, I’m sure there are plenty of sentences which could use improvement and refining, a few more paragraphs to add here and there, maybe, better transitions/linkages between paragraphs and sections, and so on, and so forth, but this rough draft at least represents a pretty solid cross-section of where my argument stands right now, what I’ve been doing, and where I hope to go, so it should serve, again at the very least, as a good jumping-off point for you all to give me advice and guidance on how to move closer to a complete draft.”

That’s a good general overview of some concerns and considerations, generally, I had while writing. I think I may try to write a longer entry going into my writing method, analytical methodology, etc. in more detail, but I think I’ll save that for next week’s blogpost–the DVD extras for season 1, so to speak! Behind the scenes! This should be good enough for now, IMO.

So, what’ll I be doing for next week? Well, after working so hard on this dissertation rough draft, I want to RELAX! That means going on drives and walks, watching anime(I GOTTA catch up on Muv-Luv: Schwarzemarken [or whatever] and my Giant Gorg DVDs), playing videogames, reading the nice Legend of the Galactic Heroes novel I got recently, reading some of my books (like the Douglass autobiographies) for pleasure rather than analysis, maybe writing more answers for /r/askhistorians, possibly working out, maybe timing so anime, and generally enjoying myself.

I also gotta do some self-care stuff…My room needs to be vacuumed now that I’ve moved all my dissertation books around, I got some laundry to do, I need to shave and get a haircut, I need to get a new pair of glasses…that sort of stuff.

But anyways, I’ll probably write about that for next week’s entry..well, no, next week will be one more post on academic dissertation writing. So the week after next week will be Gunlord’s Relaxation Saga! I should have a lot of time to relax because it’s all but certain my profs won’t get back to me for quite a while, maybe a month, because they’re so busy with IRL stuff. For now…I’ve written enough! Time to go get myself some English food~


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