Gunlord’s Dissertation Saga, Episode 17 (Season 2): A Second Draft, a New Beginning

Hoo boy. What a week. As I mentioned last week, brothers and sisters, I was (and still am) on a trip to New Haven to meet with my committee in person. The meeting was on Wednesday, and…it went well, thank God! I was pretty nervous at first, but they assured me my rough draft was very good for a first effort–very impressive, really, since I got a whole rough draft done in time for the first chapter conference–and gave me some specific suggestions based on my first chapter. They discussed the draft as a whole but focused primarily on the first chapter, since going through the WHOLE draft would’ve taken all day and they were busy busy :p For both my benefit and yours, I’ll describe the suggestions they gave me. My main advisor, Dr. H (I’ll refer to them as Dr. H. Dr. J, and Dr. A to preserve their anonymity–yes, I know this makes it sound like I’m in an anime, but I’m already going with the whole “season 2” thing, so I might as well go the whole way) sent me an email after the conference with some general suggestions:
“—the writing is generally improved, but you still deflect too often, relying upon parentheticals that get in the way
—there are instances when you undercut your own argument (it had not occurred to me until today’s conference that your arguments would likely be stronger if you stepped away from the self-imposed requirement to feature all six figures in each chapter; use the figures when their ideas are relevant and focus your energy on the close analysis of the ideas that are actually at the heart of the project—patrimony, paternalism, paternity, patriotism, etc.
—this work still feels more pointillist than it should; I either want more narrative that holds everything together or more theory (I think the consensus of the group today was that more theory—again, focusing on the “patria” words—is the way to go.)
—break the chapter into subheadings and build in transition language on either side of the subhead. You can use those moments to make your interpretive voice heard. This will be a critical addition and will improve the essay on many fronts.”
So yeah, the main thing for just this first chapter, and likely the others too, would be to add subheadings. But we also talked about some other possible improvements, so here’s a more detailed rundown of what went on during that chapter conference:
First, Dr. A started off by saying I did some good work, getting so much done by this point, but also encouraged me to do two things: First, think about how the attitude of my subjects towards fatherhood changed over time and make it clearer in my dissertation, and also to think about whether or not I encountered any surprises, so to speak, in going through the historiography relating to these guys, and keep that in mind to help me bring out my own voice a little better, which Dr. H also noted was a little lacking.
Then, Dr. J asked me to try and summarize the main takeaway of my project, especially “what’s at stake”–why my dissertation is important and what I want my readers to learn. I said something like this:
“Essentially, I want my readers to understand that at least in regards to fatherhood, black abolitionists weren’t necessarily “radical,” in the sense of completely overturning established 19th century gender conventions. Rather, they innovatively and ingeniously (IMO) used conventional ideas revolving around fatherhood in a pretty nifty way to advance a vision of family relations that was comparatively egalitarian and amenable to the struggle for racial equality, but also conventionally and recognizably masculine at the same time. They emphasized a father’s prerogative to protect and guide his wife and children, but not so much to control them. We can see this by contrasting the black abolitionist vision of fatherhood to that of the proslavery guys (Hammond, Dabney, and Fitzhugh), who emphasized a father’s right and duty to control and make decisions on behalf of his wife and children, and extrapolated the social relations there to society as a whole.”
Quite a mouthful, eh? Dr. H said he liked that, but that it also provided a whole lot to juggle: So, to help me really get focused, he encouraged me to think about how I could summarize all that in about a 30-second soundbite that laymen could understand. I’ll have to work on that…
Dr. H went on to say that while he could understand and liked that revised thesis, the rest of my first chapter didn’t reflect it quite as strongly. He called my work so far “pointillist,” in that I’ve got a lot of good primary sources (yay!) and nice quotes, but I’m not drawing everything together quite well enough. He recommended either a more narrative approach, like “telling a story,” or, and this was what Dr. J and A recommended too, a more theoretical approach where I concentrate most of my attention on the ideas–patriarchy, patrimony, paternity, paternalism, and patriotism–that really my essay focuses on.
Dr. J then hopped in, saying, “about theoretical grounding, I thought the end of your chapter 1 was the strongest, especially in regards to paternalism. Maybe try to imitate that analysis at the beginning and middle too!” Dr. A agreed, saying that my own personal ‘voice,’ as in my own interpretations as opposed to just quoting from my subjects, seemed to only come out by the end of the chapter. He encouraged me to sprinkle more of that throughout the chapter as a whole, and also suggested I think of “paternalistic” relationships among the abolitionists and their white allies as well. Indeed, maybe even breaking up my chapters by treating proslavery and abolitionist thinkers separately (rather than feeling obligated to put them all into every single chapter) might be a good way of organizing things. Dr. H agreed heartily, saying that I might have been hindering myself by trying to mention every single one of my subjects constantly, all the time, and that if any one of them wasn’t relevant to a point I was making, it’d be OK to leave them out.
Indeed, Dr. J emphasized that ideas, not people, were the heart of my dissertation, and it wasn’t so much that, say, Dabney and Douglass were in conversation with each other, but rather their ideas. So while I shouldn’t allow any of my subjects to just disappear for a stretch, it’s OK if not all of them are around at the same time. Dr. A also recommended I think about emotion, particularly in comparing reconstruction and afterwards. For instance, might figurative or metaphorical uses of fatherhood reflect different affective dimensions of loss and grievance? This was also particularly relevant to the sections on the personal lives of my subjects–rather than trying to ferret out “hypocrisy” in the way they lived, Dr. A recommended I think of their lived experiences as a form of rhetoric, and perhaps focus on doing textual comparisons between them, both within each group and between them. As an aside, he also encouraged me to think about Amy Dru Stanley’s work (which I cited) and that of Charles Mill, and whether or not my dissertation would buttress or refute their ideas about patriarchy morphing into fraternity, which is something I hadn’t even considered! I’mma definitely hafta think about that…
In terms of organization, as he mentioned in the email, Dr. H also thought some subheadings would make both easier reading and help me focus my thought much better. So that’s definitely something I’mma do :p
Finally, they allowed me to ask some questions, and the only real one I had was, “Do you think I need any more primary sources?” And Dr. H said, “well, since you mentioned looking at Harvey Wish’s and Duke Library’s archives, I think you should be good, I just wanted to make sure you actually were looking at archives and not just being lazy. So if you mention those and your other archives in your bibliography, even if you couldn’t find anything there (Gunlord Note: I managed to get Harvey Wish’s papers but while there was a lot of interesting stuff in ’em, there wasn’t much about Fitzhugh ;_; ), that should be good enough.” Woo-hoo!
And with that set, we discussed a timeline for my project. I told them I really needed to take a break for a week, both to absorb everything they’d said and to recover from a harsh trip. So by October 22, I should be recovered and ready to start more overt preparations. I told them a month of intense reading should be enough, so I have from October 22 to November 22 to do intense reading on theory relating to my project. Then, I asked for 3 months to write up a second draft, so November 22 to about January or February 22 to finish everything up. Not too bad, eh? ;D
So yeah, overall, I do have my work cut out for me, but not too much work…in fact, not as much as I expected! THANK GOD, they said I have enough primary sources, so I don’t need to go hunting for any more! The all-caps is necessary, because it really is a huge relief…when writing history, tracking down primary sources, with all the traveling and inconvenience that entails, is by far the biggest hurdle; synthesizing secondary sources and actually writing is child’s play in comparison. In general, therefore, I think this image macro sums up my feelings about my project:

Alas, aside from a nice first chapter conference, though, my time at New Haven hasn’t been very good…I think I caught a tummy bug or something, cause I’ve been feeling nauseous and having my tummy cramp most of the week! Not during my chapter conference, thank God, but a few hours afterwards I got the runs ;_; At least I’m doing a little better now…a small comfort, but small comforts are better than none, I suppose :p I’d really wanted to enjoy myself more, but if I couldn’t, oh well.

I really did plan on enjoying myself when I came back to New Haven. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve grown to love this city intensely, all of its architecture, community, and all its good food. I couldn’t enjoy as much good food as I wanted to because of my tummy keeping me out of commission for a few days, but I did manage to enjoy a few yum yums once I was feeling better. Have some pics on mah Tumblr:

The black rice dish was the risotto at Skappo’s, which I LOOOOOOOVE, and the cakes are the Petit Fours at the French restaurant, Union League Cafe. I also took a picture of a nice church at sunset, some Dark Souls looking buildings, and the interior of 360 State Street, a posh apartment building.

While I was able to take some nice pictures, I couldn’t really play many video games while at New Haven. However, I did manage to finish up One Punch Man (I know, I’ll get to Macross NEXT WEEK~~~~). Loved the final fight between Saitama and Boros as much as I did in the original Japanese, but even more, I loved Chris Jai Alex’s voice! I hope to hear more of him, and I can’t WAIT for One-Punch Man S2!

Aside from that, I also managed to finish a Kindle book, Craig A. Falconer’s Not Alone, which is a scifi story set in the near future about one ordinary guy discovering a massive alien coverup by chance and deciding to go public with the truth. It’s not the best thing ever, but I ended up rather liking it…Falconer’s main strengths are his likeable characters, such as the protagonist, Dan McCarthy, as well as the somewhat unconventional (IMO) way the plot goes. This isn’t some kind of thriller or intense political machination sort of book, there’s no alien invasion, no violence (only one person dies, IIRC), none of that. Heck, there isn’t even a real romance between the protag and who you’d think would be his love interest. Instead, it deals with…Public Relations, more than anything else, along with the diplomatic repercussions (particularly for England and the U.S) that come with the disclosure of alien intelligence. So even if the book didn’t have much action, that was enough to keep me interested 😀 My only critique would be that the ending seemed kinda contrived and unoriginal. I don’t wanna spoil anything for you guys, so I’ll say no more than that, I’ll just say that there wasn’t anything really mind-blowing about the very last parts of the book, even if they were (sort of) unexpected at first.

And that does it for today! See ya next week, brothers and sisters.

One comment

  1. […] point of all this was to follow Dr. H’s advice: “you should focus your energy on the close analysis of the ideas that are actually at the […]

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