Day 106: Digital Documents; Brick & Mortar Plans

Hello, long-lost readership (of 3)!  Happy 2015.  I’ve been remiss in posting, but slightly less remiss in holding myself accountable.

I’m working on completing the murky beginning phase of dissertation “prep” and trying to move into actual substantial writing by February.  Until now, I never really understood why it takes people so long to get into ‘the meat’ of actively productive research and writing, but for those of you watching at home, let me testify: there really is a lot of organizational and logistical junk that has to happen first.  It may be common knowledge that you have to research before you can write, but it’s less obvious that you have to figure out what, where, and how to research before you can even start researching proper.  In college and the first few years of graduate school, it was easy to simply follow in the footsteps of people who have already done the difficult initial research on a topic.  I’m now finding that it is much, much harder and far less intuitive when you’re the ‘trailblazer,’ as it were.  This is a good sign that you’re doing original work, of course, but it really goes quite slowly when there’s no blueprint for where (literally: where to travel for which collections) to begin and how to go about getting useful information.

Things achieved in the past 30-45 days (bearing in mind that the holidays were hardly very productive), some of which I mentioned briefly in the last post:

  1. I purchased and downloaded some writing productivity software, at the recommendation of friends and colleagues.  It’s called Scrivener, and so far I’m liking it; it’s organized enough to store all my research in an accessible way, as well as store actual dissertation notes/jottings/writing chunks that might not be ready for a big scary Word document yet.
  2. I collated a fairly exhaustive list of the television episodes I need to (attempt to) view from 1949 through about 1965 (with some later retrospectives for comparison).  These episodes all feature one or more of the dance stars I’ll probably be focusing on no matter what tweaks I make to structure.  (I’ve decided against bringing women back in–it’s just too much.  I’ll have to defend that decision in the introduction.)  There are about 50 essentials and another 20 usefuls…this may grow a bit more over time but it’s a solid start.  The list also includes information on where I can view most of these episodes (I haven’t yet tracked down some of them)–apparently, I’ll be spending a lot of time at the Paley Center this year.
    Part of the TV episodes list in Scrivener

    Part of my TV episodes list in Scrivener

    It’s hard for many of us to comprehend that not everything is floating around on the Internet in some sort of streaming or downloadable form, but much of early television (because it was actually live!) has either been lost or only saved on kinescopes of iffy quality.  Thus, assuming all goes according to plan (fingers crossed!), I’ll be one of the few people to have viewed these episodes since their original airing in the 40s/50s/60s.

  3. I’ve created two spreadsheets of archival collections I’d like to visit, one listing archives here in Los Angeles and the other listing archives elsewhere in the US.  These are mostly-paper collections containing studio memos, personal correspondence, newspaper clippings, contracts, and other ephemera that I’ll be trawling through in hopes of finding exactly what I need, without knowing exactly what that might be…until I find it.  The paper collections I need are proving much more difficult to track down than the TV episodes!  These spreadsheets are going to be continual works in progress.
  4. Per the suggestion of my chair, I’ve created a list of research questions to guide me through those archive visits.  I have questions intended for both the episode viewings and the paper hunts.  This way, I’ll have an idea of the questions I’m trying to answer even if I have no idea of what I’m physically looking for.  To make it feel more palpable, I printed it out today.  [I’ve lately suffered from feeling that I have nothing to show for myself these days because literally everything I ‘do’ for work is digital.]
  5. As part of an application for a summer seminar (which took up about a week of would-be dissertation time), I banged out a current DISSERTATION ABSTRACT.  I struggled with it for longer than I should have, but I think it will serve as a nice guide for me in the coming weeks.  I triumphantly printed this, too, today.  Now it’s real!

I am currently in the process of scheduling visits, requesting materials, etc. at various LA locations (my least favorite part), and will be focusing on more directly productive activities in the coming weeks: re-reading and/or reading for the first time some (more) key texts with which my DOS-D will be in conversation, drafting language, working on more detailed chapter outlines, etc.  Once I actually start finding useful stuff in the archives, I’ll add object analysis and start weaving it all together (I hope!).