Monday, 4 April 2016

RESEARCH LOVES COMPANY: THESIS STUDENTS IN CONVERSATION

RESEARCH COLUMN

BY: EMILY MEIKLE

Research has a tendency to suck you in. With so many competing theories and new ideas, rabbit holes abound and it's easy to get mired in the details of your work and forget the big picture. Sometimes you just need to talk it out with other researchers.

For the final Research Column post of the semester, I sat down with my fellow second year thesis candidates, Mary Simonds and Lindsay Small, to chat about our research and discuss our ideas for future investigation. Our areas of research are diverse: Mary's work examines how value is assigned to archaeological collections over the course of their lives; Lindsay's interests lie with cultural heritage management in outer space; and my own research looks at the application of indigenous radio methodologies to archaeological collections. Despite our varied interests, we've often been able to draw connections and insights from conversations about our work and this time was no exception.

Sharing ideas with fellow researchers is great. It causes all of your minds to meld into one mega brain. The lightning bolts of brilliance are a bit of a hazard, but totally worth the risk. Source.

1. We've all started the writing process now -- how have you managed the task of finding your own voice and locating yourself within your research?

Mary: Starting the writing process was scary, being faced with this monumental task it was hard to find a place to begin. As I started to write I found myself writing as if I was writing an essay for a class. I struggled with the idea that I had any kind of authority to write as if my research and my conclusions held value. Finding my voice was difficult, but I’m finally getting the hang of it.

Emily: Like Mary, I've definitely been struggling with the idea that I have authority in my own writing. One thing I've found in my research though, is that by acknowledging my own voice, I can more easily acknowledge my own biases. So to conquer my fear of writing with authority, I've been approaching it more as writing without hiding, so that I can be sure to come face to face with my own assumptions.

Lindsay: I agree wholeheartedly that starting the writing process is incredibly daunting. After all, this is what everything has been building up to. I've realized that there are a lot of things that I am sensitive to in my research because of my background and interests. Therefore, I've tried really hard to separate out what is meaningful and what is probably just the reality of museum work. For example, I've found that a lot of the older exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum use sexist language to describe space flight (i.e. manned, manmade, mankind) but many of the new exhibits (usually) use inclusive language. Is this because the exhibits are older and haven't been changed? Because this was the vernacular of the times? Or should inclusive language be something that is strived for regardless of the time the exhibit describes? (Obviously, not including direct quotes.) 

Pretending to be Adele while you write really helps with your authorial confidence. Trust me. I've tried it. Source.

2. All three of our research areas address interpretation in some way. How has your research changed your understanding of interpretation? Are there scholars with whom you used to agree, whose ideas you now question?

Mary: Personally, I now find it more difficult to simply agree or disagree with a scholar. Throughout this process you conduct so much research and read countless books and articles by a variety of scholars, whether they end up being useful to your writing or not. There are so many ways you can interpret theory and information, I often find myself simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing with the author as I read their work.

Emily: Going into my research, I certainly had scholars that I firmly agreed with about interpretation, most of whom asserted the importance of being in the presence of an object. However, in looking at remote interpretation of indigenous archaeological collections, I found that the subject matter's connection to a number of fraught social issues meant that discussing the objects led to a much broader discussion about access and privilege. In this case, the objects weren't simply standing in for stories of the past but also for issues in the present, so their presence or absence during interpretation was a complicated matter.

Lindsay: I have a huge on again off again relationship with James Cuno. I feel that a lot of what he writes relates directly to what I am doing. However, there are some intensely problematic issues with the concept of the universal (especially when you are discussing the literal universe). I have found a lot of scholars who seem to work in very disparate fields that comment very profoundly on what I'm writing about especially in terms of colonialism and frontierism. The greatest surprise is how interdisciplinary my reading list is. 

I'm going to challenge your theories... but can we still be friends? Source.

3. What aspect of your research still poses a question for you? What is your most pressing unsolved mystery?

Mary: A lot of the problem solving within my research involves archival materials and relies on documentation to help “solve the mystery” of the two collections I am working with. My biggest unanswered question in my research comes from absent documentation and how to fill in the gaps it leaves within my writing.

Emily: My work so far has been about how to use radio as a means of offering remote interpretation of collections -- but I've also been finding that people tend to refer to the physical landscape quite often when they're talking about radio. This was kind of unexpected for me and I think it draws an interesting parallel with how we describe archaeological collections, so its something I'd like to look into more.

Lindsay: I think, right now, the greatest mystery is whether this is all going to work out or not. As anyone who takes on a big project can agree (and I'm sure our exhibition buddies have felt this too) it is a roller coaster. Sometimes you think everything is going amazingly well and then other days you feel as though everything is coming apart and why oh why did you do this to yourself and is anything I'm saying going to make sense and on and on. However, the intellectual challenge of this type of work is very rewarding and at the end of the day, the ability to think deeply about things you care about is quite satisfying.

Despite our worst fears about our future research problems, we can at least be sure that they will involve very few demons and nary an apocalypse. Source.


Editor's note:
Emily Meikle is an MMSt candidate with a background in archaeology and English literature. Her thesis research explores accessibility in indigenous archaeological collections with specific attention to the use of radio as an interpretive tool. Find out more about her research here.

Mary Simonds is a second year MMSt student. She has her Honors Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Anthropology and Classical Studies. Her thesis, entitled Becoming Antiquities: how museum artifacts gain educational and heritage value, focuses on the “value” of archaeological objects as defined by their institutions as either educational or heritage objects, and how this value can evolve over the course of an objects “life”. Find out how her thesis research began  here.

Lindsay Small is an MMSt student with a master’s degree in Science and Technology Studies from York University. Her thesis is on cultural heritage management in outer space. Lindsay's interest in outer space began as a young child, but her proclivity for motion sickness and a fondness for gravity supersede any ambition to actually go there. Follow her on twitter at @lindsaymarlies, and check out the latest Musings post about her research here.

1 comment:

  1. Nice work, Emily! I like the roundtable-style discussion a lot, and you asked your peers (and yourself) some excellent in-depth questions that other future thesis students may come to face. Thank you for your fantastic efforts coordinating the Research Column this year! I've enjoyed the interesting insights in every single one. It really struck me how much non-thesis students can learn from those of you conducting this kind of work. Best of luck as you continue your writing process, and congratulations in advance on completing your Master's degree!

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