Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 71 (proposal deadlines edition)

Back in the satellite office today. Yesterday was a lot of department business--meeting candidates, lessons, writing recommendations, transcribing and printing scores and parts--so today is going to try to be more about own research work.

I set an internal deadline, way back in May: that I would have a book proposal for the minstrelsy project submitted to a targeted publisher by Dec 15, the putative end of my sabbatical. The past 7 months have been hard-core work--not vacation--in various stages (and not including the myriad other tasks both short- and long-term necessitated by running a department), and largely documented in this blog:

I: May-Aug: very extensive reading in the secondary literature. This is when I completed assimilating known historical record and existing scholarly studies. Typically this period both refines the original (intuited) thesis and also maps gaps in the scholarship to date--meanwhile hoping not to discover existing work which obviates the projected contribution of the proposed work.

II: September: very intense primary-source research in the Museum where most of my painter's works, sketches, and ephemera are held. This further refines the thesis, checks it against the primary-source material, and--in the case of a thesis of real original value--deepens, enriches, and confirms the validity of the original intuition.

III: October: back at Base Camp, head-down and grinding through gathered material, rendering it into easily-accessible and integrated form, trying to be ready for a "sweeping-up" trip to the Museum in November. That latter trip would be intended to fill gaps in the September material, and it necessitates that all that material be in collated form so that patterns and gaps are visible. This is when I made the decision to build the project as a wiki, so as to be able to manipulate, link, re-order, and keep track of the original writing and the raw research material.

IV: November (again, multiple interruptions for tours, conferences, CD release, and other "day-job" obligations): return to the Museum, for the "clean-up" week, meet with series editor who is interested in the text, and to participate in a conference and concert on the occasion of my painter's 200th birthday. Filling in gaps, laying the groundwork for ongoing oral- and family-history research with area genealogists and members of the African-American community, further testing and articulating the now-drafted project shape and Table of Contents.

V: Dec 15: submit the proposal. My target publisher includes the following for a "typical proposal": "table of contents, one or two sample chapters." Over the last 7 months I have generated over 100 thousand words of original writing on the topic--but a simple mass of prose (bits & bytes) is not a book. My typical research method tends to be comparatively comprehensive: that is, I tend to have difficulty finding the "through-line" for a book such that I know, early in the process, what I can afford to eschew. Rather, I tend to have to work through all the existing literature, to write every bit of original prose I can think of, and then to discover the through-line through the process described above.

I'm comfortable with this method, if only because (a) it gives me command of the material and confidence in my own thesis and (b) empirical experience suggests that I wind up with good results. But it is rather akin to saying "I think I'd like to raise a crop of tomatoes," and sowing an entire field with a mixed-bag of every kind of succulent, watering and weeding the field for an entire season, and then, preparatory to harvest, mowing down everything that isn't a tomato.

But now the lines of tomatoes are emerging: I have a table of contents, a "pilot" chapter (just took delivery of the beautiful desk copies of the annual which carried this article), and a nearly-complete literature review. That last is almost never a focal point of a publication, but it is a necessary stage to a dissertation or a book, because it maps the territory and demonstrates to a committee, or a review board, that the proposed work makes an original contribution.

The December 15 deadline was self-imposed and I could always blow past it--but I intentionally gave the date to the series editor, so she would expect the proposal, and so I'd be forced to make it.

Gotta get to work.
Now playing: Dick Gaughan - Father's Song

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