|trouble (trouble) wrote,|
@ 2012-01-25 07:26 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||academic stuff, academic stuff: ask me about my thesis, academic stuff: research montage!, grad school, history, history: trust me - i'm an historian|
[All images have a description below.]
In my university, I need to do a year of course work, wherein I take weekly classes in my "fields" that would logically prepare me to be able to teach courses in my fields, and also give me what's called a "broad survey of the literature". In practice.... Well, I have a rant about that, but what this means in practice is that for each of the three courses I'm taking, I need to read the equivalent of between three and five books a week. (Sometimes "book" means "four or five journal articles" on the topic.)
I'm conveniently interested in fields that have a number of other people interested in them, so I get classes. One of my fellow PhDs has a directed reading course where it's her and the prof and they talk every week about the reading. At my previous university, the PhD program only accepted one student a year and all of his field readings were like that. I'm very glad I'm not in that because wow is that intimidating.
My fields are Canadian History, Immigration History, and the History of Science, Medicine and the Environment. At the end of this year, I'll start preparing for Comprehensive Exams. That will have both an oral and written component, and I'll have to write on two of my three fields. Then I go in and defend my answers and talk about my understanding of the field and the discussions within it. (Again, these are different depending on what institution you're at.) It's a pretty big deal. But I'm not doing that till October, which is next academic year in Canada, so I'll let that go for now.
[Academic years in Canada go from September till March/April, with semesters typically lasting around four months including the exam period. The Winter Semester typically starts in early January. The Fall semester starts in early September. There are also Spring & Summer semesters which are much shorter and often involve very quick classes that people are taking to meet certain requirements. I took a language course once during the Spring/Summer period. I will never do that again.]
Anyway! So, those classes are each about three hours long, and I take the Canadian & Immigration ones every week, and the Science one every other week. I can't tell you how long I read for, because I don't know. Until the books are finished. I also, of course, have assignments and the like, mostly historiography papers which I am terrible at. Historiography is the study of how history is done and the theories behind it. I like knowing these things, but I hate writing them out, but eh. Life is hard.
In addition, I am a Teaching Assistant. This is a person - often a graduate student but not always - who leads small groups of students in "tutorials" that discuss the readings or lectures. This isn't how TAing is always done. I've previously been a TA that only graded papers and assignments and never met with students. Here, my funding is dependent on my being a TA, because it's a position I'm paid for. As such, there are certain rules about what I'm allowed to do and how many hours I'm allowed to dedicate to TAing. This works out to about 10 hours a week. That includes typically attending the lectures my students attend twice a week, as well as leading the two hour tutorial session once a week. (Although typically my tutorials only last 1 1/2 hours because they're on Thursday evenings and students just peter out of energy after a while.) I also, of course, do all the readings for class, grade all of my students' assignments, lesson plan, meet with the Course Director, etc etc etc. I also hold office hours once a week, answer student emails and inquiries, and angst a lot about whether or not I'm doing a good job. I don't get paid for the last bit though.
In addition to this, I attend a lot of Professional Development-type things. This is not required and in fact it's been suggested that I attend fewer of them because they are eating into my other commitments. These include things like how to be a better TA, research methodology discussions, and (most recently) a talk about various library resources that I could have been taking advantage of all along. (Librarians are awesome, yo.) I've also done some "Time Management for Grad Students" and a class on how to use the library here because it's very different from my previous university. These are occasional things that I don't have to go to, and I don't get "paid" for them; however, for various teaching-related things, I can get "credit" towards a teaching certificate that indicates that I've done this sort of learning. Which may or may not make me more competitive in the job market. I know I mostly just want to feel more confident in front of the classroom, since I'm teaching my students things they need to know.
Of course, all of the above is probably typical of most graduate students, at least in the Arts & Social Sciences. (I assume sciencey people do things involving wearing lab coats and experimenting and study ducks and law students read legal decisions, etc.) What I do that's very Historical is I research in archives. Currently one of my courses has a major research paper due that requires primary source research, and that's what I've been doing when I've been moping on twitter & elsewhere about my woefulness, because my research is about murdered children in 19th century Canada.
But putting that aside, researching in the archives can be a very interesting experience. Right now, most of my research involves dealing with microfilm.
[This is the part that will involve many photos.]
Depending on your experiences, you may consider microfilm readers to look very clunky, and be very difficult to use. Certainly many historians & researchers I know have stories about getting sick (and sometimes even throwing up) from using microfilm because it's so hard on the eyes and causes motion sickness.
This is an older microfilm reader:
It's a big brown box that displays the image on a screen by throwing light at it. I've used these before - they make me quite ill very quickly, and they hurt my eyes. You have to hand-crank them, and they're very difficult to focus. I don't have to use those anymore because my life is awesome.
Here's another microfilm reader, the one I use here. It's on a computer, which means I can use autofocus, I can carefully control how the motion works, I can brighten or darken the image easily, I can increase or decrease the contrast, etc. It's a lot easier to use, although we still use the same sort of microfilm. (You can see the "reader" on the right hand corner of this image - it's still an image created by shining light through the film, but instead that image is displayed on a computer for me to manipulate.)
This one is a terrible blurry close up of the film itself. It's pretty tiny, and carries a lot of information. In particular, I am looking at court transcripts that are contained in a file that was originally created by a government agency in 1895.
This is an image of how I can control the microfilm from the screen. I love this because I don't have to do anything except point & click with a mouse to speed up, slow down, or reverse the microfilm display.
This is just an image of the microfilm reader room. As you can tell, there are lot of machines to use. I took this picture late in the evening, often there are more people here.
Part of the question is always "How do you find the microfilm you need?" Archives use "finding aids" to help with this. These can be online (and many of them are moving online), but the old fashion method was just cleverly sorted binders.
This binder is from when I was looking for newspaper reports on the murders I'm studying. I could look up the town the murder had occurred in and see what newspapers were published at the time and how many of those the archives had. This would often narrow down to a particular roll of microfilm, because the archives I'm looking in don't have a lot of newspaper reports. (They're all kept in a different archive in the city.) Back in Halifax, I could often narrow it down to a six month period but then would have to crawl through the film looking for the dates I was curious about. "Fortunately" this was a very notorious trial so I expect that I'll have several months of scandalized reports to look through.
Of course, I don't only look at microfilm, although that's eating up a lot of my research time right now. I do also get to look at primary source documents in their original form, and handle them. This is when researchers will often get to use sexy sexy gloves like you sometimes see on t.v. or in movies.
This is a large file box that contains many documents that don't want to be folded anymore than they already have been. It's made from a type of material that is acid free, to protect the contents, and I do need to handle the contents with gloves because of their age. These purple gloves are latex free; there are also cotton gloves, but I find they don't fit my fingers very well.
This is just the box opened, so you can see the way the files are kept in acid-free large envelopes. This particular box is sorted chronologically. It's assize court files and each envelope contains one session's documents. In this jurisdiction there were two sessions a year.
Because of the nature of the crimes that are discussed in these documents, there aren't a lot generated per year. Typically these files would just name the people who had been charged with various crimes, list what the jury had decided, and give a small report on the crime rates in the region and the state of the local jail.
This is a close-up of one of the documents itself. It's a bit hard to read because of the handwriting, since of course all of this stuff was hand-written. I think it says:
...apparently is a model gaoler.
We find that there are at present sixteen males and three females confined in the gaol. One is awaiting trial for arson, four are insane, four are vagrants, four are under sentence for theft, three for burglary, two for keeping a house of ill-fame and one for receiving stolen goods. Of the three burlars were sentenced ... during this assize and one...
What I'm attempting to research is several murder cases in late 19th century Canada and their legal repercussions. So I'm doing this primary source research, and supplementing it with some legal research and secondary sources (those are things written about primary sources) on the topic of crime, on immigration, and on the particular victims of these crimes. All of my victims were immigrant children who came over to Canada to work on farms, and there's a lot of research into their experiences. So, of course, I head off to the library and do that stuff, too.
Part of how I organize my research is by using a research journal. Mine is pink!
This page is just lists of microfilm I've already looked at and some notes on them. It's not terribly exciting. But I also keep track of what secondary sources I've checked out, and other archives I need to go to. Sometime this month I need to go to another city and check out their records on the Labour Council because they used these murder cases to argue that workers with disabilities shouldn't be allowed into the country. It's possible that the government documents I'm looking at might have the minutes from that meeting, but I haven't found them yet.
I also get to reference what's call the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. One of the children I'm researching (the one whose corner reports I was looking up last night) is George Everett Green, and his entry makes clear the impact his murder had on Canadian immigration laws.
Publicity surrounding the inquest and the trial influenced both federal and provincial policy on child immigration. The labour movement became involved not only because it was interested in the well-being of the young labourers but also because it was concerned about their effect, as part of an increasing stream of immigration, on Canadian wage rates. In 1897, responding to labour’s requests, the new Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier* appointed a representative of the labour movement, Alfred F. Jury, as Canadian immigration agent at Liverpool, with special responsibility to scrutinize the actions of the British child emigration homes. In Ontario, John Joseph Kelso, the provincial superintendent of neglected and dependent children, and his supporters in the child-saving movement argued that no youngsters should be as casually placed as Green had been. Their pressure for reform led in 1897 to passage of the Juvenile Immigration Act, which required more careful record-keeping and screening of child immigrants and annual inspections of them in their Canadian situations. This act was subsequently replicated in Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, the other provinces in which substantial numbers of British children were placed.
I have over 300 pages scanned and saved on a flash drive about this case, and I'm sure I'll have another 300 before it's all over.
Anyway, that's generally what I do. It's not terribly exciting, except for the bit where it totally is. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
ETA: It occurred to me that I could have replaced everything above with this:
Buffy: I'm starting to think this working hard is hard work.
Willow: Isn't it crazy like that?
Buffy: I thought it was gonna be like in the movies -- you know, inspirational music, a montage: me sharpening my pencils, me reading, writing, falling asleep on a big pile of books with my glasses all crooked, 'cause in my montage, I have glasses. But real life is slow, and it's starting to hurt my occipital lobe.
Willow: Aw, poor Buffy's brain.