Friday, August 2, 2013

California Research Adventure: Days 28-32

Back at the Huntington Library, week three...

Day 28: Editing

Monday. I honestly can't even remember what I did this day. In the evening I finished editing my 96-page dissertation chapter on sugar. I edited it down to...wait for it...93 pages. Yes, I spent two weeks editing one chapter down just three pages. Waste of time? Who knows. But the line-editing was certainly worth it.

And the good thing is that I have six other chapters to worry about. So I can put this one aside for now. In a few months I can go back to it with fresh eyes and cut out perhaps another three pages. :)

Day 29: A walk through the Japanese Garden

A really big bell, Japanese Garden, Huntington Library

I thought that I had walked through all the gardens by the end of my second week here, but then I remembered the Japanese Garden. On Tuesdays the Huntington is closed to the public, so I had the gardens all to myself (and the other readers). It had recently rained, and it was cold. (I was wearing a sweater!) Something about the chilly air and the dampness of the Japanese garden, and the surreal quiet of having no tourists around, made my time there very meditative. I spent about 30-40 minutes in the garden, alone, engaging in a sort of walking meditation, looking very carefully at all the birds, fishes, rocks, and plants.

A lizard in the Japanese Garden

A fish in the Japanese Garden
A stone pagoda in the Japanese Garden
A bamboo-lined path in the Japanese Garden
A very green hill in the Japanese Garden

In the evening I began editing chapter one of my dissertation—interestingly, the last of all the chapters that I have written. Whereas my sugar chapter is/was 93-96 pages long, this chapter is only 36 pages long. Perfect.

Day 30: Sitting in a Chinese Garden, waiting for the sun...
A space-ship-like pavilion on the periphery of the Chinese Garden

Today I walked to the Chinese garden during my lunch break. There I sat and meditated on a bench near a stream for about fifteen minutes. And by "meditated" I mean: I watched red and blue dragonflies dart back and forth across my field of vision. It was quite beautiful, really. From there I moved into the Chinese garden proper, and I sat on a cold marble bench in a pavilion watching the koi fish.

Another lizard - my friend

Evidence suggests that I am starting to lose my mind. Something about living in a hotel room for three weeks, eating fast food, and talking to no one has made me crazy. The highlights of my days here are hanging out with the birds and lizards in the gardens, drinking lots of sweetened ice tea all day long, and watching "Seinfeld" episodes late at night on TV.

Day 31: Weird Science

I usually visit the Huntington galleries on Fridays, but this week having a lunch date scheduled for Friday I decided to visit a new gallery on Day 31, Thursday. Having already visited the Huntington's two art museums, today I decided to visit their science museum. I expected it to be just a few rooms with dusty books inside. There was that, yes. But what I found was actually a lot more interesting and surprising.

The "Astronomy" gallery, Dibner Hall of the History of Science

The science gallery charts the history of science (in the West) in four rooms: "Astronomy," "Natural History," "Medicine," and "Light." I actually saw it as three rooms, with "Medicine" as part of "Natural History." In a sense, the breakdown is: astronomy, biology, and physics. Although I guess astronomy is really physics. Actually, everything is physics, right?

Anyway, I started in Astronomy, where I saw a number of old scientific texts as well as a few cool objects, such as a recreation of Galileo's telescope (through which visitors can see a small "moon" that someone stuck up on the wall down one of the hallways). 

 Thirteenth-century Arabic astronomy text

Reconstruction of Galileo's telescope 

Next I visited the "Natural History"/"Medicine" room, which was my favorite. I couldn't get over the wonderfully creative way that the curators demonstrated the diffusion of knowledge about evolutionary theory by creating a "timeline" of printed copies of Darwin's On the Origins of Species. You see, this science gallery has the distinct challenge of having to tell stories about the past with a collection that primarily consists of texts, not objects. But their use of Darwin's text as an object breaks down that artificial dichotomy, and it actually tells us quite a bit about how Darwin's theory of evolution spread over both space and time.
The "Natural History" / "Medicine" gallery, Dibner Hall of the History of Science

On the diffusion of On the Origin of Species, a masterful exhibit on the history of "evolution"

Much like the Darwin exhibit, on the other side of the "Natural History" room is a smart and creative exhibit on the history of changes in visual representations of flora and fauna over time. The exhibit makes us realize that science is always imperfect; how we depict plants and animals is shaped just as much by stylistic conventions and artistic abilities as it is by the actual "nature" of those beings. We are always limited in our understandings of the universe by our own word- and image-making (dis)abilities that can only go so far in capturing the "reality" of what nature is.

Changes in representations of nature over five hundred years

Finally, I visited the "Light" room, which was my least favorite. Maybe it is just because I never once took a physics course in my life. Yes, that's right. In high school I took geology ("earth science") and biology, but never chemistry or physics. In college I took, once again, geology and biology, but that was it. "Nature" for me has always been mostly about biology. I am fascinated by living things. Even as a historian I seek to tell the stories of living things, both human and otherwise. But as for light? I mean, really? What is so interesting about light?

The "Light" gallery, Dibner Hall of the History of Science
A history of light bulbs

Overall, I was very impressed and very pleased with my experiences at the science gallery at the Huntington. Walking through these rooms made me very interested in the idea of "science," and the history of science—not something I think very much about on a regular basis. And what a joy to see so many children also looking at these exhibits. (Thursday was a "free admission" day at the Huntington and hundreds of families with young kids were on campus. Usually the Huntington only attracts an upper-class crowd—I mean, the admission rates and the secluded location are not accessible for most Angelenos. So it was nice to see all these kids enjoying themselves and learning something today!)

Day 32: Today unfolding

Today unfolding, I am still doing archival research at the library. And yet I have one week to go after this. I had lunch today with a professor whose work I greatly admire. That was quite a pleasure, especially since I usually eat lunch by myself, and I usually rush through it, too, so that I can go wander through gardens and galleries!

Last night I finished editing chapter one of my dissertation. The goal wasn't to reduce it down from 36 pages to anything else; rather, I was simply doing line-editing and reading for argument and style. I am very pleased with this chapter, especially with my ability to keep it so pithy! After editing I decided that I should look at all seven of my draft chapters, as they currently stand, and calculate the total number of pages. So I did that. What I found was not so astonishing as maybe slightly worrying: I have written 424 pages so far. To compare, the national average for a history dissertation is around 300 pages (which makes it the longest dissertation on average of any discipline in the U.S. academy). At seven chapters, this means that each of my chapters, on average, is about 60 pages long, which is acceptable, if not desirable. I mean, if these chapters were printed as a book, the spacing would be much smaller and more words would fit onto each page. Each chapter then might be only 40 pages or so, which seems reasonable enough to me. But still, my advisor and my committee are not going to be thrilled about reading 424 pages of total text. And that's without the intro and conclusion, which I predict will add on another thirty pages.

So will my finished dissertation be 450 pages long? If it is, it will not be unheard of, but I will certainly need to be able to argue persuasively that it needed to be that long. And I'm not sure that it actually does.

All this got me thinking about just how many pages I have read so far since arriving at the Huntington three weeks ago, and whether all this new research will further balloon the number of pages in my dissertation. So here's what I've found:

Since arriving at the Huntington...

...I have examined 17 unique manuscript collections.

...I have read 7 maritime journals / ship's logs, 5 collections of correspondence, 3 personal diaries, 1 collection of business records, 1 census database, and a partridge in a pear tree. :)

Assuming that each maritime journal / ship's log is about 200 pages (7 x 200 = 1,400); each collection of correspondence varied quite a bit, but let's say on average each collection is 20 pages (5 x 20 = 100); each diary also varied in length, but let's say 100 pages per diary (3 x 100 = 300); the business records comprised five separate volumes that I looked at, and each was 200+ pages long, so (1 x 5 x 200 = 1,000); the census database was not paginated; and, the partridge in a pear tree was pro bono, so...

Let's add 'em up: 1,400 + 100 + 300 + 1,000 = I have read 2,800 pages of text since arriving at the Huntington! (Nearly 200 pages per day. Oy.)

The question is: how many of those 2,800 pages of archival material will actually end up in my dissertation? Well, to answer that, I report that, as of today, I have typed up 36 pages of notes here. Which means, if anyone is wondering, that I generally write about one page of notes for every 78 pages of archival text that I peruse.

Now, of those 36 pages of notes, how many of those notes will actually end up in the dissertation? That is harder to say. Certainly not everything I have written down is relevant enough to make it into the dissertation. And even that which remains is still probably too much data to end up in the final edition. Let's assume that only ten percent of what I have written down during archival research will actually make it into the final dissertation. So that means that 3.6 pages of my dissertation will include material from the past three weeks of archival research! haha. That's it?!

Obviously this can't be true. One cannot write a 424 page dissertation if the speed of one's research is 3.6 pages written for every three weeks of research. That would mean that it would take over 353 weeks to complete enough research to write 424 pages of text. Or, in other words, 6.8 straight years of archival research without breaks. Haha!

The reality is that while three weeks of research reading 2,800 pages of text might only result in 3.6 pages of direct quotation or direct reference in my dissertation, surely scores of pages of the dissertation will be influenced in some way by the research that I have thus far completed. One must remember that while much of a dissertation consists of evidence, a lot of it is also theory, analysis, and pontification. No wonder my draft is 424 pages long! :)

Next up: this weekend I am going to visit the OC, and I hope to have the most un-OC experience possible: visiting 18th- and 19th-century historic sites!! Stay tuned.

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