Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hard at Work on Research

Structure of My Summer Days

This year, I did not go into free fall in the transition from the busy pace of the academic year to the highly unstructured summer. This past semester, I actually adopted a pretty workable pace of life and so I didn't end the year gasping for breath and exhausted, and didn't feel the ground fall out from under me as the year ended. Instead, I had the foresight to put a plan into place -- a disciplined structure for my summer life -- and just kept going.

First we had some faculty development workshops which I attended. Initially, faculty complain about this happening right at the end of the academic year, but we always end up enjoying it and feeling somewhat inspired by it, and this year was no exception. Then after that, I just stepped into my new pattern of life without even thinking about it.

Here's how it works. I get up, have breakfast, and head into work as usual, except that instead of going to my office, I go to my library carrel. Then I work all morning on my research and writing. Usually I find it so much fun that it's hard to tear myself away for lunch, but I make myself do so at a reasonable time anyway, because I have learned that overenthusiasm is the first stage of burnout! It is really important to pace oneself. I have a tendency to push myself really really hard -- which is part of why I got so severely burned out to begin with! Now I'm trying to stop just before I really feel ready. That way, I am always eager to get back to work!

After lunch, I do go into my office to deal with administrative matters in my life as chair, and to attend to the one summer independent study project I took on this year. If I finish what I need to finish in time, I go back to my carrel and resume work on research. If the afternoon's tasks take all afternoon, then I call it a day when dinner time draws near.

In the evenings, I go for my walk, practice music, and maybe do some more reading related to my research.

Throughout the day, if I run into friends over lunch or when taking short breaks to get a cup of tea, I go ahead and take time to chat and catch up.

It's a very nice life!

My Research

I am really excited about my current research project. I have been focusing on a paper I am presenting at this year's Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE) conference, to be held at one of my favorite places of all, the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre! Some of you may have guessed that this was where I spent a month during my sabbatical a couple of years back. I also had spent a year there once upon a time, a long time ago. So it is very exciting to me that we are having our FAHE conference there this year! I will be staying on after the conference to continue my research, and then will also attend the joint conference of the Quaker Studies Research Association (QSRA) and the Quaker Historians and Archivists (CQHA), also being held at Woodbrooke.

My project requires me to be reading some of the writings of the early Friends, and I always love reading these early writings. I am especially thankful to the Digital Quaker Collection at the Earlham School of Religion for providing access to many of these early writings.

I have been trying to track down something obscure and difficult, that is not easy to track down using typical academic search techniques, but I've been making good progress and so I am very pleased at how this is coming along. I feel like a detective. Initially I had an intuition about something, but finding the historical evidence to support my theory was harder than I expected. Still, one clue leads to another, and slowly I've been piecing together a story that I think has not really been told in the way I am telling it. So I am eager to receive feedback from learned Quaker scholars and philosophers, to find out if I really am on the right track. If so, I plan to develop this into an article I will send off for publication.

I'll share more about this as it develops.


  1. I have been trying to track down something obscure and difficult, that is not easy to track down using typical academic search techniques,

    Please--what are you trying to track down? What line of query are you pondering? I, tto, am querying by reading early Quaker documents ... searching for the real/authentic/genuine amidst outward observances that obfuscate and obscure, as a spurious substitute for the real -- like tithing, and ritual sabbath observance -- if we just do that...we completely miss the heart of the intent of the Father -- diabolical, I tell you!

  2. Sorry not to respond sooner -- busy days!

    The line of inquiry I am pursuing is how the early Quakers conceptualized knowledge: not easy to track down in the ways I am used to because they were not writing for a philosophical audience, and their works are not indexed in philosophical indexes. Nor are there very many current philosophers writing about the philosophical implications of early Quaker thought, although there are a few who do a little of this, and so when I find their works, that is very valuable, and gives me clues as to which of the early Quaker writings I should examine. A lot of the time I have to find and distill implicit assumptions about knowledge from the early Quakers' theological writings.

    For your topic, some of the usual search techniques may work well: using religion indexes and searching using strategic keywords; also the Digital Quaker collection is searchable. I don't know how much of a background you have had already, but have you read the classics such as George Fox's Journal and Barclay's Apology, plus some of the comprehensive Quaker history books? Reading a fairly recent scholarly Quaker history book should provide a good overall orientation that would give you clues as to what to look for more specifically. Footnotes and references can lead you to the most promising primary source material.

    Good luck!