Writing a thesis is designed to drive one mad, I think – this is my second experience with The Thesis, having written one in undergrad as well. My undergrad thesis similarly made me do crazy things (I once took a 3 hour long nature walk in the woods in the middle of the night, as a break from editing, and let’s just say I’m not normally an outdoors person), but the bar has really been raised with this master’s thesis. Here’s a list of things I catch myself doing that make me feel like a loon:
1. Whispering “tell me what your ultimate point is” to books while at various different libraries. One of my secondary source texts has a remarkably forthright passage that starts with something like, “The ultimate point of this book is to: 1. blah blah, 2. &c.” Ever since reading that, I began wishing that all these authors would just tell me what their most pertinent thoughts are, in one sentence preferably, so I can determine whether to spend my valuable reading time on that resource.
2. Napping in my carrel at Widener Library – I always thought it was weird that people left pillows in their carrels, especially since it’s not a 24 hour library and you can check out books directly to your carrel so it’s not a matter of not being able to fit all your sources into a backpack or something. Why not just go home to nap? But now, as I get closer to my full draft due date, I find myself thinking that the pillow-people are geniuses, and I’ve started thinking about borrowing my carrel-mate’s pillow to doze off. It just feels more productive to nap in the library, y’know?
3. Eating while walking. I’ve long been a fan of portable foods, and would often eat a Nutella waffle while walking to my bus stop when I lived in DC. Now that my time is at such a premium, I’ve really stepped up my eating-while-walking game and have added hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and burritos into my rotation. I don’t think this is particularly crazy (although some of the looks I’ve been getting say otherwise), but there is this weird downside of occasionally finding rice in my coat pockets. Now, what would be crazy is trying to eat a delicious Darwin’s sandwich while mobile:
I’m sure I’ll have more to add to the list before May 1st…
Yesterday, I took the 6:50 AM train from Belfast to Dublin Connolly station, and then the 4:00 PM train from Dublin Heuston to Cork. Normally, riding the train longer distances (each leg was about two and half hours long) is a perfect time to reflect – much like highway driving, listening to music while a landscape rolls by usually prompts a ton of thought, and often some writing as well. But I spent yesterday morning’s journey napping by design (to rest up for the roughly seven hours I spent in Dublin), and while I meant to stay awake and absorb all of the Irish countryside I could handle on the evening’s journey, I passed out five minutes in and didn’t stir until a teenage girl in a Slipknot hoodie shook my shoulder and told me we’d reached the last stop.
It’s not that I didn’t have anything to internally reflect on – BOY, I had tons – but I’ve also been sleeping very little since leaving the U.S. nine days ago. I spend my days packing in as much archival research or museum touring as I possibly can, and as soon as my work-related sites close for the day, I run off to see as much of these cities as I can squeeze in. For the most part, this has been a solo adventure – I met up with a few friends and a cousin who live in London, and last night I had dinner and an amazing walking tour of Cork city centre with the parents of an old friend. I’ve traveled alone before of course, but by “travel” I mean taken solo road trips from New York to DC or Richmond to visit friends and family, or taken the Amtrak between various east coast cities. Mostly, I’ve traveled with friends or family, and the idea of being alone in two foreign countries for nearly two weeks was a little intimidating. But (and no offense to friends and family I’ve gone on trips with!), I am really loving the experience – not only am I finding exactly the sort of material I came here to seek out, but getting to set my own schedule and do whatever I want to do in a series of cities feels very liberating.
It’s winter here, and my research schedule doesn’t allow as much nature and famous monument viewing as my last trip to Ireland, when my family traveled together for a wedding and sightseeing in 2008. But I’m absorbing every experience I can get in, and discovering so much more about my surroundings. Fortunately, paying attention to surroundings and culture is ideal when researching a thesis about public, collective memories of historic events…
When I was proposing my thesis topic to my history department, I wrote a paragraph about how going on a research trip to the U.K. and Ireland would be incredibly helpful, but I honestly didn’t think I would have the time or money to do so. Well, the head of the department suggested I apply for funding from my school, and two months later, here I am in Belfast.
My topic is the collective memory of the Titanic, particularly as seen through pop culture, but also through public history, so Belfast makes total sense – I thought the tagline “Titanic Town” might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but it turns out to be pretty on the nose from what I’ve seen. BUT before I describe what I’ve been seeing and doing in Belfast, I should take a step back and mention my whole itinerary for this trip – Belfast is my second stop, and I have at least 2-ish more I have back to the States.
I started off in London (4 days), with a day trip down to Southampton, before flying over here. I’ve been in Belfast for a day and half, and I have about another 30 hours left before I catch an early morning train to Dublin. I’ll get 7 hours in Dublin, and then on another train down to Cork, where I’ll spend a day and half (and probably most of that day in Cobh, less than an hour away by commuter rail). Then back to London for two more days, although I’m thinking of trying to fit in a quick stop in Liverpool…
Right, I should get to sleep – I have a long day of walking tours and murals and talking to people nicknamed “Mr. Titanic” planned, so I had better write more about my research over here tomorrow!