Dissertation Work, July Update

I’ve already shared some dissertation updates through my two posts on the research trips I took to New York and the National Archives. Since I have been doing things beyond travel though, I thought I’d share my dissertation work for the month.

My office, where I’ve been spending my days since finishing my research trips. Image: a desk facing a window with a laptop computer on it.

Processing Dissertation Research

Since returning from my trips, I’ve been processing the archival photographs I took. I was able to do this on-site in New York since I didn’t photograph a lot of material, but the hundreds of photos I took in Maryland means I’ve been working on them from home. As I’ve been doing with my other archival repositories, I’ve been organizing my photos through Tropy. Alongside the Tropy work, I’ve been making a spreadsheet of all my National Archives documents. This will be especially important for citations, as I list the location for each document within the archive.

Although I still have a ways to go in the documents, I’ve been learning a lot about art centers. Thanks to the work I’ve done on other archives I already have a good idea of who the main players are, but I’ve been getting some gaps filled in on Roswell, Walker, and other sites. Probably the center that’s surprised me the most in terms of content is San Miguel, located in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I knew next to nothing about it before going to the National Archives, but now I know the names of staff members, exhibition schedules, and even some audience reactions to shows. I don’t know whether this new material will make it into the dissertation, but I’m definitely considering an article on all of New Mexico’s art centers, not just Roswell.

Revising Chapter 1

While I’ve been processing my latest research, I’ve also been revising my first chapter. In a lot of ways, this is the one I knew would need the most work. I wrote it two years ago, when I wasn’t quite sure what my argument was yet. While I can see the basic argument in the text, compared to the later chapters it’s more nebulous. Since I wasn’t sure what would stick, I threw a little bit of everything into it.

To make the revision process more manageable, each week I’ve gone through the chapter with a different task or focus. One week, I concentrated only on reorganizing the chapter and cutting out material I didn’t need. Last week, I focused on adding new prose that better fit my overall argument. This week, I’ve been smoothing out that prose and fixing my citations, since they were thrown into disarray with all the revisions.

It hasn’t been the easiest work, but by setting down a specific task and dedicating 2-3 hours to it each weekday, I’m getting through it. And now that I’ve worked through what is arguably the most preliminary and disorganized chapter, perhaps the others will go more smoothly (one can hope, right?)

Dissertation-Adjacent Publication Activity

In addition to the dissertation work itself, I’ve also been completing dissertation-adjacent activities in the form of publications. Last week, I finished the copyedits on an article scheduled to appear in the Space Between Journal this fall. Based on a conference paper I gave last year, this article draws on Chapters 2 and 3 of my dissertation. I’m hopeful the sections dealing with the Neighborhood Circulating Exhibitions will be especially useful in my Chapter 2 revisions, since I’ve already refined the overarching argument for that section.

This week, I’ve been reviewing the copyedits for a book chapter in an upcoming anthology on museum exhibition design. It’s based on a paper I presented at an asynchronous conference back in 2020 and focuses on the Community Art Center Project. Given that I first shared this research three years ago, it sometimes feels a little peculiar to revisit it now because my work has moved in different directions. Still, it should be shared and I’m glad to see it moving closer to print.

Ongoing Dissertation Challenges

Overall, I’ve been working on the dissertation consistently, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had challenges. Knowing I’m on a timeline means I tend to overthink weekly schedules, and sometimes I can get overambitious. So far I’ve been able to keep up, but I also need to remind myself that I can slow down.

I’ve also been having trouble sleeping, probably in relation to stress. Although I don’t have other professional or personal obligations at the moment, I know the fall will be busy, between resuming work for the Barry Art Museum, preparing at least one conference paper, and visits from family. Knowing that the fall will have more activities than the summer, I’ve been trying to get ahead on dissertation work. The downside is that in trying to figure out ways to maximize my remaining summer weeks, I’ve been having trouble winding down at night. On top of this, I’ve started developing what I suspect could be Restless Legs Syndrome, a condition my mother suffers from and is absolutely no fun when you’re trying to sleep. Fortunately, when I shared my insomnia issues with my cohort at the latest check-in, they offered some great suggestions.

Bigger Issues

Dissertation work isn’t the only thing keeping me up at night. I’ve been concerned about climate change for all of my adult life and most of my adolescence. My anxiety has definitely increased this summer though, in response to the extreme weather happening, well everywhere. One reason why it’s affected me so much is that I have personal experiences with many of the places involved. I was living in Vermont when Hurricane Irene happened. Shelburne got through it relatively unscathed, but I remember how badly its destruction affected the state. When I lived in Arizona, Phoenix always felt uncomfortably hot to me by March or April. The temperatures I’m reading about now though, are nothing short of horrific. Knowing that the oil companies and other big businesses most responsible have prioritized profit over adaptation hasn’t helped.

I’m also anxious about the 2024 election next year. Simply put, we can’t afford another climate denier at this point, but I worry that might happen. And the fact that Trump is a serious contender has me terrified, as I don’t want to envision another term with him.

Still Going

Despite these looming anxieties, I keep going on my dissertation work. In some ways, the dissertation helps keep me calm by redirecting my attention to something I can control. I don’t know if that’s a good thing in the public scheme, but for now, it’s working for me.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *