Dissertation Work, April Update, Part II

At the beginning of the month, I shared what would be the first of two dissertation updates for April. As promised, here’s the second installment.

Drafting Chapter 5

During the first half of the month, I wrote the initial draft of Chapter 5. As I prefer to do, I worked on the dissertation in the morning, dividing my time into two blocks. During the first block, I wrote. Using the annotated outline I created in March, I spent two hours gradually replacing the outline with text, averaging about six pages a day.

I concentrated on two relationships that influenced the Artmobile’s trajectories and content. The first was the VMFA’s collaboration with the Virginia Federation of Women’s Clubs, while the second was the museum field itself as embodied in established, prominent museums along the East Coast like the Boston MFA or the Met. My objective with both tracks was to demonstrate that the transit routes and exhibitions that developed weren’t inevitable, but reflected the motives, interests, and relationships of the various organizations that put them together.

Reading for Future Revisions

For the second block, I read book chapters or articles that will bolster my methodology sections. For the first week, I focused on Jake Kosek’s Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico. My advisor recommended this book because he thought the author’s analysis of all the different people involved with the forests offered a model for describing participants in outreach exhibitions beyond museum staff. During the second week, I read Caroline M. Riley’s MoMA Goes to Paris in 1938, which looks at the international exhibition Three Centuries of American Art and its role in defining the modern American canon. Although my dissertation is domestic in focus, Riley’s interest in the collections mobility and the messiness of exhibition work will definitely inform my methods as I write out the introduction.

Reading and Summer Research Preparations

After I finished the draft, I put it away so that I could return to it with fresh eyes at the end of the month. In the meantime, I continued reading, including the anthology Mobile Museums: Collections in Circulation. Reading these texts is helping me better articulate where my own work fits into the larger scholarship of mobilized museum collections, which will be key to the introduction.

I’ve also been looking ahead to the summer by identifying any outstanding archives or related resources for research trips. I’ve already got a lot of archival material to work with, but I’ve been looking for sources that get outside the perspective of museums. These include newspaper articles or, in the case of the Neighborhood Circulating Exhibitions, high school yearbooks and related publications that center student voices. My goal is to finish any outstanding research over the summer so that I can focus on revising all the chapters in the fall.

First Revision

During the last week of April, I completed the first revision of Chapter 5. This kind of editing is of the broad stroke variety, with the goal of cutting down repetition and length. I’ve been aiming to make each chapter about 40 pages, and they almost always start out significantly longer than they end up (Chapter 2 was the longest, coming in at 71 pages in its first state, but I’ve since gotten it down to about 40). At 56 pages, Chapter 5 was no exception, but I managed to get it down to 41 pages over the course of the week.

What helped was that a lot of the text of repetitive. Since I’m not always sure where the different parts of an argument will go, I’ll repeat myself during the initial drafting. As I figure out which locations make the most sense for a particular observation or argument, I’ll cut out their other appearances. It’s not the final revision, but it’s an important first step.

Reflecting on the Semester

All in all, it’s been a busy month, but I’ve managed to accomplish my goal of writing Chapter 5 during the spring semester. Considering that this chapter required going through an entirely new (and substantial) archive while pausing to present at CAA and finish my archival research in Roswell, I’m pleased with what I’ve managed to accomplish this term. Finishing the first draft of Chapter 5 also feels momentous in light of the dissertation’s larger timeline. Two years ago, in April 2021, I had my dissertation prospectus approved. Since then, I’ve managed to research and draft all five of my intended chapters. Considering that many of the archives I wanted to consult didn’t reopen until the fall of 2021, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.

Finishing the first drafts of my chapters isn’t the only reason to celebrate. Earlier this month, I learned that I’d received a Halleran Dissertation Completion Fellowship, which means I won’t be doing an assistantship next year. That extra time and emotional energy will go into the dissertation, with the goal of finishing it that much sooner. There’s still a lot of work ahead, but the end of this particular journey is starting to come into view.

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