Dissertation Work, October Update: Chapter 5

Another month, another dissertation update. As with my previous entries, I’ve been working steadily with Chapter 5 revisions, so let’s take a look at what I’ve been doing.

My desk after finishing the Chapter 5 revision. I took down the hummingbird feeder because they’ve migrated for the winter. Image: a desk with a closed laptop computer.

Revising Chapter 5

The past three weeks have been all about revising Chapter 5, the last of my present chapters.

A lot of the revision process entailed addressing gaps in my secondary research. I’ve been meaning to do this since I first wrote Chapter 5. Although I had plenty of archival evidence, I didn’t have much time to do a lot of secondary reading during the drafting process. As a result, I noted where I’d need to go back and fill out some of the context. During the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing exactly that, supplementing what I’ve learned through the archive and contextualizing it within both the history of the VMFA and more broadly the American South during the midcentury.

As a result of this deeper dive into secondary sources, my argument has shifted somewhat to account for my more nuanced understanding of the Artmobile’s context. While I didn’t rewrite everything, I definitely changed the emphasis, focusing less on the Artmobile’s significance to the museum field and more on its engagement with Virginia politics and audiences during the 1950s. I still talk about museums, but there’s more consideration of regional politics as well.

Reflections on Chapter 5

Compared to the other chapters, Chapter 5 felt the easiest to revise. The argument was clearer, the sentences less rambling, and the sources better labeled. And that’s largely been the case throughout the writing process. Of all the chapters, I’ve experienced the least amount of struggle with it. My ideas just seem to flow more easily than they have in the other chapters.

Partially that’s a result of the sources I’m using. The VMFA has an excellent, well-organized institutional archive. Whereas the CACP sources can be uneven, the VMFA archive is pretty straightforward. I’ve been able to trace the Artmobile’s history relatively easily, which makes the overall writing process smoother.

Just as importantly though, Chapter 5 benefits from being the most recent chapter. Its archive may be well-organized, but just as significantly, I’ve gotten better at the dissertation process. Compared to earlier chapters, I went into Chapter 5 with a much clearer idea of what I wanted to do. My expectations, in turn, yielded a stronger first draft. A major reason why the revision went more smoothly, then, was because Chapter 5 was already in a stronger place regarding its argument and organization. While still had to do a lot of shuffling and rewriting, I knew where I wanted to go with it.

Still, I can’t be hard on Chapter 1 and the other entries. In order to complete a dissertation, you have to begin it. You need to write something, no matter how messy or disorganized it might be. It might be the worst thing you’ve ever written, but it serves an incredibly important task: it gets you started.

A Revision Milestone

In addition to revising Chapter 5, I’ve reached an important milestone this month.

At the beginning of the summer, I mapped out a schedule to revise all five chapters by mid-October. I wanted to do this because Brandon and I were taking a belated honeymoon/first-anniversary trip during that third week of October, and I had no intentions of bringing any work with me. Rather than interrupt my flow, I decided to go through all my chapters before that trip and return to the dissertation with fresh eyes.

On October 9, I sent off Chapter 5 to my advisor, meeting my goal four days early. It was a good thing too, because naturally, my schedule became full of other commitments between setting my revision timeline and completing it. Most significantly, I’d now have time to attend SECAC’s conference beyond the session where I’d be presenting.

A Quick Break

But perhaps most importantly, I’ve used October as an opportunity to take a break from dissertation work. Although I make sure not to overschedule my days, I’ve still been working on the dissertation for several hours a day, five days a week for several months. During that time, I’ve drafted the introduction and conclusion, finished organizing my archival documents, read multiple secondary sources, and revised all chapters. It’s been a lot, and while I’m pleased with my accomplishments, I also know that time away is just as important. And that’s exactly what I did during our anniversary trip. For a week, I did nothing but enjoy spending time with Brandon and family.

To be clear, I’m not finished with the dissertation yet. I still have revisions to do on each chapter. But this editing cycle has been an important one because it means that I’ve done substantial work on each chapter within the last three months. This means that they’re now all in the same state of revision. The ideas, arguments, evidence, and weaknesses of each one are fresh on my mind.

And all that means I’m getting closer to completion.

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