Working on the Big Picture: Dissertation Work, February Update

For the past couple of months, I’ve been working through what should be the last major revision of the dissertation. In February, I’ve been focusing on wrapping up editing and assessing the dissertation project as a whole. Let’s take a look!

I used an upcoming conference in Chicago as an opportunity to get ahead on dissertation tasks by working on an overnight train instead of flying. Image: a winter view of a mountainside lake from the window of the Lake Shore Limited.

Finishing Chapter 5

The first thing I did this month was finish revising Chapter 5. In January, I returned to the VMFA archives to see some uncatalogued scrapbooks. In February, I incorporated the new information I’d found in them. I then worked through the chapter one section at a time.

Using the same approach I’ve developed for my other chapters, I started by reworking the introduction and conclusion to make sure they both explicitly stated and summed up the main argument. Once the beginning and end were in agreement, I worked my way through the body. I finessed each section until it matched with my Introduction’s objectives. If it didn’t fit, I cut it out.

Working on the Train, Part I: Reading the Entire Dissertation

With Chapter 5 completed, I successfully managed to rework all my chapters. I wasn’t stopping there though. Although I’ve read through each of my chapters several times, I’ve always read them on their own, as separate parts. Following this latest revision though, I wanted to see the dissertation as a whole and make sure its parts fit together. To do that, I needed to set aside a day to read all of it.

Fortunately, I had just a day coming up: a trip to Chicago for the annual conference at CAA. Knowing how well I work on trains, I decided to travel by rail. With nothing else to do, I spent the day reading each chapter, finally taking in the entire project as a whole.

Working on the Train, Part II: Technical Matters

Reading wasn’t all I did on the train, though. Knowing how productive I tend to get on the rails, I also planned to use the ride to work on tedious, technical matters I’d been postponing. During my overnight rides, I fixed my citations, created tables listing sites and locations for all three dissertation case studies, sorted out my images, and worked on overall formatting. Each task took several hours of focused work, but with no reliable Internet connection and nowhere else to go, I was able to focus on these tasks.

While I still have some formatting left to do, choosing to work on the train gave me a huge boost to completing these tasks. I’ll write more about my experiences with working on trains in a future post, but for now I’ll just say it’s a great place to focus if you’re looking for a public working space beyond the coffee shop.

At Last, a Title

Arguably the most important thing I did this month, at least concerning graduating, was complete the Intent to Graduate form. To do that, I needed to finalize my title.

Let me confess something: titles are hard for me. Unlike so many of my friends and peers, clever or witty titles don’t come easily. Once in a while, I’ll think of something good (Fashioning Innovation is one of my better ones). More often than not though, Insert Better Title Here is my default name until someone else thinks of something better.

The dissertation has been much the same. I’ve used the same working title, Reassessing Art Outreach Exhibitions, since the prospectus colloquium because I didn’t know what else to call it. I’d thought about it, but I just couldn’t come up with anything clever or incisive to round it out. Fortunately, knowing that titles aren’t my forte, my advisor helped me finish it. I refined the original prospectus title to more accurately reflect the content, while he came up with the clever catchphrase to kick it off.

May I now introduce my dissertation, Moving Pictures: Reassessing Art Outreach Exhibitions in the United States, 1900-1960.

Next Steps

Earlier this week, I sent off my latest revision to my advisor. If there are any egregious errors or omissions to be corrected, I’ll do that. After that, it’s a matter of scheduling the defense.

In other words, folks, the end is approaching, slowly but surely. Can you believe it?

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