History Takes Time (WWIT?)

When I wrote History Takes Time, I was preparing to go up for tenure. I was also advising a number of graduate students who felt they simply did not have time to do their work. I was distraught, as I felt and still do that we are conditioned more and more aggressively to be almost surgically strategic in doing our research.  My own experience in largely unorganized archives in Mexico had taught me that some of the most important discoveries in doing historiographical research come from what you do not know is present before you begin that work, from looking at what else is in the file, from what articles and ads surround the newspaper article you had to read to do your work. I am not suggesting that a lack of preparation before doing research is what is required; rather, I am suggesting that one has to be open to the experience of the archive as a practice and a representation practice, and that requires openness, precision and time. I can’t guarantee that my students have it. As I write, I am working with two PhDs entering their sixth year of graduate school, who are both trying to figure out how to get done more quickly, find a job in an adjunct market, or fundraise for themselves because their research can’t fit in the 5 year timeline and it looks like the graduate school has less funds than in the previous years to get deserving students sixth year funding because of budgetary constraints stemming at least in part from our recent financial crisis.  One of my students has not found what she thought she would in the British archives she is engaged in, but she has found other things that she does not know what to do with. She has to use more than one language, if she wants to fulfill her ambitious project; and, she has to think across media in ways that ask her to abandon disciplinary boundaries to do it right, which is exactly what the humanities claims it wants from future scholars.  She needs time. I want her to have that time, because her scholarship is what the field needs. This is what I am thinking about now, and it was what I was thinking about then.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Allan Davis October 18, 2011 at 11:01 pm

I found this contribution to the book particularly inspiring and daunting. I am a first year PhD student and I want to see it as a challenge: if the trend is heading towards a generation of projects that are increasingly more entrenched in 19th and 20th century topics that do not require the acquisition of a second language, I want to prove to myself that I can fight against that tide. That’s probably the result of an unhealthy combination of personal hubris and desperation regarding employment, but what are you going to do?

What I wanted to say, in addition to “thank you for writing this,” comes in the form of a question. It’s not so much “what can I do in response to this?” It’s more like, what venue do I bring this idea and concern up in? Part of my question is connected to the fact that I’m a first year student; I don’t know where conversations about the politics of departments, colleges, universities, and beyond are occurring. Is this a conversation that takes place between publications and conference presentations? Or do university settings have an outlet I should look for that talks about these matters?

I realize I’m asking this quite some time after this was posted so it’s possible no one will see this comment, but I thought I would ask anyway.

Patricia Ybarra October 22, 2011 at 10:40 am

Dear Allan,

I am glad that you engaged with the essay and that it provokes you to be more proactive about thinking about graduate education. The most straightforward answer to part of your question is to suggest that you seek out panels at the upcoming American Society for Theatre Research conference–there will be one on graduate education and one on the state of the profession. If you are not attending, I assume these concerns will be in the conference sphere for some time, as many faculty members and graduate students are dealing with these issues. I would also encourage you to join the organization for graduate students at ASTR-the GSC. The group has dynamic leadership and a great group of people working together. If you are a member, you might raise concerns there. The question of home institutions is trickier, as I find that the venues there are harder to find, especially for those newer to a university, whether they be students or faculty. If there is an organization for graduate students on your campus, I would highly recommend allying yourself and talking with students in other fields who have similar concerns. It is especially important for scholars of the arts to join this conversation. Often graduate councils function as liaisons to deans and faculty members and can have some impact. That being said, while I am heartened that you feel challenged to do historical work, perhaps in another language, I was not trying to intimidate students into trying to do so for the purpose of submitting to yet another market rationale. I understand your feeling of desperation regarding employment, and you are right to look to your future with keen eyes, but I would ask you to take the time to think about what it is that you would really like to contribute rather than simply feeling pressured to think reactively. I still think that it is our job ( i.e. people like me, who have tenure and have been lucky enough to land jobs in stable institutions) to do some of the heavy lifting necessary to change the culture. And we will be well served to be standing beside those just entering the profession in doing so.

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