For Everything There is a Season

But this blog isn’t just about shameless self-promotion. For those uninitiated in the conventions of historical conferencing, I offer a peek behind the curtain. Most noteworthy is just how slowly historical research works – much like blog posting, especially when you have end-of-term grading and a cold. This is particularly true for those of us who aren’t at Research I institutions, those of us who teach 3-4 courses every semester and have various service obligations. The trek from initial research to public unveiling (usually via conference papers) to final publication offers an instructive example of this process.

To provide a graphic example of how long and tortuous this process can be, I present you with my own academic biography, in handy visual form (that’s my shtick after all). I haven’t been a particularly prolific scholar, nor have I been on the fast track, but the following illustrates how little dribs and drabs trickle out over time, much never seeing the light of publication, and how work gets recycled, repurposed, grafted onto, and generally shaped into different forms. (I think I’ve thoroughly confused my metaphor by this point – is research a theater production, a fluid, an aluminum can, a tree, a piece of clay, or what exactly? Maybe all of the above.)

AcademicBiography

The above graphic is a bit silly, and I didn’t spend the time to figure out a good vertical axis scheme. But I tried to portray a chronological narrative of the various research jaunts, major presentations and publications that I’ve completed over the years. From this you can see how long it takes for the average (?) historian to get their ideas out there: my 2000 journal article on Ramillies (yellow project) itself took four years from the initial draft (which required revision and resubmission) to its acceptance at the end of 1998 to its actual publication in 2000. The initial draft in turn was based off some of the research done for my master’s thesis, over the course of 1992-1995, supplemented by research carried out in the archives in 1997-1998. My book (Vauban under Siege – the pink project) was similarly the product of a decade of research, and can be traced back to an initial chance encounter with Christopher Duffy’s The Fortress in the Age of Vauban and Frederick the Great in 1991. The book’s findings have been further perpetuated by a few other book chapters and presentations based off of its results. Much of the rest of my archival research from 1997-98 has yet to see print. And, as anyone who’s participated in a collection volume can attest, the three year gap between the 2009 completion of my “Marlborough and Siege Warfare” chapter – itself based on a paper presented in 2004 – and the edited volume’s publication this past month (brownish gold project) is hardly extraordinary. Like herding cats, as they say.

Just as noteworthy are the multiple conference papers that were their own mini-projects: five conference papers that might be considered one-offs, though perhaps something to return to in the future. (The 2000 WSFH paper discussed my database, a discussion which I later put up on my website.) For the efficient scholar every conference paper is a rough draft of a journal article. But in addition to being busy with teaching, my perfectionism often gets in the way of me completing such projects, while my wandering eye sends me off into all sorts of side alleys. A life littered with half-completed projects – how Lord Acton-esque.

I assume I’m not that unusual?

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6 responses to “For Everything There is a Season”

  1. midgardarts says :

    I will shamelessly steel this system of visual biography, it’s brilliant. And yes, this is a common academic experience in graphic form. I have trouble keeping track of my own chronology, especially when there are multiple spin-offs with a project (my MA thesis produced 3 conference papers and 3 journal articles, but 2 of those articles are still in the editorial digestive track). Academic productivity is a long-game and keeping a detailed record of the path covered is just as necessary as planning the path ahead.

  2. Erik Lund says :

    My only concern (but not with Jamel!) is that the “long game” can become an excuse. “You just wait. I have a bombshell manuscript in my desk” suddenly turns into “Ha ha ha, I’m retiring, you suckers!”

    I’m not going to inquire too closely into the individual cases in which “the second book,” or even the first one, is somehow pending right up until an academic retires, but it does rather create the impression that there isn’t enough productivity pressure in academia.

    That’s not unique to academia, since it is ultimately a supervision/compensation issue that can arise in any industry, but academics are supposed to be highly motivated.

    • midgardarts says :

      That is a risk, certainly. What I was refering to with the long-game was the submission-to-publication process which is hard to track. It’s worth knowing how long some projects take to get from your desk to publication. I think it’s good that this chart tracks projects that have actually gone out into the wide-world of editorial review.

  3. Nate says :

    Thanks for this. I finished my MA this past year, and hope to start a PhD program in 5 years after I retire from the Army. I’m keeping involved by continuing research and presenting/attending conferences like SMH, but it’s hard to feel like I’m making progress when I’ve got to work a day job. Thanks for reminding me it all doesn’t happen at once, and to be patient.

    • jostwald says :

      Glad to provide moral support. A friend of mine (History PhD, now out of academia and programming computers) just submitted his third (or is it his fourth?) book for publication. Depending on the type of academic job you have, you might be more productive without an academic position!

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