The end of the tunnel

March 25th, 2009

It either speaks poorly of me, or honestly of the way this semester’s been going: Apparently, I have two fewer weeks to work on my thesis than I’d assumed.  *Doh.*

Chapter Five is now mostly written.  There are gaps in the text where I’ve made notes for myself about what to write later.  I’m not good at this procrastination/last-minute work thing anymore.  I like to sleep.  So, as per usual, I’m behind the reasonable schedule I’d set for myself because there’s SO MUCH to do. (Goodness the coursework!  Goodness gracious!)  I’ve had a headache from the tension in my neck and back for the past week or so.  Oy.

But, on the good side, now that Chapter Five is (almost) finished, I can write Chapter Seven.  I’ve been waiting for this forEVER.  I mean it.  This is the chapter where I get to watch TV and think about the future and generally gloss over the last 15 years of Haitian-Montrealer history, in terms of everything else I’ve already talked about (actual history, political participation, literature, etc.).  And it will mean I am done.  I’m SO EXCITED!

I suppose I should write a list about lessons I’ve learned while doing this project…

1. A “let-it-be” approach is acceptable in research, because it means you are perhaps more likely to let the data speak for itself (rather than cherrypick).  However, it is not an excuse not to think about the parameters of the research you’ll need to do.  I wish I had had a better idea of what kinds of sources and materials I’d need to collect, so I could have done more reading in Montreal.

1 -a. When taking notes, do not feel rushed or bored.  If you’re bored, take a break/get a snack/go on a walk.  And after every little meaningful/-less piece you work with, write a short summary of at least a paragraph outlining the author’s main point, the examples s/he uses to support the argument, and where this might fit into your current or future research projects.  This would have saved me so much time!  (Although I might not have gone back and read a couple things as thoroughly as I ought to have.)

2. Do not underestimate the power of the first chapter you write.  It can be the toughest, but it really helps frame the writing style and flow of the rest of the work – no matter which chapter is written first.  It’s also the first chance to really think about the gaps you’ll have in other sections, so the sooner you write it (well), the sooner you can fill in other blanks spots.

3. Peer feedback is good.  Reading other people’s work is good.  The first bit gets you an outsider’s opinion, and the reading part allows you to think about how you write your own work.  Learning to edit your own work is a good thing- editing other people’s work is a good place to start that process.

4. Strong topic sentences.  Active voice.  Concise.  All good.

5. Amusing yourself while writing – my favorites are deciding to cite someone because I like them (don’t worry; it makes sense when I do that); and alliteration.   Also, skipping around the chapter – you don’t have to write a book the same way you read it, which can help get out the ideas you have before you forget them regardless of where they’re supposed to go.

I guess that’s it.  I need to do homework as I fall asleep.

Docket: 1) Finish thesis!  2) Try to stay on top of things. 3) Learn to be tough-skinned, and take things lightly (not personally).  4) Find a job.

Life plays dirty

March 17th, 2009

“When it rains it pours.” A similar truth played out in Williamsburg over spring break, raining for going on six days and still a little chilly. And in my life, … oh man. I won’t get into it, but let me tell you it’s a doozy. I will have lots of stories to tell when this part is over.

I’m not going to graduate school next year, alas and alack, so I’ll enter the workforce, or perhaps become a late entry into the WM Comparative History MA program. We’ll see.

And the thesis is lagging behind. I just can’t keep my eyes open after working for 14 straight hours. The thesis is on the list, however, and I fully intend on finishing the sucker in a timely fashion – at the very least I need to get something done by the end of the week to send to my advisor who’s probably wondering what happened to my energy from last semester. I’ve done some work on it – got revisions, sewed up Chapter Four (but it needs work) and gathered together the stuff to put into Chapter Five (which needs to be written). Chapter Seven has always been floating in my brain, but I’ve effectively stayed away from writing the conclusion before the rest of the paper.

I should have bought a drink with caffeine…

And, Life – please stop kicking me. It’s starting to hurt.

*Gah! So confusing!*

History versus political science

February 16th, 2009

I have been pondering lately, among other things, the great difference between political science and history.  Partly I am nervous about the Long Wait to hear back about my three grad school applications.  (Should I have applied to multiple programs at UBC Vancouver?  Should I have applied to Berkeley like I wanted to?  And general anxious questions, because I’m me…)  And partly I just can’t understand the difference and it bugs me.

History is about stories, and about figuring things out from the past using whatever bits of data (information, letters etc) happens the have survived the years.  Historians try to see things as patterns across time, but generally concede that life and relationships are more complicated than not.

Political science is about theories, diagrams and hypotheses, and about figuring things out from the past using whatever bits of data that historians decide to publish and write about (books, articles, and “fact” databases that share numbers – such as birth/death rates or casualties).  Political scientists try to reduce life and relationships to a single set of axioms or beliefs about the way things are, but generally do not come to a consensus.

Historians, therefore, tend to get caught up in the details or go off on tangents that don’t particularly help anyone learn a lesson for future engagements.

Political scientists, however, tend to get caught up in modelling life to notice that life actually is more complicated than a single diagram can accurately describe.  Unless you use a very large piece of paper and very small print to create a flow chart.  And even then, you’re probably missing something.

Why does this debate matter to me?  Well, depending on where I get in (God, I hope I get in somewhere!) I’ll either become an historian or a political scientist.  And the more I think about becoming a political scientist in Vancouver, the more I dread graduate school.  But then I think about becoming an historian in Toronto, and struggle with first having to live in Toronto, and second with having to become an historian.  To me, political scientists lose too much of the Big Picture in their petty debates on whose model is fittest.  And historians lose too much of the Big Picture focusing on all the little details that make their case studies unique.  I want the middle of the spectrum.

Conversation brought to you by GOVT 329/International Security homework.

False start

August 31st, 2008

I had finally got the gumption to write up my SNP paper. It was, admittedly, not what I’d hoped to produce, but it was a fair enough assessment for the requirements. I thought. This morning I woke to a lovely letter in my inbox saying, more or less, that I had to re-do the whole thing.

After several hours of revisions and constant commenting on the edge of the Word document, I’m feeling a little better about the final product for my Monroe project. The negative feedback I received was, oddly, just the thing I needed to want to do the project well (three days before it’s due). Faced with about fifty or more news articles to read, a few books to skim through at Swem tomorrow, and another major round of revisions on this piece, I am sad not to be able to jump into my honors thesis right now.  But I’ll get there.

My honors thesis, since I should preface future posts, discusses the role of an immigrant group in modern Quebec nationalism.  The topic deals with something WM is not very well-prepared to deal with (modern Canadian history and politics), but I have high hopes for the direction my advisor will give me.  The whole idea came as an extension of my freshman Monroe project on language politics in Quebec, as well as curiosity about Jacques Parizeau’s horrible comment about “money and the ethnic vote” costing Quebec its independence in 1995. As I began some initial hunting, I realized that I should have the best luck with the Haitian community as my focus group, even though I really wanted to do a larger survey of all francophone immigrant groups.

Haitians, as a group, had a very lucky pattern of immigration to Quebec. First came the moneyed intellectuals, which established a relatively positive opinion of Haitians in Montreal. Aside from the little issue of skin color, Haitians are rather connected to Quebeckers in the sense of religion, language and the ideological support for independence movements. (Haiti, after all, was the first black nation to assert its independence from a colonial power in 1804.) Then, between the first (1980) and second (1995) referendums came another wave of Haitians, this time the working-class. Their experience was different, since they had the social network of the elite to help guide their integration, but they also faced different and more racialized obstacles in the job market. A partial analysis of this immigration pattern will go into my thesis.

Getting down to it, I’m interested to see how the idea of “multiculturalism” plays out in the nationalist world of Quebec. I want to see if Haitians have been integrated successfully into the politics of their adoptive homeland. It seems to be a good measure of how they have integrated into the rest of the Quebec culture and society: if Haitians can participate in the exclusionary politics of Quebec, then that must mean they are included in the idea of what a Quebecker can be. Hopefully, the lessons I learn from the case of Haitians in Montreal will be able to help other immigrant groups become a more equal part of Quebec. After all, if the Parti Quebecois or any other separatist group hopes for success, they will need to tap the growing resource of immigrants as voters there.  I also want to study Quebec nationalism from a position other than the nationalists or anti-nationalists, which have been done to death already.  My thesis will attempt to look at it comparatively and somewhat anthropologically, comparing the Haitian imaginaire to that of Quebec.

Admittedly, I am rather jaded by the academic world.  Though I want to be a researcher and professor one day, I question the usefulness of such a role when countless other professions seems so much more “helpful” to society.  In my honors thesis, then, what I want to find more than just on the surface is if ethnographic and historical research can be applied in real time and real life, rather than just published, given a gold star and put on a shelf for future resume reference.  I guess you could say I’m moved to use academics to help real people.  The theory is that if I can discern patterns of integration of immigrants (who are increasing in number nowadays) into nationalist societies (which are increasing in number nowadays), then these models can be used to help others fit into their new society.

An explanation

May 22nd, 2008

I’m not sure how many people will understand the title of this blog, N2O. Nitrous oxide. Laughing gas. That stuff will make you happy instantaneously, and then pass out. I’ve only tried it once when getting a tooth pulled. I liked it so much, I decided to name my blog after it.

So, I suppose I should say something meaningful now that I’ve deleted the first post I’d written a while ago. My research takes me into a few different areas: history, anthropology and political science. I’m working toward undergraduate degrees in the first and last, and am toying with the idea of a graduate degree in the middle one. Right now, at this very moment, I’m in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, studying the relationship between a francophone immigrant community and the discourse of sovereignty. When I’m not struggling to understand what exactly to call the sovereignty/separatist/independence movement, I am burrowing in the Bibliotheque et Archives nationale du Quebec, affectionately known as the Grand Bibliotheque, or speaking with members of the francophone immigrant community about their opinions on politics. I’ll be synthesizing some sort of thesis paper out of all my notes when I get back to WM next fall. I’m also going to be studying the Scottish independence movement later this summer by looking at how the SNP (Scottish National Party) constructs its discourse and presents or “markets” its goals. The SNP study is being funded by an upperclass Monroe grant.

I got into all this by getting a freshman grant last summer to study the social and economic effects of some 1977 legislation in Quebec. The bills I looked at mandated the use of French in all business, public and academic ventures, thereby assuring the “perennité” of the French language in Quebec province. My conclusions in that study led me to question the role of immigrants in the failure of the last independence referendum in Quebec in 1995, because Quebec’s demographics show that immigration is what keeps the population viable at the moment.

Now that I’ve lived in Canada for almost six months, I believe I am qualified to say that I’m not obsessed with Canada, in spite of common accusations. The (lack of) national identity, and subsequent inner fears about not having an identity, of Canadians is really starting to grate. Especially in the Maritimes, whose economy has been brutally beaten in the last few years with changes in the fishing industry and the booming oil industry in Alberta, Americans are not that welcome. And, once they’ve decided they like you despite your being an American, they still only talk about three things: hockey, I hate America, and the American Democratic primaries. Confusing, eh?

What does interest me is the interactions between immigration and nationalism, both of which are on the rise. Yes, we are a global… globe. People move from country to country with ease nowadays, and cultural exchange is as fast as your internet connection. Yet, in spite of opening up our doors, we cannot seem to open up our hearts: we don’t want to forget our national identity just because some non-nationals are coming in. Quebec is, honestly, an accessible example for me to study, and I get to keep up the only other language I know, French. It is also an interesting case in itself. The only other people who study Quebec seem to be francophones, and the only things Quebeckers seems to study are francophone things. There is more communication between France and Quebec than there is between Ottawa and Quebec City (the federal capital and the Quebec provincial capital, respectively).

We’ll see what happens with this blog. I’m not always reliable when it comes to writing about my writing.