“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
I do not typically write academic papers, nonetheless one based in history. So, to say the least, this is difficult. Especially difficult. I have never had an assignment before that has challenged me in the way that this one has. Coming up with a stable idea and going out and finding sources surrounding the idea and then using them to construct some kind of argument is a beast that I have had the pleasure of never encountering before.
But it’s time for me to face that beast.
For these past few weeks, I have been writing the first part of my first draft of my final research paper. You’re probably asking yourself, it really has taken him this long to write only a few pages? Yes. It has. And the reason it has is because it has been immensely difficult finding a topic that I could invest myself in. I initially started out with all sorts of ideas and bounced around between several of them before settling on one. Then, that one idea did not seem to be as promising as I originally thought. So, through constant reflection and complex thought, I worked and kneaded my idea into one that I could actually do research on and one that is a little more prevalent in the Catholic community.
I think the one thing that has been the most satisfying of this is experience so far is just that: finding a viable topic. That’s always the first step, and to me, always the most difficult. It is easy to come up with any sort of topic or idea for anything; as humans, we do it all day long. But finding an idea that resonates with you and one that motivates you to go out and research and become invested in is completely different.
And yet, the most satisfying thing has got to also be the most frustrating for me. I cannot being to explain how difficult it has been for me to rack my brain for ideas and logical arguments that could be supported with found evidence. In every other class or for every other similar assignment, I’ve been given topics, or if not, an easy Google search is sure to bring some some supportive evidence. But having to craft an argument and search though databases and archives for evidence that may or may not support your claims is something unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. This process has challenged me in a way that I have not been challenged before, and while it is incredibly difficult, I am starting to see how rewarding this experience is for me. It is challenging, no doubt, but it is teaching me that I am completely capable of thinking of an idea, making moves to dictate it, and proceeding to pursue data and evidence that is not as easily presentable as a Google search for cats playing the piano.
This project, this essay, is showing me my academic capabilities, and while I am not a fan of the process, I can see a glimpse of the rewards that this experience offers.
This past week, I attended a talk by Dale Winling entitled the Chicago Election Project. In it, he discusses the electoral and political history of Chicago. A large portion of the discussion was centered around the political data, and how the data was collected, interpreted, and presented. Dale went into great detail to discuss the Chicago Public Library and the roughly 95,000 microfiche cards with primary and general elections data for the 19th and 20th centuries that it holds. He discussed the nature of this data and how it shows individual precincts, the tabulated results, and ward and precinct boundary maps. This archive is a treasure trove for this project, and Dale plans to undergo a large-scale digitalization and visualization of this data to allow the public, journalists, and researchers to further understand the political history of the city in new ways that they have not been able to before.
Dale’s discussion about digital sources and projects has made me think more about the sources out there that I could be using for my project. As someone who was raised with technology for the better part of his conscious life, I have always turned to technology for quick, easy access to information. Often times, I expect the information that I am seeking to present itself online. But I now am forced to realize that this is not the case. There may be massive amounts of data that have not been digitalized and presented on the internet for me to use and evaluate. It may be tucked away in an archive in Tennessee that I have no idea about until I go there and find it myself. Dale’s project really put data into perspective for me, as I realize that there is an incomprehensible amount of data on the internet, but there may be just as much, if not more, tucked away in physical form in archives all over the world.
The possibilities for this project are almost endless, and if I want to craft the best argument and the best discussion that I possibly can, I might just have to traverse to foreign lands (like Tennessee) and search for sources about my topic that do not yet exist on my tried and true friend: the internet.