If writing is thinking as hard as you’ll ever think, perhaps talking is a dry run for writing. Granted, we don’t always talk about the things we write about but when it comes to major projects maybe we should. Talking, like writing, forces us to slow down our thoughts and examine them in greater detail, and communicating our ideas to others can be an enormously beneficial act. It forces us to step outside our own head and translate our thoughts into meaningful ideas and concepts for our audience, thereby making our ideas more exact, more well-rounded, and more considerate of a variety of audience types and perspectives. Historians would do well to consider the ways talking can benefit not just their writing, but also their ability to engage with the broader public.
Two aspects of the Bosch Archival Seminar refined my ideas for the direction of my dissertation: (1) the seminar’s thesis workshop and (2) the interdisciplinary, peripatetic nature of the seminar. Both aspects placed a heavy emphasis on talking about one’s dissertation with others. At the thesis workshop, we spent an entire day at the University of Chicago’s History Department presenting our seminar partner’s research ideas, offering feedback, constructive criticism, and suggestions, and then answering questions about and defending our own research. It was thoroughly exhausting. But it was also enormously beneficial.
Each of us moved forward in the seminar with a better understanding of one another’s work as well as a clearer idea of some of the issues we needed to suss out in our own dissertations. And the diversity of historical institutions we visited and individuals we encountered throughout the remainder of our nearly two week-long trip only intensified our efforts to define, explain, and justify our research to others. I found myself not just refining my ideas for my dissertation, but tailoring the way I introduced my dissertation topic depending on the individuals we were meeting with and the setting in which our meetings took place. In short, the Bosch helped me develop and hone my ability to communicate with a wider audience and become a more well-rounded academic.
The Bosch also provided a great deal of insight into the goals, structure, and day-to-day concerns of a variety of historical institutions. In my next post on Wednesday I’ll share some of the highlights of our visit to the Newberry Library, including tips for applying for the library’s research fellowships and ways the library works to engage the public.