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Some Truths About Conducting Research
I try to write posts as honestly as possible. Not just because I want information to be accurate or to get my point across, but because as I worked my way through the academic system most of my professor were brutally honest with me about the fields of photography and art history both inside and outside academia. This week, I decided to write about the logistics of my art history research outside the ivory tower of a university. In some ways it is easier and in some ways it is more difficult. I will talk about these positives and negatives and share some of my specific experience so far working on my research into the Walter Spink photographs.
The best part about doing research outside of being a student is one does not have to get their topic approved by a professor and it does not have to deal with a topic related to a specific class. Ultimately, after completing a degree one should be able to come up with viable topics on their own. This freedom can be liberating, but it might also be overwhelming. I rarely have a problem coming up with research topics, my issue is choosing one. Once a topic has been chosen then you have embark on the actual research and that is where the real difficulty can come in.
If one is not a student or a faculty member at a university they loose access to research databases. This can make things more difficult because most articles can not be found for free on the internet. I always search the internet high and low for articles and occasionally I find them for free. However, many times one needs access to a paid database to access the articles. Recently, I came across several articles I wanted and they were available on Questia.com. I had to pay $19.95 a month to access the information. Now I have to remember to cancel the membership before I get charged again. I do like Questia because I have been able to copy and past the text into a Word document and print them.
Furthermore, I discovered that I could sign up for an account on Jstor for free and it will let me save three articles at a time so that I can easily re-access them. The biggest downfall is that they can not be printed. At the university one has free access to databases like Jstor because the school pays for an institutional license so all students, staff and faculty can use them. Individuals can also pay $20 a month or $199 a year for an account with unlimited PDF downloads of articles. The local library may have an account one can uses, so it is worth checking (I can’t get a library account where I am currently staying, as I am in transit, so I can’t use the library).
Book, books, books. I love books and most academic books are pricey. Having access to a university library or public library is very useful for getting books. With a university library or a public library one can use inter-library loan. I used this constantly in graduate school. Basically, inter-library loan lets a person search for a book in many libraries both in the United States and abroad. Many of the books can be mailed to the library where the searcher is located. The book is shipped at no cost to the requester. However, if the book is not returned on time the fee is higher than for a book checked out from that library. This is an amazing service, I even got a book from the British Library and it was listed as the only one available for loan.
If one does not have access to a library they are left with buying the books, probably on Amazon. Sometimes I buy the books just because I want them. I do like to have the physical book or copies of the pages so I can highlight them or write notes in the margins. I do have a Kindle and occasionally I purchase an academic book for it. It is easy to highlight and make notes in but you can not print the notes to hard copy and it is not easy to go back and forth from the pages to the group of notes. Also, the Kindle has to be charged to work, if it runs out of power, the research is over until it is powered back up. That can slow down research momentum.
Many people like things in digital form but I love having physical pages. I adore three-ring binders, notebook paper, binder clips, highlighters and pens. I think I like these things because I grew up with them and it is easier to know when to restock, batteries get old and unpredictable. However, it is best for everyone to figure out what suits them best.
Though I sometimes run into challenges of getting a hold of the information I need I am enjoying this new research project into Spink’s Ajanta photographs and the Archive. I have been interested in the archive for some time and it is nice to finally be acquiring more information on the scholarship on the subject. If you have a research interest and you are not sure where to start when conducting art history research, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will give you all the information I have.