September 17, 2012

Researcher Development Goal 2

What was the objective you set yourself?

To use the skills I had learned at the National Archives and transfer them to an interrogation of over ten online historical databases, without the help of experts which I had enjoyed at Kew.

What actions did you take to achieve it?

I used a trial-and-error methodology in an attempt to locate relevant sources, by playing with the parameters of my searches. I found that some databases were far more useful than others. Unlike at the National Archives where most of the sources were letters of a maximum of four sides, many of the online sources such as newspapers, pamphlets and court records were very lengthy documents. I therefore had to develop my ability to skim read, in order not to waste time reading irrelevancies.

How do you know you have achieved your goal?

Though I am still waiting for peer review of the article I have written, my supervisor judged it to be a strong and interesting piece with insightful analysis. I therefore believe I was successful in using the databases to find pertinent and important sources, which made it possible to address some, though not all, of the lines of enquiry I had set myself. Over the course of the project I felt I was able to critically analyse sources increasingly well, and establish the authors’ position in the contemporary debates.

What new or existing skills have you developed as a result of achieving this objective?

As mentioned I have significantly enhanced my ability to skim-read, which I had previously found to be a weakness of mine, as I frequently found entire documents engrossing and was often side-tracked. By setting myself strict deadlines, I was able to force myself to pass over the superfluous (though often fascinating) information.

How will these support your research project, studies or career?

Clearly, in both academic and non-academic spheres with strict deadlines, the ability to rigorously focus only on that which is useful for a project’s intended outcome is a strength.

If you were to set yourself the same objective again, what would you do differently?

Despite accessing around a dozen databases I relied heavily on several in particular. Perhaps a more balanced interrogation of databases would have had a positive impact on the project. Specifically I would have enjoyed examining more court cases on impressment, as the linguistic debate could sometimes become a bit abstract and dry. More relation of language to practice in the court room could have also spiced up my article somewhat.

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