July 17, 2012

Researcher Development Goals

URSSAction Plan

Summary

This project should result in article summarising the research published in Reinvention: The Journal of Undergraduate Research, and a podcast for the Early Modern Forum, which is an international research platform that has been developed by my supervisor and others to enable international collaboration. These will essentially be distilled and refined analyses and conclusions resulting from working first hand with archival and database sources.

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Researcher Development Goal 1

What is the challenge or skill that I would like to develop?

Working in the National Archives presents an enormous challenge, especially given the short space of time I will be there (one week). I will need to learn how to identify the most relevant documents (a fairly tricky task given the sheer volume of titles) and how to optimise my time with them, focusing rigorously only on pertinent extracts. The eighteenth century script, both written and printed, could also pose a challenge to read. My goal therefore is that by the end of my time in the National Archives I would like to have learned how historians pinpoint the most relevant sources, overcome any difficulties with the document itself, and appropriately contextualise the information the source provides.

What am I going to do to achieve this?

The small timeframe means I will have to develop the necessary skills quickly. The fastest way to do this would obviously be to seek out the help offered by employees at the National Archives, to help me get the most out of their database and referencing system.

Why have I chosen this particular objective?

Archival work forms the backbone of much historical research, and should also help me develop some of the skills I will need when working with the online newspaper databases. Therefore learning how to quickly sift and filter vast quantities of information is probably the key to being able answer some of the posited questions at the analysis stage of my research.

Is this achievable within the timeframe and resources available?

Clearly the week I will spend at the National Archives is a tight timeframe to hone these skills. However the National Archives has some of the best archival resources in the country, from their database to their staff, with should facilitate my research there. I hope to at least improve these skills during my time there.

When will I achieve this by?

I hope to at least partially accomplish some of these skills by the end of my week at Kew, but the nature of the subsequent research is relatively similar, so a gradual progress should hopefully result in the achievement of this Researcher Goal by the end of my project.

How am I going to know that I have been successful?

I believe that, if at the end of the project, I am able to successfully provide answers to some of my lines of enquiry I will be able to say that I utilised the archives successfully.


Researcher Development Goal 2

What is the challenge or skill that I would like to develop?

Following on from the archival work, the second stage of the project will revolve primarily around interrogating online historical databases, and this constitutes the bulk of the project. While many of the skills are the same (refining search terms, locating relevant documents, contextualising primary sources etc), there will not be as much support on hand if I run into difficulties. I will be using up to ten different online databases to which Warwick subscribes, ranging from the Eighteenth Century Collection Online, to Parliamentary Papers and the Burney Collection of 17th-18th century newspapers. I also wish to make some attempt to relate language to practice. I shall therefore make use of Old Bailey Online, which contains the records of one of the key criminal courts in London, for trials relating to impressment.

What am I going to do to achieve this?

I will apply the skills learned in my week in the archives to hopefully reveal a great deal about this topic through an interrogation of eighteenth century newspapers and pamphlets.

Clearly the scale of this project means that I will need to approach this task in a methodical and logical manner. Possibly even “trial-and-error” would be an appropriate approach to locate relevant sources – learning how to frame my searches to optimise results. These online archives are searchable by individual word and can even identify which words are used in close proximity to any search term, a useful tool that will help me explore the terms associated with slavery and impressment.

Why have I chosen this particular objective?

The vast majority of the sources I will examine will be found on these online databases. Consequently the realisation of this Researcher Goal is crucial to the successful completion of my project. If I prove unable to master these skills, or to contextualise the sources in a critical fashion, my analysis will be very weak and inconclusive.

Is this achievable within the timeframe and resources available?

Measuring success and progress will prove difficult, I can’t move to some “final realisation” of these skills, they will always remain imperfect, incomplete and subjective. Nevertheless I believe that over the course of the project I will be able to substantially improve my skills of critical analysis and database research.

When will I achieve this by?

By the end of the research period.

How am I going to know that I have been successful?

Producing verifiable evidence that I have somehow “accomplished” this goal is neigh on impossible, but as with the first Research Goal, the successful completion of a podcast and journal article for two important academic forums, Reinvention and the Early Modern Forum, would indicate that I had achieved my Researcher Goals. Feedback from peer-reviewers and my supervisor will highlight weaknesses with the research, and should demonstrate whether or not I used the archives and databases effectively.


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