“Highlights” of Reading, Notetaking, and Source-finding

As I stated in my first blog post, after a meeting with Dr. David Cline, I felt as if he would be the best fit for my thesis advisor. I believe that he will be invested in my success, and provided useful information on how to move closer to a decision between my two topics. One of his recommendations included finding a dissertation I had stumbled upon when writing an article-length paper on the counterculture of Floyd County in order to determine what angle the author took. I did end up finding the dissertation, and the author had actually done an excellent job of piecing together the very project that I myself had been considering. At this point, I am going to attempt to meet with Dr. Cline once more to discuss any other possible perspective that I could take on the counterculture topic before scrapping it and moving forward with disasters.

During the same meeting, Dr. Cline and I discussed the other topic I was considering for my project as well. I had yet to decide on any specific disaster at the point of our meeting, however, he recommended that I do some preliminary research to see if I might come across a disaster of particular interest. He also brought up a disaster that occurred in Massachusetts that he had done preliminary research on earlier in his career. The disaster occurred when a dam burst, flooding a lower-income area of a town. We discussed how disasters such as these brought up questions of vulnerability and blame, and how these might be perspectives to consider when organizing my own project. Finally, Dr. Cline asked if I had heard of Matthew Mulcahy, author of Hurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean, 1624-1783. I had read Mulcahy’s book for one of my historiographical essays last semester, and was actually pleasantly taken by the way he structured his argument and the themes he considered. Dr. Cline recommended that I return to the book in order to analyze the author’s methodology, organization, and conclusions, to see if I might consider structuring my project in a similar fashion. While Mulcahy’s work focuses on a much broader scale both geographically and chronologically than my own project would, his work is one of the only that I have come across that considers the impact of disaster on both the natural and human environment.

An attempt at a “citeable note” from Mulcahy’s book:

Mulcahy (2006): focuses on analyzing how larger social, political, and economic circumstances shaped the effect of hurricanes in the Greater British Caribbean; one of the only works currently published that considers the multifaceted impact of natural disaster on a region from an analytical, historical perspective.

For the interactive reading and notetaking exercise, I chose to read “Natural Disaster and Technological Catastrophe” by Andrew Baum, Raymond Fleming, and Laura Davidson. This article should provide some context for a project on disasters that have been caused/exacerbated by human action. The most notable difference between conducting this exercise and how I usually read articles and take notes was that I had to actively remind myself not to take notes until the end. In doing so, I believe I was much more attentive and deliberate in my reading, as I knew I had to remember the key points and themes of the work. While this exercise pushed me out of my traditional reading and writing comfort zone, I can already see how it will be a more effective form of researching. I will save a considerable amount of time by waiting until the end of a work to jot down notes, and I will be forced to retain only the essential information, as opposed to anything and everything that catches my eye. One aspect of interactive reading and notetaking that I anticipate struggling with is the recommendation to abandon the highlighter. While I agree that using a highlighter has often led to me recording and highlighting frivilously, I have also found that I remember the highlighted text much more readily. Perhaps in reading more deliberately, I can also learn to highlight more intentionally, therefore improving my interactive research without abandoning the beloved highlighter.

6 thoughts on ““Highlights” of Reading, Notetaking, and Source-finding”

  1. I know you are torn between the two topics, but let me urge you to pick one and put the other in a mental file drawer for your next research project! Three semesters might seem like a long time for research and writing…but it’s not! And trying to juggle assignment prompts for two topics, even for a few weeks, is going to give you nightmares (and sleepless nights).
    RE the highlighter– pencils make sloppier lines, but I find by using pen/pencil I can…note thesis/question in the margins, circle key words, jot down ideas prompted by the reading without dropping the yellow marker and picking up a different writing instrument. Neatness doesn’t count when reading and notetaking for research. You’ll have to tweak Single’s method to make it work for you, but I hope the general idea of how to read for research will be helpful as you go forward.

  2. Hi Carmen! While I’m not trying to side on one side in your dilemma, I do find looking into vulnerability and blame in the Massachusetts flood would be fascinating. Questions like, “What factors played into building a neighborhood in a flood plain? Did those factors play into the fact that a lower class neighborhood developed there? Did local government play a role? Why did local ordinances allow building on flood plains?” Or perhaps, as we read in our Topics class, the lay of the land just made it easy for development. Any direction you go, though, I think will be fascinating!

  3. You can’t go wrong with either topic you choose! Both are great; you’ve done a lot of work looking through material to see which is both viable and enjoyable, and it WILL pay off. I’m glad Cline is so optimistic and full of ideas – both topics have a seemingly-wide spectrum of angles you could take, which is also really cool. It just comes down to what works best for you.

    I’m excited to see what option you go with. 🙂

  4. Dr. Jones,

    I feel like I am hopefully getting closer to narrowing down my topic, because I definitely want to avoid any more sleepless nights than necessary. I believe doing preliminary research has definitely helped to reveal what has and has not been written, and hopefully after a meeting with Dr. Cline, I will be able to say I have one topic and a direction that I am moving in. However, after finding such complete coverage on the Floyd topic, I have focused most of my research on disasters.

    The interactive note taking and reading was very helpful though! As I said, I really think it will save me time in the long run, and Single’s method should be very helpful in effective research for this project and future projects!

  5. Faith,

    I definitely agree that vulnerability and blame could be really useful themes in this project. In any disaster, there are individuals or groups of people who are more vulnerable than others, and in disasters that seem to have been caused or worsened by human action, blame is definitely a hot topic. I anticipate using these themes to structure my own work in order to understand how communities were effected by such an event.

  6. Hi Carmen,

    “We discussed how disasters such as these brought up questions of vulnerability and blame, and how these might be perspectives to consider when organizing my own project.”

    I think this is a great idea for conceptualizing your project, because the people who are most effected by natural disasters are generally the people most marginalized by society. This is very apparent if you do any research on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and it sounds like Dr. Cline has provided a source detailing a similar pattern in this community in Massachusetts.

    I also agree with Dr. Jones that if you do not pick one topic and delve into it and only it soon, you will become very stressed by juggling both! I know we have talked about this type of thing before, but maybe make a list of why you want to work on each, go to sleep, and when you wake up the next morning, go with whichever one FEELS the best.


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