More on Peer Review…

To build upon last week’s post I thought I would summarize what seems to be the biggest critique and the most effective aspects of my proposal based on feedback thus far.

The primary critique I have received seems to be in regard to readers struggling to get a clear understanding of what I am trying to do, when reading my proposal. This is understandable since, when reading back over my proposal and comments, there seems to be a tension in the writing between wanting to tell the narrative of the Saltville Disaster and wanting to use it at a case study in disaster culture in Appalachia in the early 20th century. What I WANT to do is the latter. This is an area of my proposal that I immediately need to fix both in mind and on paper–it is imperative that readers (and myself) have a very clear sense of what I am trying  to do. By fixing this issue, hopefully the topic, argument, and questions flow together more smoothly and logically.

The section(s) of my work that I have received the most positive feedback on are my Historiography/Methodology sections and placement. This seems ironic, because these are the sections that took me the longest to write and that I probably felt LEAST confident about. However, I am thankful to see that my efforts to place myself in historical discourse have not been entirely in vain (and that professors’ efforts to teach me how to write a historiography have not been entirely in vain), and that I at least have a sense of the scholarly conversations that I will be joining. Hopefully I will be able to continue to build upon these sections as I expand my Historiography to include a few other subjects or “petals”.

Overall, the peer review process has been a bit frightening but very insightful. My hope is that by the end of the semester, I will have a very clear sense of what my project is and how to progress it over the summer in terms of research and writing.

Peer-Review Reflection

Taking part in the peer-reviewing process this past week has challenged me once more to critically consider my own project and the areas in which I can improve—this is part of the benefit of peer reviewing, no doubt. I believe this task absolutely built upon the personal reflection from last week—it is one thing to look back upon your own work and imagine what you might have done differently, it is another thing entirely to review another’s proposal and be enlightened or inspired about areas in which the author succeeded or struggled and how that compares to your own work.

In reviewing Kate’s proposal this week, I noticed one major strength that I feel as if my paper was lacking—true narrative. This is, of course, something our cohort has discussed in-depth in a variety of classes. The narrative aspect of our work becomes the hook that prevents our scholarship from joining the ranks of dry, uninspiring, historical discourse. As Cronon would say, “Don’t get (be?) bored.” By that same token, I believe our duty is in part to ensure that our readers don’t get bored, if we can help it. I certainly was not bored reading Kate’s introduction. While I wrote a rather brief introduction, Kate’s was lengthier, laying out the context within which her project and topic took place. In fact, she was even able to create a narrative in her Historiography section—in my opinion, the densest aspect of the entire proposal. She was able to concisely state what each area of historical discourse was covering and the ways in which scholars were treating those areas.

While I will save the bulk of my comments regarding the peer-review for the actual author (and Dr. Jones), I am definitely coming away from this process more aware of the narrative (or lack thereof) in my own work and have been inspired to make some changes and consider other options for my proposal. All in all, I would certainly say that this assignment was conducive to producing better second drafts for both the peer-reviewer and the reviewed.

More Reading…

Mathieson Alkali Works (Saltville, Va.). 1942. Fifty Years of Chemical Progress, 1892-1942. New York, N.Y.: Mathieson Alkali Works.

This week I read a book I had received through Illiad (the upcoming return date was part of the motivation to get through it). I was hoping the book would provide some information regarding how the company functioned within Saltville and how the town was shaped as a result.

Rather than providing any sort of narrative, the book was highly scientific and focused heavily on the methods of production and the chemical composition of the materials being extracted from various Mathieson sites, including Saltville. Though the book may provide a bit of contextual information and was produced soon after the dam disaster, I am not sure that it will be of much help. It does not reference the dam disaster whatsoever, and the prose itself is extremely technical. It does, however, contain several great period pictures of Saltville, which may or may not be of use.


The process of producing my first proposal draft was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying, not to be overly dramatic. Certainly, this particular project was one of the highest-pressure products I have worked on to-date, and the process of writing revealed how far I have to go before I really have a polished proposal.

Perhaps the most helpful aspect of writing my proposal draft was considering all of the elements of my historiography section (or the petals of my bedraggled daisy) and then attempting to organize them in a coherent order. This process revealed a number of things: first, there are MANY more books written on disasters and vulnerability than I initially realized (a double-edged sword), and I had difficulty determining which books would be most useful for my project or which books most informed/took part in the historical conversation I am attempting to join; second, that I do not necessarily have a good sense yet of the most logical way for my paper to proceed—I definitely struggled when attempting to determine my chapters and what each would include. Even a week after having to turn in the draft—having had time to reflect—I still am unsure about how to organize the different parts of my project in a way that would convince my audience that my argument is both credible and significant; finally, building upon my attempts to organize the various aspects of my project, I grew increasingly worried that my topic/argument has too many working parts. Having read the second years’ proposals and referring back to them several times throughout the writing process, I could not get a good sense of where the fine line was between “enough” working parts, or too many—I do not want to take on a project that is too broad, and I certainly don’t want to overcomplicate it to the point of confusing myself and my audience. I noticed this issue particularly when I tried to add in a comparison between the dam disaster and the shutdown of the company town—two completely unrelated events that had entirely different impacts on the town. While this comparison could be useful for the point I was trying to make, I do fear it is too much or too unrelated to add into my project.

I believe the most difficult aspect of writing this first draft was having to turn something in that I am not particularly proud of. I recognize that releasing a draft and getting feedback is a critical and helpful part of the proposal-writing process, however, I never like to release my work to the public unless I believe it is my best work (or at least very close to it).

This process has been exhausting—and it has only just begun—but I can definitely see the benefit of having to produce a first draft. I formed my own critiques of my work during the production process and I have had time to consider different approaches I would like to take or certain areas I would like to focus on, and I think these things, coupled with critique from a committee and peer reviewer, will result in a better formulated and more cohesive second draft.