Feedback is hard. You’ve produced a piece of work, you’ve worked to create something, and then you let other people see it and instead of seeing the beautiful creature you hoped it would be…they see it for what it actually is. I find that I become blinded by the act of working on something; things that are clear to me don’t come through my writing because I assume the reader is, well, me. Needless to say, the feedback I received from a variety of sources on my thesis proposal was amazingly helpful. Throughout this process, and through peer-reviewing, I found that I so frequently get lost in my project that I fail to articulate it properly to other people. It also showed me how frightened I have really been about committing to a project. This has been abundantly evident in my feedback—I bounce from topic to topic in an unorganized way, and don’t lead my reader through. I don’t give enough signposts to where I plan to go, and enough explanation as to why.
For my next draft, I plan on doing many things differently. First, I’ve come to terms with forming an argument and will be presenting something I feel far more comfortable with. Having my readers ask me questions about my argument, and how I plan to support it, made me realize how uncomfortable I was with it. This made me intensely question my own argument, and settle on something more discreet that I am more comfortable with, and feel that captures the type of history I want to do. Second, I need to be more succinct and organized. My last draft was difficult to follow and contained unnecessary information. In the amount of space I have, I understand now that I need to be more pointed in my content and provide the necessary information instead of fluff. Third, editing. I didn’t edit my copy enough. I need to take time to step back and read my draft with fresh and critical eyes. Part of this is adapting my writing to appropriately address an audience. If I write consciously and with purpose every step of the way, I think this will be an easier task and I will better communicate my ideas. Finally, I know that I am going to change my chapter outline. Of course, this is influenced by my changing argument, but in hindsight my layout didn’t really flow well. I look forward to my next draft as an opportunity to create a project that I can take into the summer excited to research!
As someone who has been involved in museum education, I firmly believe that there is great benefit to learning-by-doing, that some of your greatest insights will come when you are elbow-deep in a concept or project. And that is precisely what I learned from my peer-reviewing of David’s paper–through evaluating his project, I was better able to understand how to improve my own project.
I frequently find it difficult to impose distance between myself and my project, which can be problematic. As I went through David’s proposal and critically asked it the questions we developed in class, I found myself thinking back to my own project and how I could objectively ask those same questions of it. By reading his paper in a detached yet interested way, I found that I could offer better commentary on its successes and weaknesses which I hope will be of value as he moves forward with his project. Taken in conjunction with the feedback provided by Drs. Jones and Kiechle, I feel that this exercise helped to teach me how to evaluate my own work more critically. I know what I hoped to see in reading a proposal, especially within the framework of the questions we developed, and think I can now go back to my own proposal and do the same with a clearer mind and stronger idea of what to loko for.
Over the past week, I’ve attempted to continue explorations into general histories of daily life in the North American colonies during the eighteenth century. While this seems like quite a broad topic, I’ve also been supplementing it with articles specific to colonial New York and Albany. One of the articles was “A Middling Sort: Artisans and Merchants in Colonial Albany” by Stefan Bielinski. In this work, Bielinski establishes Albany as a critically important trade center under both Dutch and English control, and as a location that defined the settling and development of New York’s frontier. He argues that the majority of Albany residents during the seventeenth century were deeply involved in the trade network that first created Albany in some way—if not directly trading, they were then secondarily involved with production of goods to enable or promote the trade system. This trade network was originally based on fur, though by the early eighteenth century had transitioned to focus on grains and lumber. With this transition in trade items also came a transition in roles, creating a distinct middling class of individuals who worked in support roles that Bielinski classifies as being “production-based.” He follows these claims with detailed descriptions of the geographic development of Albany during the eighteenth century, going so far as to list different neighborhoods and the commercial ventures present in the different areas. Overall, he draws off census, tax, and trade records to create a social history of Albany that demonstrates its integral role in the greater New York community as a center of commercial and cultural trade.
Of particular interest in this piece is Bielinski’s reference to the Colonial Albany Project, a collaborative project that documented the details of individual lives of seventeenth and eighteenth century Albany residents. I wasn’t aware of this resource, though it may certainly be useful in my research this summer. I’m reminded of Donna Merwick’s book, Death of a Notary, which charts the life of a seventeenth century notary in Albany. It’s been years since I read this book, but I’m not curious to see what sources she used to complete this microhistory, and to see if this Project appears in her notes. The rest of Bielinski’s sources also relate directly to the social history of colonial Albany, both under Dutch and English rule, and document details of what everyday life was like in this important city. I’m excited to start tracking them down and exploring what they have to say.
 Stefan Bielinski, “A Middling Sort: Artisans and Merchants in Colonial Albany,” New York History 73, no.3 (July 1992): 262-263.
 Ibid., 264.
 Ibid., 266.
 Ibid., 276-277.
While I found the process stressful at the time, I am so happy that we wrote a draft proposal this spring!Not only was it a good exercise in the writing style necessary for our official proposal next fall, but it also taught me about my own project.
I sat down to write this paper, and realized I knew nothing and doubted I could even write it. But, of course, I had to write it, so I had to try. Needing to organize my thoughts into one coherent manuscript baldly pointed out my weakest points. In my case, I believe, my argument is quite weak and I’m not sure it’s actually what I want to argue. Yet this same exercise also helped to show me the way forward. By distilling my thoughts down, I now know moving forward where my areas of research need to focus, and what I need to strengthen.
Likewise, it raised a cautionary flag to me about my scope. Is this really a project that I can undertake? Is my argument trying to argue too much? Perhaps, I have come to think. But, as I move forward with my primary research, I am hopeful that I will be able to strengthen and condense my argument. This would eliminate the thousand different directions I present it in my draft proposal, and would help my overall project.
For my next proposal, I plan to have (as stated above) a firmer argument. I also plan to have a better handle on overall chapter organization. I think this area was also a weakness, fueled by a weak argument that failed to provide the necessary foundation for a sensible outline. And, of course, my next proposal won’t be written next fall. It will be this proposal, rethought and redrafted, before going into summer research. While a shifting focus statement can help organize research and thought, I think this will help to better organize my overall project.