I often feel New Years Eve and New Year’s Day are disappointing. This year I longed for little more than to go to sleep early on December 31st and to rise early on January 1st and continue working on my thesis, and on other projects.
In this article from 1916 (neatly published exactly 100 years ago) Gramsci puts this sentiment best:
I would like every hour of my life to be new, though connected to the ones that have passed. No day of celebration with its mandatory collective rhythms, to share with all the strangers I don’t care about. Because our grandfathers’ grandfathers, and so on, celebrated, we too should feel the urge to celebrate. That is nauseating.
History continues today as it did yesterday. This is not a new year. It’s just another year. Every moment is new, and should be treated accordingly. As philosopher Dennis Schmidt put it in a talk I once heard, “we are now older, but we aren’t closer to death. Death is always just a step away”. I think Gramsci would agree. Add that as another reason to have a distaste for this celebration.
I’ve been in a bit of a rut with my own research lately. It was nothing devastating (though it certainly seemed so at the time), but it showed me the necessity of stepping back and re-evaluating and re-thinking a big chunk of my thesis. This prompted me to further go back and reach for Umberto Eco’s How to Write A Thesis. Over the next few days I’ll write up some of the things I find most interesting as I get through this text. So far it’s a trove of useful advice!
Today I’ll start with his advice for beginning a working bibliography. I’ve expanded on it a little bit, including both what I’ve learned works for me, but also what I think would be acceptable given more modern research methods (in humanities). Most of this is in Chapter 3 of the book.
- Start with a preliminary search of the library catalogue. Don’t just search for the exact research topic you’re interested in, but also surrounding ideas and concepts.
- Once you have a number of sources, skim through the relevant chapters/sections and copy down their bibliographies (be exact and complete).
- Cross-check these with some general reference works on the topic to see which works are cited most often. This will help establish a preliminary hierarchy and give priority to the readings.
- Write down the full bibliographical details for each source on a separate index card (Endnote or Mendelay will do that these days).
- To avoid duplicating sources, organise them alphabetically by author’s name. These days Endnote or Mendeley will do such things automatically. A spreadsheet will also do nicely.
- Annotate this bibliography with details of where to find the text (i.e. what library if you search in multiple places) and its call number at the library.
- Once complete, the bibliography should be organised according to the hierarchy. That is, must-read and important texts should be flagged somehow (something Endnote and Mendeley will excel at – you can just chuck a bunch of references into their own folder) and given priority.
I really love this approach to building a bibliography, and I really love the idea of building an index card library, like Eco suggests. Even if it isn’t entirely practical, there is something romantic about it. My own approach is to build a working bibliography as I go along in Endnote. I’m horrified that I’ll accidentally delete the file one day though. But then, I’ve got ten backups.
Ben Learner’s 10:04, Alison Ross’s The Aesthetic Paths of Philosophy, Jennifer Mensch’s Kant’s Organicism. Particularly excited about the latter of these, something like a third of the book is footnotes and extra material. I’d be pleased to write a review of it, if someone wanted to publish it.
I’ll be updating the website a lot soon. Keep an eye out for stuff! I’ll post a thing over the weekend.