I’m re-starting my PhD properly on Thursday, after six months of working on my Arabic, which is still only shweya, and on the South Sudan National Archives, which is also shweya, although a little less of a mushkila than when I arrived. I’m leaving Juba for Aweil – after my previous trip, I think it’s a good enough place to start work – on Thursday, with no real fixed plan after that.
Tag Archives: research methods
This is probably not the advised method of moving archives around a town; but we have too much paper and we’re trying to resort 2000 files from Equatoria Province in a small house with no air con. Give us a break.
There’s lots of detail in the South Sudan National Archives: I’ve mentioned this before. What I didn’t mention is how many women there are. Obviously any archive, when read properly, contains women’s history; despite the erasure and irrelevance of women to the vastly male writers of historical documents (until, hopefully, recently), it’s hard to completely get rid of an entire pesky gender. What I am enjoying though in the South Sudan National Archives, as they take shape, is looking at how a determined researcher – with a significant amount of time on their hands – could write a very interesting, if a bit scattergun, history of women in South Sudan from these records.
I’m trying to work on a project for a January conference that I stupidly decided to do partly on “youth”. This is a nightmare topic – I know it, I wrote an essay for my MA about the difficulty and arbitrariness of the concept, for heaven’s sakes – and I’m kicking myself for picking it. My preliminary work (which is mostly sitting, angsting about the topic, and moaning about it to friends here) has been pretty stressful (she says, knowing she should be doing it now).
As happens when you’re trying to do a small research project on the side while really focusing on something else, the best research I’ve done so far is when I’ve got home, tired, disgustingly sweaty, covered in bits of archive paper (sorry – not intentionally stealing the archives, just bits that fall off it) and dust, and I walk down the short stretch of mud path that leads from the main road to my compound gate.
The international Sudans conference in Bonn was only my second conference paper I’ve presented, and I’m definitely still learning the art of presentation (and still relying too heavily on notes to stop the shakey fear overtaking me too much).
One of the things I was particularly pleased with in my paper was that it was an example of an area of serious research – on citizenship – but using an example of how the theories of this citizenship literature and debate is actually working in practice; something that actually rarely comes up, other than in reference to the Southern Sudanese people stranded with no paperwork at all. The people with some paperwork are often left out in a focus on the terrible, extreme cases.
This meant that I had no conclusive answers and only the evidence that I have been collecting, in between my PhD research (as this is not the focus of my PhD!) over the last couple of years. I really enjoyed the fact that – despite being while I was still standing on a terrifyingly large, raised stage – people were giving me additional information and ideas in the questions; I also enjoyed the fact that I was confident enough in my work to say what we don’t know, what there is no information on. This is what a “work in progress” is like, I thought. It makes you feel both insecure – should I have emphasised the historical and Sudan-wide nature of what I was talking about more? But I had only suspicions about that, I haven’t been to the offices in Khartoum in the same way – and pleased – I am one of the few people who has looked into this process in practice, and it’s a good feeling. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the information, and it needs a lot more development, but it was fun.
And with a thing in progress, as soon as you start thinking about it, stuff appears: this article, about form-fillers in Khartoum, turned up on AFP yesterday, and nicely fits in to my little developing side-project.
The six week “extreme archiving” project is half finished this weekend, and our friendly expert Douglas Johnson has left for the UK. We have been very productive from a slow start: our colleagues here are more enthusiastic, or at least feeling the tangible sense of change about the place, particularly since we managed to get the most easily rescueable files out of the USAID tent that has housed them for nearly a decade.
I arrived in Juba on Saturday, with Douglas Johnson (Dr Douglas, as he seems to be known) to re-start the Juba Archives project with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports in the South Sudan Government.
We came from Nairobi – after the very successful and brain-filling Rift Valley Institute Sudans course, which I was lucky enough to be helping with – and landed at the old terminal, the new one rumoured to be finished in six weeks (I remember hearing that six weeks before independence last year, but hey). We’re at a guesthouse next to the anglican cathedral, which is fine – once we sorted out the politics – and has friendly chickens and staff.
South Sudan has a really good archive. You wouldn’t know it: a huge pile of interesting and often important information from the 1940s to 1990s is buried in mouldering, termite-ridden files under miscellaneous poo, mould, sacking, a collection of spears, Enid Blyton books and an oil painting of Nimeiri in a USAID tent in Juba.
Part three: being ESRC at Durham and the Durham University postgraduate experience
I’ve had an interesting, varied summer, and spent my “+” weeks – after finishing the Masters dissertation and waiting for the PhD to begin – at a conference in Khartoum. More on that in another post though – first I’ll finish my 3-part post on being an ESRC student. This will be a short one, but I just want to sum up some personal points that I didn’t make in the more practical earlier posts.
This last year hasn’t really felt like a Masters course in the way my other friends described theirs. As well as the workload being less intensive and completely interdisciplinary (see my previous posts – one and two), I was also free of the impending job hunt and funding worries of my contemporaries – I knew my PhD was secure.
Part two: the ESRC requirements and being trained in research skills
Teaching ‘research skills’ for the social sciences is an idea that’s worried some historians I’ve spoken to this year, bearing in mind history’s uneasy relationship with the disparate components of social science and the concept of ‘science’ itself. However, the ESRC in its wisdom makes any PhD student it funds take a taught masters’ year first in ‘research methods’, unless they’ve already completed a course that fits the remit. So this post will focus on my experience of actually doing this course.
Part One: Planning and Applying for a historical-political PhD: some general advice
Applying for four years’ PhD funding on a tentative, 500-word proposal is a terrifying and bizarre idea. This is only my experience of planning, applying and working on an ESRC 1+3 masters, but hopefully these series of posts will provide a little window in to the ESRC 1+3 world for those thinking of it, or applying for it, already.