Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dissertation Organization

I remain convinced that in some sense a dissertation, just like a master thesis, is an exercise in knowledge organization before it is anything else. The degree in the Social Sciences and Humanities is given to those people who can demonstrate that the can take a large body of knowledge, enter it, trace its connections to their respective lairs, and emerge with a 300-400 page record of that journey that documents their successful traversal.

Thus, developing the infrastructure required to get to the point of completing that traversal successfully is a key element of the overall effort. Just as in the case of the master thesis, having developed such infrastructure is an enabling tool for the next stage of the journey---whether that is the habilitation or the professional career of the researcher, is a separate matter.

With the first 100 page draft of my overall project, I was able to convince myself that the abilities tested for in the master thesis are still available; I dusted these off, so to speak. The approach of re-deriving things from the primary sources does not only speak to the archival-centric focus of the effort, but also forms a bulwark against the mountain of secondary literature, by definition average on average, and an inoculation against easy interpretations, especially in the partisan literature.

The overarching effort requires some form of dashboard, that makes it easy to

  • track the incoming literature
  • track the "processing" phase of the identified literature, at minimum
    • obtaining (downloading, ordering, purchase, ...)
    • bibliographical indexing (BibTeX)
    • processing of contents
      • determination of novelty and relevance
      • excerpting
    • secondary long-term storage in the case of downloads
  • query of state of each item
  • answering "what next" and "how much effort" types of questions
On the surface of it, one would suspect that bug and task tracking systems might be best suited to this effort; on the other hand, their notions of modules, features and OS types square badly with the requirements of the object being manipulated.

BibDesk type database applications on top of BibTeX files are helpful at the level of granularity of the individual book or article, esp. if one is willing to use the chapter approach to sub-sections in works such as Sacred Loneliness or Early Mormon Documents, to map the granularity gap between bibtex and the units of information at hand.

As with all structurally organized information, they might provide a way to transform out of a specific solution, once a better approach is identified.

No comments:

Post a Comment