Hello fellow Tri-U Historians! I am a third-year PhD student at University of Guelph studying 17th-century Scottish women’s history, and I am spending a research term in Scotland from September to December. I’ve been asked to write a bit about what my experience has been like so far, and I have to say that the biggest challenge has been tempering my (let’s say… overly ambitious) expectations as to what I could get done this term. I expected to barrel through all of my primary source research (all of it! Oh, Alice) and enter it into my newly created database; to design the course I’ll be teaching next term and write up most of the lectures (in the evenings, presumably, after a day of data entry); to meet with the ‘big names’ in my field and discuss my project; and to maybe see a couple of castles (because hey, it’s Scotland).
My actual experience here has been very different, and far richer. Besides some data entry and lecture prep (a decent but not superhuman amount in both cases), I’ve also been able to attend lectures in my field, explore new ideas and even develop the ghost of a social life. Meeting with professors and students who work on similar topics has helped me question and re-frame my dissertation, and to realize what drives my curiosity of the subject; in a few instances the meetings even turned into opportunities to present my work at seminars, which, although they sucked up time I had expected to spend with my database, were far more helpful (and social). Being able to walk around the town that I study (now a neighbourhood of Edinburgh) has also helped me conceptualize the space in a way that hours of staring at the one relevant extant map could not (believe me – I have tried the latter option). Being here for the Scottish referendum allowed me to see how Scottish people interpret their past and their present, which informs my work and identity as a Scottish historian as well. So perhaps I have not been productive in the ways that my naïve former self desired. But I’m reminding myself that in these few months I’ve come a long way in understanding both the metaphorical lay of the land of my topic and the literal lay of the land of the town I study, and in the end these are far more useful than my original, narrow expectations.