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- What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?
I am writing a paper about art history, and I have come to assume it would be published in an art historical journal. This means the target audience is art historians, and in the future, those in the academic world of art history will be the people who are gleaning anything of relative importance from my work. In discussion with the other students in my graduate student group, I came to realize that this is not what originally drew me to my project - the idea of contributing a sliver of information to the art world. I am more interested in the actual concepts i am studying, and how they affect the public's understanding of contemporary art. I might care about what a famous art history professor thinks of my work, but I also care a good deal about what my younger brothers think about the art I enjoy so much. I want to focus more on writing a paper that includes both sides of the issue, not just a bias towards one or the other. There is no "side" to take, actually; I am just presenting the facts as I see them, and I hope that, in doing so, I can learn more about what causes people to say "that famous work is ugly," or what causes museums to decide when one kind of art is better than another.
- What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?
I have mainly been using Google Scholar and JSTOR, but I have also reached out to a lot of people via email. So I suppose my most valuable resource comes from public firsthand accounts.
With regards to reaching an academic audience, I have in my thinking/writing surrounding my project strived to really see what jargon is a practical necessity and what can be replaced by more direct language. This has actually been a good exercise for testing whether I truly know what a term means—if I can explain it in concrete, non-technical language, I probably have a pretty good grasp of what the term means. Of course this is not a perfect test, but working to remain conscious of my academic register and fighting the tendency to reflexively use certain jargon has helped me to better define my audience.
One thing that I did not really anticipate being so difficult was confirming the authenticity of texts and learning to acknowledge the contributions of their subsequent compilers/editors that fundamentally alter their structure and content. I have had to work to better understand the processes underlying the transmisison of texts and reframe the received text as a partial and precarious product of multiple exchanges in potentially very different moments in time. I have sometimes struggled to evaluate secondary sources that deal with only a limited part of text's passage through the hands of multiple publishers, editors, compilers, etc.—how does one sensitively approach the received text when it is not always clear what ammendments have been made along the way? Questions like these have forced me to reevaluate what I as a researcher can really verify about a text, sort of like a sense of negative capability.
I have used Zotero over the course of these six weeks and I find it to be a useful tool. JSTOR, Google Scholar, and ResearchGate (their reading suggestion algorithm has proven to be particularly helpful) remain my main sources of secondary literature. I hope to continue to expand the sources from which I draw secondary literature to include more specialized databases, but for now these have provided me with more than enough guidance.
While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.
I'm sure I'm not at all alone in feeling that the month has flown by. That being said, it has become increasingly apparent to me that I will be unable to finish my project by six weeks, something I was completely prepared to contend with: I had always envisioned my project as falling within a two-summer scope, and the amount of preparatory research (understanding the economic, historical, sociopolitical, and anthropological bases of the community I'm studying) I need to undertake before I engage in the fieldwork of the second summer, I think my focus for this phase of my research is to come up with a well-annotated bibliography (which I'm already working on, thanks to Zotero) and a good understanding of the major theories, literature, and gaps in the field I'm trying to approach. With all of that, I'll be able to yield my own theoretical framework for the Symposium, and as long as I can achieve a solid footing for my field research I will consider this a summer well spent.
Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.
We are becoming increasingly concerned with indigenous justice: land acknowledgments and widespread awareness are becoming more and more the norm. However, though they are essential for recognition, there is very little these measures actually do in terms of restitution. Understanding indigenous land management and governance is the first step toward creating policies that don't just try to "manage" indigenous people from a paternalistic point of view and that harm the environment in the process, but rather come up with policies that respect those who inhabit and have inhabited a place, that respond to their needs and knowledge, and that are motivated by care for the land rather than profit.
I am also taking the approach of making an annotated bibliography. So far, separating out the annotated bibliography into several sections by topic (with overlap of course) has been really useful. I also this that the annotated bibliography is a good way to narrow down those sources that are most pertinent to your project, and then there can always be a list of other secondary sources that are auxillary. Zotero for me has been a great way to jumpstart this classification process by making several folders and subfolders as I'm sure you are all doing.
- While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.
As I currently envision it, my project will have a written component (research paper) and also potentially include some sort of digital humanities element. During the process of translating and textually analyzing a 15th century botanical compendium from Vietnam, the ideas I've had about what this latter component could look like have started to crystallize. I can imagine creating an interactive version of the document, where users can click on or interact with different plants names to see a picture of the plant, its numerous names, and their graphic components. This could also work on the level of larger sections. In the section on 穀類 "cereals," for example, the user could compare how the text categorizes various varieties of rice with respect to Linnaean taxonomy. In addition to my Zotero library, I am working on several annotated bibliographies separated by topic—history of trade in Southeast Asia, development and history of Chữ Nôm, etc. This allows me to identify the main points of contention and consensus in a given scholarly terrain, and adjust my reading accordingly to fill in any gaps in understanding. The next step for me is to write a literature review that synthesizes key secondary sources from each given topic and place them in the context of my research question.
Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.
My project seeks to understand how vernacular names of plants in premodern Vietnamese botanical compendiums reflect an unique understanding of how those plants are used in a uniquely Vietnamese context, especially vis-a-vis the Chinese medical tradition. This research is important for several reasons: understanding how names reflect the use of plants is important to understanding how Vietnamese medicine constitutes itself as a unique entity despite being influenced heavily by China both before and after its independence. This unique and locally situated understanding of plants and their uses can be found in both the individual names of plants and their graphic components (aiding to the formal linguistic study of graphic loans in Chữ Nôm) and in the taxonomic relationships to one another. Additionally, the idea of "bioprospecting" that I've mentioned in earlier posts—the search for potential sources of medicine in the natural environment—has a long history in China and Vietnam that intertwines in interesting and understudied ways with larger patterns of Sino-Vietnamese linguistic contact. The mediation of contemporary bioprospecting in law and the protection of indigenous intellectual property rights would benefit from this research.
- What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?
One ethical issue that I am confronting in my research is the potential applications of my research this summer to indigenous intellectual property rights, bioprospecting as an imperialist enterprise, and the mediation of pharmacognostic discoveries in international law and by multinational corporations. I am increasingly interested in how research into how information about medicinal plants and their use is graphically encoded into a writing system might be incorporated into contemporary legal discussions surrounding drug discorvery and intellectual property.
As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?
Since I don't think I've decided on any sort of dominant viewpoint in my research so far, I have from the start continuously assesed a range of viewpoints. This is particularly relevant in relation to certain fields related to my research where there is considerable scholarly disagreement, such as the use and classification of character adaptations in creating a vernacular Vietnamese script. Starting to compose a literature review on the range of exisiting scholarly opinions in the field has helped me to map out more clearly where points of tension arise, and even more importantly, to identify the reason why that diagreement has not yet been resolved. Is it due to a paucity of available evidence, lack of continued academic interest in the subject, different definitions of key terms, irreconcilable differences surrounding primacy source interpretation, etc.? Identifying both the cause of a scholarly disagreement and potential roadblocks to its resolution has proved to be an effective strategy in my research.
1. How has your understanding of leadership changed from our workshops on this topic (or has it)?
I have always comprehended leadership in terms of collaboration, especially how an individual can inspire and uplift others in the pursuit of their respective goals. Participating in the workshops this week solidified this idea for me, yet it also nuanced my understanding of how a leader can relate to other individuals within their immediate team and more broadly within their field. For example, discovering the varying motivations that can encourage people has enriched my understanding of how I can uncover the individual purposes that inspire each team member and use that knowledge to facilitate a productive, driven environment. Furthermore, analyzing the different personalities that can typify certain leaders will also help me to further relate to those I lead and those who lead me in the future.
2. As you consider your research project, what questions or challenges are forefront in your mind? What first steps do you intend to take to start your project?
As I begin wet lab work in the coming weeks, I know one of my biggest challenges will be the isolation that often accompanies projects within the lab. Thus, I am very excited to have met some wonderful people this past week through the Laidlaw program and am eager to get to know them better moving forward. Aside from this, I think another challenge will be deciphering the sometimes complex content of medical journals, so I will definitely look forward to making the most of connecting with the libraries.
I definitely agree that research can feel isolating, even if you are physically around other people. Pursuing an original research project can be daunting for the simple reason that it may sometimes force you to retreat from others into a space of personal, creative production. On the other hand, the people around you can also be your greatest resource, but I do think it is necessary sometimes to find that feeling of being alone in one's research and feeling comfortable in that isolation before consulting with others or asking for help.
I have been spending quite a bit of time thinking about majors these past few weeks. I’m interested in Middle Eastern+South Asian Studies (MESAAS), but also Political Science, and although a double major is feasible, it is not recommended by many MESAAS professors. They advise that Political Science and MESAAS inherently work against one another in the way the two disciplines are taught and explored. Thus, I began the process of weighing one against the other, picking one rather than the other. However, after speaking with an alumnus and with some students in our cohort regarding their own projects, I am able to better understand that it is what you take and apply from each field rather than making every aspect of the two fields work together. There are many projects exploring the intersections of law and science, media and heritage, literature and history, and although we can find similarities among each of these fields, it is “untraditional” to study them alongside one another. The interdisciplinary nature of this program makes these “untraditional” paths a reality and also a possibility for my future. It is from my peers that I was able to learn that (very generally speaking) you truly shape your own academic journey.
This week was kind of a struggle because it just seemed like there was so much time and so little structure. However, as I went through the week I ended up setting goals and how to meet them. When I met with the mentor I was speaking of above, he asked me the very important question of what I will be contributing to this field of study, that is uniquely mine, and I now need to spend more time reflecting on that. What I had thought of before is not substantial enough, but I am glad to have been asked this at the very start rather than towards the end. Instead of working with a strict structure and themes, where I look for certain things, I am now reading the literature with a more open mind to find this “unique” take. Some initial ideas are looking at the role of women during the partition of 1947 in conjunction to how they are presented within Manto’s literature.
I want to echo the struggle of having two academic focuses, and the doubt that can often crop up when talking to representatives from either field. I think it's important to remember that professors from a given department want to incentivize earning a degree in their department, and as long as your vision of how you can combine two potentially disparate areas of study is clear, you should really just pursue that goal. As someone who is hoping to earn a degree in Biology and East Asian Studies, I often find that people are confused at first about such a course of study, but if I can explain in detail and with conviction my reasoning behind that decision or a specific project that bridges that interdisciplinary gap, people are generally willing to support my endeavors.
- Last week the trainings and discussions we had cut across the disciplines. How does the interdisciplinary nature of this program, the fact that students are focusing on such a diverse range of projects, help you think about your project and/or your academic interests more broadly?
I wouldn't say that my current project is interdisciplinary (it is pretty firmly within the humanities in terms of both content and methodology), but I have loved talking to students pursuing projects in STEM-related fields since my research is ultimately related to how we talk about medicine and its place within a given culture. Bioprospecting, or the search for objects in the natural world from which drugs or other isolated biochemical products can be derived, is a potential interdisciplinary application of my research project, were I to reframe through the lens of contemporary geopolitics. In many ways, my focus on language, trade, and indigenous knowledge in South East Asia offers a premodern example of this phenomenon.
As you begin your individual research projects this week, do you anticipate any challenges in getting started? If so, what are they?
I need to make sure I am reading things that are relevant to my project (and not just interesting). There is so much about the history of trade in South East Asia that I find fascinating that might not actually be super relevant, but I also find it easy to convince myself that any reading is good reading because it is giving me a greater wealth of knowledge to draw upon later. This may be partly true, but I noticed myself pull back from what I was reading several times to reassess its usefulness in the larger scope of my project. It's okay to not read everything, even if it seems useful, or even if it is cited many times (although this may be a good indicator of its academic influence). On the other hand, I found myself repeatedly drawn to a particular geographical hub of trade in the South China Sea that I had never heard before. I think it is challenging trying to stay within a narrow range of materials if there remains the hope (or the lived experience) that interesting and relevant topics/thematic material may lay just outside those self-imposed boundaries.