Saturday, January 12th, 2019 (for Friday No. 15)
I am bit late this week with my state of research entry not because of one of the many good reasons to be brought forward at such an occasion – delays caused by family matters, urgent appointments, events which cannot be rescheduled, etc. – but because of something which happens to me only very rarely. I just did not know what to write. And to be honest, I am not entirely sure if I do now as I am writing this. The problem is that with the first three months of my project year now done, I should now know what to do and what to expect in the remaining nine months’ time, so that if any changes need to be made to the general design, I should recognize this now and implement them. But I am not so sure if that is really the case. So let’s have a quick overview over the project so far and then see what’s to be done.
The state of the project
At first view the project as such is looking quite healthy and running good. First of all I have collected a lot of data for my database (main categories, project start/now):
- Persons: 530/1.511 (+981)
- Letters: 720/737 (+17)
- Publications: 230/1.215 (+985)
- Institutions: 120/196 (+76)
- Publishing houses: 224/644 (+420)
Which means that around 2500 entities have been added to the database, ranging from simple person entries only containing name, gender, date and place of birth and death, data source(s), external identifier(s) and confession (if available) to complex publications citing scores of other publications and people. While this may look impressive, the problem is that it is time-consuming, because I could not yet retrieve anything automatically. It all has to be entered manually. On average it now takes me around five minutes to identify a new entity and to add it to the database. Which means it took me around 210 hours of time only to enter my data (that’s five weeks of work). The work necessary to gain the data – finding possibly interesting archival collections, going to archives, reading through sources, taking notes; finding the necessary literature, getting that literature, reading through books and papers, taking notes – is not yet included in this figure. On a very rough estimate, it took me about as much time, perhaps a little less. So that’s another 200 hours, or another five weeks of work. The rest was spent thinking, writing, and talking it through with other people; and suddenly, three months are gone.
As to the writing, always the other side of things, it does not look that bad, either. 100 pages are written, all chapters at least begun, so that around a third of the work is done there. The project has already spawned two chapters in edited volumes, one finished, the other still in the process of being written, and I am sure there are some other interesting shorter pieces hidden within the material.
So why am I complaining?
There is a downside to all of this: I am not nearly finished. As the timespan it takes me to identify a new entity and to add it to the database has been fairly stable throughout the last two months (I checked every now and then), I do not suppose I’ll ever become faster than these five minutes per entity. And as the project time is limited, this naturally limits the number of entities I will be able to still add to the database. There are a lot more things to do than just entering data, so that my calculations allow for about 3.000 to 4.000 entities to be added to what I have now; and that needs to be it. If the distribution of data over time would be as I had thought when starting the project – hyperbolically converging towards a relatively low level as approaching the present – this should suffice. But I am no longer sure if that really is the case, because most of my data still stems from the time between 1700 and 1750. The density of references diminishes but slower than I thought; and the epistemic communities within which such references were made turned out to be much more diverse than I thought, which means that the number of entities multiplies as the number of shared persons and publications between individual epistemic communities is lower than originally assumed. So apart from a few samples, from a database point of view I am still stuck in the 18th century but do have the 19th and 20th ahead of me still.
Those episodes from the 19th and 20th centuries I have digested so far I discovered without the help of the database, and for the most part they are not yet entered into it – although already covered in writing – because I wanted to keep at least data collection roughly homogenous to rather have good data for a lesser than unevenly dispersed data for a larger timespan.
What’s the plan?
So I fear that if I go ahead as planned, I just will not be able to finish in time. Which calls for a change of plan. But what kind of change?
There are some possible solutions, but none of those I have thought of so far are satisfactorily. I am not sure that I will have found a good one until next Friday, so it’s going be some anecdotal evidence from the sources again next week. And in time again this time. I hope.