Saturday, 29 September 2012

How To Read

Reading as a postgrad is a unique experience. Gone (already) are the days of gathering information from a book and adding it to a body of mental knowledge. My purpose in reading is altogether different.

What's on my desk (though not what I am reading).

My focus at the moment (and probably for the greater part of this semester at least) is historiography rather than history. I am not currently reading about the historical subjects I am really interested in, I'm reading about the historiography of the early modern period. I've never been especially excited by historiography, as much as I understand its importance. At this point, though, I've got a bit interested in periodization. The challenge here though is to remember why I'm reading these texts in order to get out of them what I need.

Firstly, there is a feeling of having stepped into the middle of a conversation. This shouldn't be a surprise as that's essentially what I've done. I am hoping that there comes a point, a critical mass of reading, when all of it fits together and suddenly the bigger picture becomes apparent. The sooner this happens the better, to be frank. I mean, it would be welcome any minute now really.

Related to the first point, reading anything leads to adding more things to the "I Should Read" list, which, I suspect, is endless. Each author makes reference to the works that have informed their argument and invariable some of them look like they'd be useful for developing my argument (she says optimistic that she has an argument). This leads to further library catalogue checking. So far, I've found most of what I need (though oddly there doesn't seem to be an accessible copy of Joan Kelly's seminal essay Did Women Have A Renaissance? though I have a copy anyway). I've already gone off-list for the first seminar. Maybe this is a good thing? I don't know.

Then there's the academic in-jokes. I noticed this the other day. Some academics throw in a little humour and often it works (Margaret King's Do Women Need The Renaissance? which I was reading this morning springs to mind) but there are the other jokes. Earlier this week I was reading an article and thought "That's an in-joke! He's made some clever reference I'm not smart enough to get!" So on the one hand, I feel thick for not getting it but on the other, I'm slightly pleased that I got enough to notice it in the first place.

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