Am I Too Ambitious?

As I work to piece together a historiography of slavery and material culture in the early modern Atlantic World, I feel like I’m right back where I was when writing my paper on Pan-Africanism at the World’s Fairs, where the dearth of secondary sources left me floundering for ways to support my arguments.

One of my primary reasons for pursuing a Ph.D was access. Access to resources far, far out of my reach and access to funding to allow my ability to access these resources. But when I look at the questions I ask, I feel things are even further from my grasp.

I am loath to believe that my ideas are revolutionary and groundbreaking, nor that no one is already working on the types of questions and arguments I pose. Nevertheless, I have been, and currently am, aggravated by the realization that I have to do extra work to draw the support for my work out of sources both tapped and untapped. On one hand, I have come to recognize this is the nature of doing scholarship that focuses on the “margins” of history (a thing I questioned this quarter was why we perpetuate the narrative of the Great White Men of history by starting with their texts and then make interventions with indigenous history, African-American history, women’s history, etc? Why can’t we start with the margins?). On the other, I’m frequently dissatisfied.

Which is why I wonder if I’m too ambitious…And again, asking: what is the overall purpose of grad school?

Should I be doing this extra work as a mere doctoral student?

Is it best for me to stay on the well-grooved path for my chosen field?

And if innovative, groundbreaking, and revolutionary work is supposed to be saved for your TT R1 position, and your only “job” right now is to complete coursework, pass your comps, and complete and defend your dissertation, how does this square with the terrible TT job market?

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