In an ongoing attempt to finish a dissertation that just won’t end, I’ve decided to post a daily account of my progress (or lack thereof.) As any of you out there who are completing a dissertation know that something like this is, of course, the best and most easily justifiable way of procrastinating doing the actual work.
A little bit about my project: I am writing a history of the use of the word “male” in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. I am arguing that 19th century ideas about manhood and voting rights intersected in 1865-1866 as Republicans sought to enfranchise African-American men. Ironically, and not so accidentally, this happened at the exact moment that the woman suffrage movement began requesting the right to vote nationally. Thus to prevent the accidental enfranchisement of women, black and white, Congress adopted gender-specific language in the Constitution for the first time in its history.
It is a cool project. I was very excited about it 8 years ago, I was really into it 5 years ago, still fairly interested it 3 years ago, but I’m damned tired of it today. I’m ready to be done. And, more importantly I got a miracle of a job (more on that later) that starts this fall and I absolutely have to finish before I begin or else I won’t be able to hold onto this miracle.
I have been in graduate school since 1994. Which, for those of you who don’t know, is a bit like trying to give birth for 9 years. I feel perpetually on the verge, never able to be permanently involved in anything. Graduate school is a strange, liminal place where you are not quite one thing, nor are you fully another. It is the limbo of academia. It encourages you to self-aggrandize, and simultaneously to develop equally intense self-doubt and loathing. It is ego-building, and utterly emotionally shattering. One friend calls it “soul killing.” I think this is true, but think that my hysterically witty brother put it most aptly a few years ago: “Wow,” he said, “they should call the Ph.D. Pretty Hard, Damn it.”
I begin this blog with hope that a daily public reporting of my progress and process will somehow make me accountable for the work that I am doing, or not doing, and will keep me on track as I drag myself slowly with my fingernails and teeth, guts and heart, toward the finish line of this intellectual and emotional marathon.