Lessons of Being a New Historical Researcher

The sort of work I have done for the 3-D Atlanta Project is different than any process I have gone through before. My abilities are strongest when I am exploring scientific topics. I’m a physics major, so you can imagine the sort of work I have done. When there is a problem in physics that I cannot solve, the solution a lot of the times is to sit and think. That’s it. Sit, think of the knowledge I have, and attempt to make different connections. Eventually, if I have the correct prior knowledge, those connections will prove fruitful. Then, I put pen to paper and see if the numbers or concepts check out. Einstein was famous for this. Some of his greatest theories were thought of in the oddest places, like the back of a train.

This can be done with a topic like astronomy or physics, but not for something like history. In history, one must be involved in the project they are doing directly. In my case, I have to be at the computer searching for pictures or in a library reading through old books that could contain pictures of Atlanta from 1928. Sitting and thinking won’t really help me find the next useable photo. I have had to adapt to this change of methods, but it has not been as easy as I thought. Stepping away from a problem is not an option anymore.

When I cannot find more photos to use for the 1928 Atlanta project, it is extremely frustrating. The thing that gets to me is that I know for a fact that there are so many pictures I have yet to come across. At that point, I feel a little lost and wonder how I need to move forward. Starting all over when you have gone so far just to reach a futile conclusion does not even give one the satisfaction of a moral victory. Again, it is not like I can THINK my way to the photos.

I suppose here the name of the game is patience. This is the same with physics (and anything else really), but with this research, being patient means running into a lot of “nothing” and trying a different avenue over and over again. It is almost like having a hundred puzzles to solve with just one of the puzzles having a prize. You can solve the puzzle with the prize on the first time, but it is equally likely that you could solve all one hundred of them before earning the winnings. I have learned that the key is being able to fight your way through all one hundred puzzles.

This is a reason I chose to be involved in the research team for the 1928 Atlanta Project. Learning new skills such as this builds my human resources. Knowledge is something you cannot take away from someone, so I can carry what I learn here for the rest of my life. Even if I am able to become an Astrophysicist, I can apply this method of research to that discipline in many ways. For one, doing this project has made me more patient. I realize now that answers are not supposed to come to you in successive quantities. Sometimes, three hours of work just might result in the finding of one good photo, and that is just fine. Not every day is supposed to be groundbreaking. Einstein learned this, and no one knows the virtue of patience like him. His most famous theory, the Theory of Relativity, took him almost TEN years to develop and prove. If I stay as frustrated as I was with this project when I become a physicist, there is no chance that I could last ten years trying to solve just one problem.

After just a few months as a fellow, I am learning more about myself as a scholar and student than ever before. Being in the midst of such brilliant thinkers has motivated me to take my work to another level. As I see different projects come to fruition, I am sure I will continue to see growth and find out more about what I don’t know about myself so that I can add to the extraordinary things being done in the Student Innovation Fellowship.

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