Dissertation/Winter Quarter – making it work

January 11, 2007 at 8:35 pm (Computers, Dissertation, Education, Languages)

Well, after taking a hard look at my class load today, I realized that I was going to need some drastic measures to make everything work. As I see it, I have three main academic responsibilities this quarter: my dissertation proposal, my Akkadian and Sumerian classes, and my job with the UEE. But that’s a lot of work, and I’m notoriously bad (in my own mind, at least) at focusing and getting things done! So, how will I do it all?

Well, first priority MUST be the dissertation. I was talking to Cale about my proposal yesterday and today, because I realized that I have no idea what a dissertation proposal is like. He hasn’t completely answered my questions, but the general idea is, I describe what questions I want to ask, and I demonstrate my pathway to arrive at the answer to those questions, including a massive bibliography. So, last night I downloaded a copy of Zotero and got that going on my machine, and started filling out my bibliography. Now, I just need to figure out my questions. My problems are twofold: first, how do I know if I can answer a question, and second, what if I think I can answer a question, but then can’t?

Cale again came in handy with that. He pointed out that, as a general rule, you aren’t truly limited by what you said in your dissertation proposal, as long as you keep in contact with your commitee and get their input. If you find out along the way that you can’t answer a question, then you figure out what you CAN answer with the evidence available and go from there. So, I can conceivably come up with a “wish list” of questions that I think can be answered, and show the process by which I plan on finding that answer, via texts and via bibliography, and then, if some of that doesn’t work out, I focus on what DOES work and build from there. If it turns out that I need to change my thesis topic a bit on the fly, everyone understands.

With that in mind, I’ll need to come up with a thesis topic and committee. It seems like I’m going to write about divine barges; there looks to be quite a bit of material, and I hope that I can penetrate it. Part of the dissertation would use administrative texts, such as the Ur III CDLI texts, to come up with a picture of what the divine barges looked like/used. Another part would look at rituals involving divine barges, including the festivals in which divine barges participated. The next part would look at divine barges in literature and see what this tells us. A last part might look at archaeological evidence (which would be limited), and would compare it with the evidence from Egypt and other nearby societies. So, I’d develop questions based around those topics.

As for my committee, I’d certainly want Bob, both for his administrative chops and for the literary translations. I’d also need Prof. Buccellati, again for his literary skills and also for his religious sensibilities. I’d probably want Jacco for any literary analysis, especially if I was involving/comparing Mesopotamian literary sources with Egyptian literary sources. My fourth member would depend on whether or not Prof. Buccellati was considered an “outside” member. If NOT, then it could be someone with a strong anthropological/religious background. If, however, gb WAS my outside member, then I would have to look in the department, and that’s more complicated, since no one exactly fits my needs. I’ll probably have to refine my questions more fully in order to make that decision.

I’ll also want to talk with Kate (the Berkeley grad student studying Akkadian and Sumerian with us). She has a strong anthropological background, and asked me some very interesting questions today when I was talking with her about my topic, such as if the consecration of divine barges meant that only certain people could step on it (think about that sailor of the god in that one text). It seems like she could be a very useful ‘resource’ as I come up with the literary/religious questions and methodology.

Here are some questions to think about and tasks to do:

  1. How can I get administrative documents involving divine barges from periods besides Ur III? Can I email people like Andrew George or the team in Vienna and ask them for any references that they might have? Is that fair/done?
  2. I should start putting together ASAP my take on the Ur III texts involving barges, to the point of getting Bob and Cale to sit down with me again with the remaining texts and preparing a text outline of what I’ve found and what I hope it will mean. That way, I can get Bob’s opinion on it in time to make changes.
  3. Look into the individual gods and their divine barges.  Why is Inanna associated with the boat of heaven?  At what festivals were the barges used?  That’s in some of these texts, tool

Next, onto my classes, Akkadian and Sumerian. If I’m going to get through this quarter, I’m not just going to have to make time to translate, I’m going to have to get hard-core about signs and vocabulary. That means flashcards for the signs (to do on the bus) and audio files for vocab (to listen to on an mp3 player). That MAY also mean getting a new iPod, probably just the cheapest Shuffle. That remote-control clip is why I bought the extension for the Nano, and now it’s come out on its own. Damn Apple and their addictive toys. I’d listen to the vocab while walking to and from the bus, and while running, if I actually pick that up.

As a part of this, I’m also be thinking about my own Akkadian or Sumerian curriculum, if I should ever be so lucky as to teach the languages. Yesterday, I was trying to figure out why there were so many new Egyptology students at UCLA and no new Assyriology students; today, Kate confirmed that Berkeley has the same problem, and blamed it on the “give them tablets on the first day of class” teaching style. She compared it to classes in Egyptian, that have a grammar, and where the beginning sequence is two years: in the first year, you go entirely through the textbook once, and in the second year, you go BACK through it, getting more in-depth (like modern language classes). I must say, I like the sound of that. I was thinking: first year, work through Huehnegard, learning signs, but mostly staying away from his cuneiform examples. Second year, go back through Huehnegard, but this time do all of his cuneiform samples, plus Hammurapi’s Code and parts of Gilgamesh at the same time, with the cuneiform. I’d combine that with my daily, online grammar quizzes and sign quizzes.

I guess the counter-argument would be, if you start with texts, then students are reading cuneiform on the first day of class! However, that technique doesn’t seem to be working too well. What I really ought to do is find out from departments all over the US what their enrollment in the department and in their language classes is, and compare that to their teaching styles, and see if there is a correlation. Hmmm… that would be an interesting educational methodology research project. Perhaps for my next degree. Just kidding, Heather! Well, maybe…

As for my job, that sort of takes care of itself. I just have to make sure that I get in the ten hours a week on programming, and that it’s quality time, not screwing-around time. The UEE is counting on me, and I have no desire to let them down.

Oh, one other thing! I’m dangling a reward in front of myself to get my proposal done this quarter. If I finish my proposal on time, then I can take one of the Linux installation and maintenance classes offered through LACC. Not only is Linux a marketable skill, but it seems like a lot of what I want to do in computing can be done on Linux these days, so why not? Who knows – maybe I could make a downloadable Linux installation the next MySpace!

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