January 19, 2007 at 11:17 pm (Computers, Dissertation)

Oy vey, I’m a basket case. I haven’t really worked on my dissertation proposal for a week because (a) Heather and I headed up to Mammoth for the long weekend and (b) this was the second week of classes, and therefore the first week of my seminars, and I had a lot of homework to do. And tonight, I suffered the consequences: temporary depression stemming from my seeming inability to write a dissertation in Assyriology. I ended up all mopey, covered in a blanket, with my head in Heather’s lap while I felt sorry for myself. Luckily, she was thoughtful enough to scratch my head, which action led to immediate calmness and mental lucidity, wherein I devised a solution to my immediate problem.

My depression stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know what to do next. When I have a plan, or at least an immediate task, I can work on it and feel like I’m making forward progress, even if I’m really not (but that’s a separate issue). So, what I needed to do was develop a plan, a dissertating plan. And lo, it sprang forth fully formed from my skull (okay, I actually came up with most of it a few weeks ago, but forgot to write it down and therefore forgot it completely). This plan hinges on the fact that, as I learned while taking my doctoral exams, Bob is never going to just tell me what to do. I need to approach him with a plan that he can then critique, and for the last few months, I’ve been wracking my brains, trying to come up with a great idea. Well, screw the great idea: I’m going to put together an outline for what I’d like to write, and then we’ll see how it turns out in the end.

The other part of this plan is that I neeeeeed to develop a significant digital component to the dissertation. This is in part to give me an excuse to read up on the educational technology theory that I’m always talking about. This is also partly to help me find funding for next year (the CDH Digital Fellowship, anyone?). This is also partly to help me make a career for myself in educational technology, since I’ll have earned my stripes. And, finally, this is also to help keep me interested and motivated. If it isn’t significant enough, it will be done too early and I’ll lose focus, so it will have to be pretty big. I’ve been asking myself how to do that lately, and not coming up with any answers, but Bob may have given me the answer himself during class this week.

On Tuesday, Bob talked to me about his idea of creating a “visual dictionary of Sumerian,” starting with Flash or some similar technology to create an animation of the human body with all of the relevant vocabulary in Sumerian and Akkadian presented via hotspots. I told him it was possible, but (since he doesn’t have the money to pay me) figured it would never happen. Then, in class on Wednesday, he mentioned to Cale that this was going to happen and that I was going to head it up, pretty normal Bob behavior. I assume that he assumes that if he talks fast enough, everyone will get so confused that they’ll believe him. :o) Anyway, I responded, “Fat chance. Now, if I could do it with the parts of a boat, and make it a part of my dissertation, then we’d talk.” To which he responded, “Hey! Yeah!” And I suddenly got excited, too, since this seemed like what I’ve been looking for, and exclaimed, “Jetzt Sie sprechen meine Sprache!” A little Deutsch fo’ y’alls, there.

You see, the problem has never been coming up with ideas for digital components. Hell, I’ve got an entire game that I wrote, Excavation! The problem is that Bob doesn’t think that that qualifies for a dissertation in Assyriology, and he’s probably right. After all, although it is new in a lot of ways, and new scholarship for a lot of fields, it doesn’t provide us with a new understanding of Mesopotamia. So, first I need to get him to “buy in” to whatever my idea is, and he may be willing to buy into this particular idea. Once he buys in, the others will follow, and I can put together my doctoral committee.

Anyway, I’ll be honest with y’alls, I’m not that interested in contributing dramatically to the Assyriological community’s understanding of Mesopotamia. It’s (a) too much work and (b) far too thankless. I know that’s a horrible thing to say, but I see no reason to lie anymore; I doubt that I’ll be gunning for a big Assyriology job ever, so what do I have to lose? Anyway, the field is shrinking, I believe because it’s become too arcane. The way to change that may be to make the field much more accesible, and innovative uses of Computer technology is one way to do that. I’d like to spend my career doing that, perhaps in an “educational technology” type of position, or perhaps in a teaching position, but in either case, I need to start now.

So, here’s my annotated plan o’ action:

  1. My dissertation will tentatively be on the divine barges in Mesopotamia. I can divide said topic into at least three areas: The literary evidence, the administrative evidence and the archaeological evidence (which would probably include a look at Egyptian barges, to see where that gets me). If that outline is accepted, then that would lock in Bob and Jacco for my committee, since Bob is the only Assyriologist around and Jacco could provide me with good comp. lit. direction. Edit: I may need to divide the chapters up differently, such as boats in general, historical divine barges, and boats and divine barges in literature. I’ll have to further subdivide the historical divine barges category into the different attested types of divine barges, ‘ma2,’ ‘ma2-gur8’ and ‘ma2-dara3-abzu,’ (examining each term individually, so I’l have a section on Abzu) and I’ll have to search for them in CDLI with and without dashes, in all possible combinations, since the CDLI database recognizes the dash as part of the word. I may have to divide them up by the specific god, instead, depending on the type of references I find (Enki’s boat is referred to in both administrative and literary texts; how do I combine that info if the two categories are separate?).
  2. I’ll need to confront Bob next week about the ‘illustrated dictionary’ idea, to see if he was serious when he said that could be a part of my dissertation. It really isn’t enough for it to just be extra fluff on the side; if I’m going to put in the time to do it, and if I’m going to convince CDH to fund it, then it needs to actually be a substantive part of the thesis. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll convince Bob of that, but perhaps, if he wants his illustrated body bad enough… Just kidding. Or not. In any case, if he was serious about it, then I’ll need to hammer out with him how it will be ‘graded,’ or ‘judged,’ or whatever the term is. I have to do this soon, since it is this idea that has gotten me motivated again, and I want to keep it going.
  3. I’ll probably need to get someone on the committee who knows about educational technology, or at least an outside reader. I’ll talk to Zoe and see if Cherie might help with that, or if Zoe knows someone else. I’ll also talk to Bryan over at NITLE. He seems to be quite well-connected/informed, and may know with whom I should speak. Depending on my needs, Willeke may be a good committee member, since she’s very interested in digital applications in education, but (to my knowledge) she really doesn’t know the secondary literature, so I don’t know how much help she’d be. Prof. Buccellati could also be very important for all of the Mesopotamian literary material, but he may be an “outside” committee member, which could complicate things.
  4. As for the literary material, and my immediate task this weekend, I need to assemble all of the references to boats and divine barges in Mesopotamian literature. I can start by trawling ETCSL; the additional advantage of this is that I will be able to push for what we read next quarter in the Sumerian seminar. Then, I switch to the Akkadian material, which will be more difficult, I expect, since I’m not nearly as familiar with all of it. I’m pretty sure I can get them to read what I want in Akkadian, too, if I try hard enough.
  5. I’ll probably also want to comb the seal impressions for any sealing with a god in a boat on it, to assemble possible images of the divine barges.  I’ll also want to explore any relationship between Enki sailing to the Netherworld and the storm in GEN, and Gilgamesh sailing to Uta-Napishtim, AND Uta-Napishtim’s ‘ark’ and the great flood (Enki told him to build it; can these two storms be analagous?).
  6. Once I’ve gathered the primary sources and worked out the details regarding an electronic component with Bob (if he seriously meant it), then I will have the core of my proposal. I’ll continue assembling a bibliography for each part and work it up, and have it ready to go by the end of the quarter. Go me!

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