Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dissertation talk

I might be radically changing my dissertation. I might be crazy. The two are only tangentially related.

The original idea: looking at Spain's two major world's fairs (1888 in Barcelona, and 1929 in both Barcelona and Sevilla) to see how they were defining and creating images of Spain as modern, with the hopes of seeing how these definitions were played out in urban transformations after these fairs.

The problems: This is an overwhelming amount of work, especially since I don't have grants and have extremely limited time to be in Spain. I have no idea how to do this, especially given the HUGE amounts of material in even one collection - and this would require pouring through no less than 5 collections: 3 expositions and two cities' urbanization activities. I cannot seem to get a good handle on modernity that doesn't sound like I'm just parroting some awful theorist who doesn't make sense.

There are more issues, but those are the ones that made me most nervous. So I was doing a bit of research on Thursday, looking at some related dissertations. I started reading one on urban spaces, cosmopolitanism and the Jazz Age in Spain. The author made very strong claims about Primo de Rivera, but never cited anything. It made me start thinking about the Primo Regime, my sources (thus far), and how much I had been struggling to come up with a narrative structure (or, outline, as some call it) for the dissertation. As I started thinking, a new idea came. I started writing out the changes it would mean, the problems I saw with it, the benefits it held, the questions it would ask, the sources it could use, everything. And by 6p.m., I had a 7-chapter basic outline.

The new idea:
1. Drop the 1888 exposition except to use in the first narrative chapter as a discussion of the exposition in Spain, and precedent. Instead, I'd focus solely on the 1929 Joint Exposition. From my previous research, I know that the planning for these expositions began around 20 years earlier (1910 for Sevilla).
2. The main focus, then, would be on the competing visions of the expositions - and thus visions of Spain - put forth by the committees of the two expositions. But it would also consider how these interacted with and contested the vision issued by dictator Primo de Rivera (after he came to power in 1923), and perhaps by visions put forth by the public press.
3. The primary questions would still deal with the construction of Spain, but it would be placed in the context of the local-national negotiation of ideas. It would question the nature of the relationship of the dictatorship with these two expositions, and, by extension, with these two regions - Andalucia, his home, and Catalonia, the up-and-coming industrial center of Spain.
4. It would still also question how these two very different regions - differing in culture, history, language, economy, and politics - created connections and worked together to ultimately create a joint exposition to present the best of Spain to the world.

As I said, within hours, I had a basic dissertation outline, complete with at least some ideas of where I could use certain kinds of sources, and what I'd be looking for in each chapter. I sent the idea and outline to my advisor, with the hopes that we can talk on the phone after he's looked it over and thought about it a bit. I really hope he's on board. I think my other committee members might be a bit confused... and a bit disappointed at what I'm cutting out. I'm hoping that he can get everyone on board and excited for me.

We'll see. I've been really excited, though. I hope it works!!!

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