Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Preliminary work on term paper

The Autumn Term is devoted to Autobiography. We are required to write a term paper of 3,000-5,000 words by 27 November. The subject is to be one of the topics discussed at weekly classes or a subject of one's choice, subject to approval.

The film Julie and Julia showed me how a blog could be a medium for publishing autobiography, or rather a slice of autobiography. In the film Julie Powell embarks upon the Julie/Julia Project, in which she sets out to cook in a tiny flat all 524 of the recipes in Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking while holding down a full-time job. The story she tells of this quest is amplified as she tells how it impinges upon the people around her: her friends, her work colleagues and above all her husband, who accuses her at one stage of having embarked upon one massive ego trip.

This film inspired me to propose writing a term paper on Autobiography on blogs and our professor agreed to this at our meeting yesterday. I intend to use this blog to be the place where I can store, under the label Term paper, my plans and summaries of what happened in trying to execute them. It might perhaps be better, if I were solely interested in writing a paper to use a conventional wordprocessor in the preliminary stages as well as the final one, but I want to explore how to undertake a task like this using what is to me a new tool, since this will also help me to understand better its limitations while I am researching how, if at all, one can write an autobiography on it.

Here, then, are the things that I intend to do as the preliminary steps towards writing the paper.

  • Google [autobiography blog] and [biography blog], then see how these terms need refining to reduce the massive number of responses they will generate, then start a Word file with the URLs of sites that might merit fuller examination, along with a note of what was first seen
  • Use Wikipedia, and perhaps other sources, to get a better idea about the development of blogs and in particular what search engines there are for blogs, then start a Word file summarising results
  • Study the Julie Powell blog, then start an Access table to store potentially-useful quotes and their URLs: as a preliminary to this I need to look at the MHRA Style Book which we were told about yesterday, to see how bibliographical details of material published on the web should be recorded.
  • Check at the library how to access the University of Hawaii's Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly and check what other journals if any I should look to see what has been written on my topic
  • Contact biographical societies in the USA (e.g. via The Biographer's Craft website) and UK (e.g. the Johnson Society of London) to see whether any of their members has written anything useful about blogging and biography: this item is a posteriority

Writing this to-do list gives me the comfortable feeling that the paper has actually been begun: you don't eat a salami by swallowing great mouthfuls of it, but by cutting it into thin slices and carefully chewing them one at a time.

I am also happy that embarking on the study of this topic will also help me towards my dissertation at the end of the course, provisionally entitled How technology is changing how biographies are made. When I announced this at our meeting yesterday, the question "What do you mean by technology?" was immediately raised by colleagues. After all, the development of a method to produce solid graphite out of powdered graphite and clay made pencils vastly cheaper, just as the development of the biro made pens vastly cheaper. This question must for the moment be put on the back burner.

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