Choosing to write my paper was an incredibly difficult process. From the beginning, I had planned to do a project which publicized the work my Public History Practicum group was doing this semester. I wrote the pitch for my paper on something I loved because the stakes were low; I wasn’t going to do it anyway. When it came time to make my decision, I felt drawn to it in a way I hadn’t anticipated. The use of queer language is something that I find interesting and it’s something that impacts me personally. I couldn’t shake the urge to follow up on that proposal and so I did what I thought was the unprofessional thing (seriously, who follows their passions when practicality is an option?) and chose the queer project.
I don’t think people develop ideas; I think we find them. Ideas come to us or we stumble upon them. If one finds an idea that appeals to them, they can tie it down with language to a piece of paper to be shared. The skill by which the idea is shared is dependent both upon the writer’s skill as a communicator and their care for the subject matter at hand. Not everyone could have written Fight for Identity, and by that same logic if I had done the publicity project instead, I doubt it would have been as good. This project made my heart sing in a way very few projects have before, and it is work by which I am proud to stand. If we put ourselves in positions where we’ll find projects that appeal to us, we’ll do better work. My biggest takeaway from completing this project is: fulfilled and engaged people make better professionals.
Interest was the point of origin for this project, but goals and tools shaped it along the way. In our week on scholarly projects, we learned that projects have ends and can be finished. The product eventually changed, but I initially set a goal of constructing a timeline; I would compare the various numeric trends of the NGram graphs to political trends in LGBTQ history. This goal put a limit on what I planned to do and the limited scope of the project would allow me to concentrate on the nuances at hand. At least, this was the first plan.
The Google NGram tool did as much to shape the final project as did my personal curiosities. The tool provides data on frequency of use over time which can fuel a quantitative analysis and titles and excerpts from Google Books which lend themselves to a qualitative analysis. This tool didn’t, in the end, provide me with particularly strong evidence tying the literary trends to political ones, but after noticing the trends I did have and spending substantial time with the data, I learned to ask a different question; “what do these trends reveal about the social and political climates in which they were developed and used?” This question, born of curiosity and methodology, eventually led my analysis and guided my paper.
I am incredibly happy with the work I’ve done in this class and plan to continue it. I’ve learned a lot about professionalism by taking the chance to do research I thoroughly enjoy and a lot about research by listening to what my tools provided me. Even if my tools provided me with something for which I was no looking in the beginning, it was interesting, regardless. Once I’d finished my analysis and written my conclusion, I found myself wondering about what else these data could tell me. What did these graphs look like if broken down by country? What would it look like to compare straight words against queer ones? And what is the deal with the weird dip in popularity of most queer words after the mid-1990’s? Any of these questions would make for interesting further study and I plan to use my summer research seminar to continue this work.