The role of the advisor is just that, to give advice. My advisor, Kenneth Lewis, came through big time last week during an impromptu meeting we had last week about my dissertation research questions (still being worked on, but I’ll post them once they’re completed). I had a feeling it was going to be an important conversation as it was happening, and thankfully I hit the record button on my iPhone half way through. I have since revisited the discussion a couple of times.
What he asked me revolved around the focus of my dissertation: was I looking at a methodology or process? Obviously, these are both important elements of a research design: you need a model that describes a process of human cultural behavior, and you need a methodology by which to test that model. Both are critical to a research design. But what he wanted to know was which one of these parts will I be emphasizing; which one will be the “new” thing I’m contributing. Of course, it could be both, but that could potentially reinvent the wheel, and in this case, it would be.
Many archaeologists have done analysis and tests of how you can identify the negotiation of power on a plantation. Delle looked at space (Delle 1998), Orser examined ceramic values (Orser 1988), and so on. There is no reason for me to focus my attention on developing new ways to show this negotiation through the material record: it has already been done, and I can use these methods again. A methodologically focused research design would have done something like identifying negotiations of power through a certain artifact, let’s say, marbles, and developing a methodology that would allow that to be done.
What hasn’t been done, however, is to examine the process of the transition from slavery to freedom in border state plantations, particularly in Maryland, and how power was renegotiated between the planters and laborers after the Civil War. This is what my main contribution will be: to see how this occurs, and how it is different or similar to the processes that have taken place in other places. My research, therefore, is focused on questions that are asked of the process, not of the methodology. I will be using methods already adopted by other archaeologists to test a processual model that I have developed using the specific historical context of the area I am investigating.
This was extremely helpful way of compartmentalizing the sections of my research design, and helped me describe what it is I am hoping to contribute with this research. Hopefully, it may also help some of you out there who are working on proposals themselves…