Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Once again proving I am the worst at having a long-form blog.

I'm about to enter the sixth week of my internship, which means I haven't so much as thought about this blog in over five week.  Oops?  Typical Irina, really.

Aside from being very broke and a little bit lonely, summer has been going well for me.  This internship is kind of the greatest thing.  A lot of the time is spent goofing off, which I feel 50/50 about.  The thing is: of course I'm 21 years old, surrounded by other 20somethings, and we like spending time laughing at the news and finding Wikipedia pages for strange things like helicopter prison escapes.  But I also like being productive, which only one other intern has expressed interest in.  So I'm having a bit of a hard time with that.  But!  When I do get to be productive, it's just about the best thing in the world.

After my two weeks on the social media rotation, I was finally put into archives!  I spent two glorious weeks scanning lots of old stuff (Confederate bank notes, WWII war bonds, Revolutionary War supply grants) and updating entries on PastPerfect (this is the program most museums use to catalog their collections.)  Digitizing collections is something I find really important.  Yes, many collections are very safe now that there are all sorts of technologies to prevent fires, etc.  (The system at the museum is kind of scary.  It apparently sucks all of the oxygen out of the room, so it can definitely make you at least pass out if you ignore the warning bells.)  But there is also something important about access.  Not many people are going to travel to New York to view the archives at the museum - though we have had a couple walk-ins requesting to see our records for upcoming books.  The scans we're making now are eventually going to go up on Flickr, creating worldwide access to records but also informing many people that an actual museum exists for this stuff.  Cause let's face it, not many people come through this particular museum unless they have interest in the subject matter.

Anyway!  I am now on the third rotation - education and visitor services.  The interns thus far have created a massive Amazing Race-like scavenger hunt which is going to take place at the end of July.  Contestants will be given clues to help them identify Lower Manhattan landmarks where they must then race to receive more clues.  There is even a cash prize!  So my partner and I have inherited this project, and now we have to iron out all the hiccups.  The clues are a bit too difficult, in my opinion, and we don't really know yet how teams will get the next clues.  Plus we want to mix up clues so teams aren't just following each other around the city. And there was discussion of banning smart phones.

Although all of this is interesting, I was really happy to be allowed to get back into the archives last Friday.  I'm glad they recognized my complete incompetence in attempting to work out a scavenger hunt on my own.  Friday I was sitting with one of the 18th Century Collections boxes and a big book on early American money, trying to identify and appraise currency.  Life is kind of sweet.

And since this is no longer just an academic blog, here's some other cool stuff going on this summer.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Highs and Lows of Interning

So I've decided to hold on to this blog for the time being.  First, because I picked an awesome name.  Second, because I really don't have anywhere else to long-form blog.  Oh, and I acquired a few followers from the tattoo post, which is strange but nice!  I hope I don't scare you guys off.

It's officially summer (has been for a while, I guess) but I finally started my internship this past week.  I'm working at the Museum of American Finance right here in New York City.  Unfortunately, the internship is unpaid and I haven't had any luck finding part-time work.  But!  This internship rules!  I've only been going for a week, but I've already learned a lot and met some great people.

To start off: I'm an undergraduate intern working with six other people (some from fancy places like Brown and Columbia) through rotations in three museum processes.  I've been partnered off and am currently working in social media - aka a lot of tweeting.  Which is strange because I don't even have my own twitter account   But I've definitely gotten the hang of it!  Though I am looking forward to moving on to the next rotation after this week - either exhibits and archives or visitors services and education.

Obviously, I cannot wait to get my hands on the archives.  On Friday, the day with the smallest number of interns, my boss Becky grabbed myself and another girl to go down to the archives and put some things away.  At some point I was holding a land grant signed by William Penn just going "Oh my god oh my god oh my god."  Oh and there was a check signed by JFK!  My fellow intern was also freaking out which made me feel better about what a huge geek I am.

I've also been learning a lot about financial history without really having to try, which is nice.  Coming into this internship, I didn't know how interested I would be.  Yes, I love Atlantic history, but a lot of this stuff is post-revolutionary, which is more of a hobby for me than my actual focus.  Except for everything Alexander Hamilton, of course.  But now I know a lot about stocks and bonds and markets and the Federal Reserve.  Oh, like did you know the Secret Service was created as an anti-counterfeiting measure?  Lincoln signed the agency into existence only one day before he was assassinated.  Bad luck, huh?

I think this might be sufficient for the time being.  Though I do have to say, after being on a computer all day at work, it's been increasingly difficult to even think about coming home and going online for hours.  I can't tell if that's a good or a bad thing.  All I know is that my eyes always hurt.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Tattoo Paper!

So below is the tattoo paper.  For those who are not Jane - I'm posting it here because many people who took my survey expressed interest in reading the final product.  It's really long, about 18 pages, so I've also made PDFs of it and the appendix (which contains surveys in full which I quoted) for easier reading.  PDFs can be downloaded here (paper) and here (appendix).  Enjoy?  Also, I have a Creative Commons license on this blog, so please do not take my work without crediting me?  Thank you!

American Studies and the Survey

One of the reasons I have been so stressed over the La Malinche paper is because - shocking news! - I am taking more than one class this semester.  Two of my classes required major research projects for their completion.  For my American Studies course, I went on a somewhat different journey.  While I did stick to women, I ended up writing about modern American tattoo culture and the perceptions of the female body within it/due to it.  I researched a lot of history and theory about tattooing and the female body, but I also wanted tattooed individuals to recount their own personal stories so I could include them in my paper.  I made an online survey and ended up with over 1800 replies.  This will all be explained in depth in the paper (which will be posted on this blog shortly).

But there was another aspect about the survey which really threw me off.  When I made it, I expected about 20-50 responses.  Obviously, I got far more than I bargained for.  This is a completely new field of research for me - I am used to dusty books and online databases, not individual responses.  The survey I made was a bit flawed.  One person pointed out to me that some of my questions were leading, which I completely understand.  I was very clearly trying to gather answers which would make it easier to prove my thesis, which was a bit shaky at the very least.  

The thing that was really surprising, however, was the amount of responses I received.  I spoke about the phenomenon in a footnote in the paper:

Simply said, I did not expect such an outpouring of assistance  Not only were nearly 2,000 members of the internet community willing to fill out the survey, but many of the responses went into depth about personal experiences.  These were not yes or no questions.  Various survey responders expressed regret in not being able to give more thorough answers because of their own limited experiences, wished me luck in the paper writing process, and requested to see a finished version of this project upon its completion.  Many talked in depth about the meaning of tattooing in their own lives, its views in society, and considered the implications of gender within tattoo culture.  The popularity of the survey and peoples’ willingness to discuss body modification was astounding.  At one point, it was tempting to completely switch the topic of my paper to analyze why people would be so willing to take time out of their day to talk about tattooing.  Though this is not the point of my paper, I would like to question what it is about tattoo culture that makes most people extremely willing to discuss and display their modifications.  Or does this immense response have something to do with internet culture in general – having a forum where someone is interested enough in you to follow your blog and care about what you have to say over the other six billion people in the world?  The survey itself felt like a Wallace ‘special-for-me’ experience.  People answered it as if they were speaking directly to me, and many left their e-mail addresses offering a way to contact them for more information if necessary.  In the end, with only a little over a week to complete this paper, I was not able to read every single response.  While the answers were ‘special-for-me’, their reception to date has not been.  In the future, I would be interested in analyzing a large portion of these replies, but it was not possible for the exploration of this paper.  The answers I will be quoting for the most part come from question number six: “Do you think your gender presentation affected the stranger’s decision to touch you?  Do you think they would have acted differently if your gender presentation was different?”  This question really seemed to get to the heart of the problem I am attempting to analyze, and the answers to this particular question allowed me to sort the responses in the most efficient way.  The magnitude of response, however, has made me think about the degree of importance in my research and whether this survey will be useful for future projects within my academic career.    

This form of research was eye-opening to me and made me a little glad that my normal sources are not members of the internet community.  Although the surveys were very helpful, it was incredibly overwhelming and sometimes frustrating to read them. 

And I will be posting the paper next!  And stuff. 

It has been a difficult few weeks, but at least it is over?  Yes.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Post-Paper Thoughts.

Having nearly a week to step away from the final paper has not done too much for my nerves. Writing (and even more so, revising) this paper has been one of the most stressful experiences during my time at Bard. I cannot begin to image what senior project is going to be like - I cannot even think about my project topic right now because sometimes it feels like it has already taken over my entire life. Which it somewhat has.

Overall, I am happy with how my paper turned out. It is, of course, weak in some aspects. Working on finals for so long made revision even harder to deal with, and in the end I only did about half of what I wanted to do. However, I am really proud of the work I did on identifying the ideas behind historical exile/exile from history. I had not realized how unclear this idea was until Tabetha pointed out the flaws in my original wording (historical exile). I guess it became a term that I made up out of nowhere? People do that, right? And if I am going to continue on this track with my senior project, defining terms is going to be really important. It just sort of blows my mind that I came up with this terminology just to be able to write this specific paper for a very specific class, and it somehow worked. The magic of liberal arts! (Emphasis on the liberal.)

The other part of the paper that I spent a lot of time reworking was the conclusion. With help from Jane, I went in an entirely new direction and kind of attacked the Oxford History of Mexico. It was by far the most pleasant part for me to write after the definition of exile from history. The things that do not need citation really get me typing quickly and thinking even faster.

After working on these two sections for a long time, I gave up. I spent about a day thinking I was done, that I could not do any more. And then Tabetha informed the class that she was extending the deadline – to today, actually. I knew I was leaving, but something about that e-mail gave me the push to put another couple hours into the work. I ended up working from an entirely new source. Of course it turned out to be one of those situations where I wondered why I had not used it from the beginning. But it worked out! And that is what is important!

Overall, I have had an interesting semester trying to get through this paper and on to the next step. I have about a third of a bibliography for my senior project and a lot more direction than I did at the beginning of this semester. And of course, I learned how to research a lot better! I could not have done half of this work without Jane teaching me all about research. I actually ended up also helping a few of my friends out.
So yes, a couple more posts to go. I am going to switch gears for a bit and talk about another form of research in my next post! Until then.


So we survived the rapture, but more importantly: this paper has been done for nearly a week.  And here it is:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Yeah here it is, my first draft of my La Malinche paper.  Jane, I hope I have humored you enough.  Title is: The Enemy Within: The Transformations of La Malinche within the Twentieth Century Chicano Movement

Oh boy.

Jane said that I can start blogging RIGHT NOW.  I am very far behind, so I probably should.

Yesterday, I handed in the first draft of this scary paper to Professor Ewing.  We had a five hour course aimed at peer review, so that should be helpful in the near future.  Jane is currently sitting next to me and reading my paper which is SCARY.  This is a lot like how I felt last night when my peer-review partner was scribbling all over my paper.

It's like a baby, a little bit, that I put a lot of time and effort into that is now getting torn apart.  I know this is all in the name of being helpful and making my work stronger, but review and revision scares me!  I barely ever do it (don't hate me, Jane!)  There's something about producing a work which makes me never want to look at it again.  It's like: "There, I've done what you've asked of me.  Can I go now?"  But the answer is always no, which is a bit annoying and a bit disappointing.  Why can't I be one of those magical people that turns out a perfect essay on the first try?

The writing process was a lot of things.  Tedious and boring but also easy and fast.  It went back and forth between "what the hell am I doing?" and "damn, I know my stuff."  I kept having to find new sources and eliminate ones that I thought I was going to use heavily.  My paper went in strange directions.  I forgot that I didn't have a real conclusion until I handed it in, which was obviously an "oh well, too late" moment.  I panicked a lot over the whole thing, but somehow it ended up being alright.  I was scared 23.5 pages would not be enough but some people showed up with 16.  I was happy with how alright-sounding the whole argument went, although I was able to recognize the holes and issues with transition in my paper.  And of course, now I have a lot of revision to do.

I'm not sure what my revision will entail, but I have some ideas.  I should not be afraid of clearly and wordily fleshing out my argument.  I know that I tend to be vague.  Tabetha told me that I should argue with myself about La Malinche's voice not being present in the historical record because her actions are present.  This made me think a lot about the power of action and agency, which I had already fleshed out a lot in my Octavio Paz analysis.

BLARGH.  That is how I currently feel.

Monday, April 25, 2011

La Malinche's Historical Presence

Below is the history section of my slowly growing 25-30 page paper.  Awesome?  Awesome.

The Paz Post (Finally!)

I'm going to do this in a bit of a strange way.  While reading Paz, I took notes on my computer and sporadically reacted to Paz in paragraph form.  So there will be many, many quotes in here and eventually some thoughts in between.  Oh, and this essay - "Los Hijos de La Malinche" can be found in Octavio Paz's The Labyrinth of Solitude.  Quotes from Paz are in italics while my own thoughts are in...regular...

Monday, April 18, 2011

(This is not the post it's supposed to be on Octavio Paz. Forgive me, Jane!)

Today, Casey talked me down from slight panic over my 25-30 page paper by forcing me to write an outline and e-mail it to him before he got back to New Haven.  He also wants me to write each section of the paper in mini-versions, one or two of which he wants to see by Wednesday.  Thinking of it all in mini-form is actually really helping me, and he liked my outline, which I will now post as a blog entry because I'm a rebel.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Step 4: State of the Question Paper

I don't really have all that much to say about this thing.  I'm really distanced from it now.  Pretty much, Tabetha assigned this and I don't know if I did it right but I did it.  The end.  Am currently working on Octavio Paz!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Step 3: Secondary Source Analysis (A.K.A. Irina Word Vomits For the Length of Three Posts)

Time to respond to some of the awesome (and hard!) things Jane posited in her reply to my last post about the very strange Haniel Long.  She said:

I’ve been reading a lot about views of Malinche in myth and literature this week (more work for Professor Ewing!)  I actually was in the research library on 5th Ave today feeling very studious (and sick) while thinking a lot about Malinche and the Chicana feminist movement.  I have a feeling my next few posts will talk about the Chicano/a movement a lot, so I will explain it briefly.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Step 2: Primary Source Analysis.

So Professor Ewing keeps assigning work that matches up perfectly with what Jane and I are trying to accomplish in our tutorial.  How fascinating!  My next step, after the bibliography from my last post, was to analyze one of my primary source documents.  I actually went a little wild and crazy and decided that Haniel Long's 1939 La Malinche (Dona Marina) totally counted as a primary source:

"Both parts of La Malinche speak to the main goal of my research paper, to analyze the historical exile of Malintzin: Long is at once an interpreter of history and a literary writer and therefore supplies an important view of Malintzin in two seemingly separate scholarly spheres.  Long’s opinions on Malintzin certainly must be viewed as historical evidence and not as a secondary source: They illustrate a view of Malintzin not during her own time, but in a time when she was being remembered by history for very specific reasons."

(A quote from the paper I handed in.)

I'm currently having a lot of issues with Long, and I think that is because I can't seem to separate the feeling of weirdness about the book from my analysis of it.  I found it during one of those preliminary searches in the Bard Library catalog.  "Malinche" being in the title brought me to a hidden section somewhere on the second or third floor of the library where I pulled out a very tiny, old book.  I was pulling a lot of books off the shelf, so I payed little mind to it as I continued my search.  I figured it might be a short analysis of Malintzin in history, considering how little I knew about her.  When I finally got to sit down with the book - in Jane's presence, actually - I realizes that it was a short novel.  It astounded me.  I didn't really know what to do with it.  What was this novel doing in the library and why had it been written?  I started to explore Malintzin's role in fields outside of history, and realized how much more prominent she is in literature and art.  This somewhat led me to my current endeavor to explore her place in literature and myth.  But that's kind of a different story for my secondary source paper.

The main thing I got from Long's book is his apparent inability to seperate Malintzin from Cortes.  I'm very interested in the connection he makes between women and men and what that means to the myth of Malinche.  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Step 1: Bibliography.

(So I am very behind on posts.  And I decided to dedicate my spring break to catching up...and archives!  And of course the moment I get home, I get sick!  But I am going to soldier on!)

Below I'm posting my working bibliography for the paper I've been working on this semester for Tabetha Ewing's "Fugitives, Exile, and Extradition" class.  La Malinche has pretty much taken over my life.  My last blog post was written during the process of putting together the bibliography below.  I essentially devoted five days (about 2-3 hours a day, I do have other classes,) to digging through the Bard Library and online catalogs.  I used a lot of different search methods, starting from the most basic (which actually helped me not only have a jumping off point but also gave me one of my most valuable primary sources.)  Professor Ewing wanted each of us in the class to physically enter the library and search through reference sources.  I did this after I already started my basic research, but the process still was helpful in confirming who the specialists were in the field I was researching.  The process of creating a bibliography was actually really exciting for me (see: why I should be a librarian.)  It might be my favorite part of the whole process so far.  But don't tell Haniel Long that.  And here it is:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ah, the beauty of inspiration.

So this week I've been able to dive head first into what made me want to become a librarian in the first place: the art of research.  There's something I enjoy so much about having a specific topic, going to the library, and pulling dozens of books off the shelf (without having to pay for anything!)  And concentrating on one topic really makes it so easy.  That eureka moment when you're so unsure of what you could possibly write twenty-five pages about and then bam!  Everything makes sense. 

So how did I manage to lasso such an awesome moment this week?  Well first I have to thank Casey King for spending lots of time on the conquest of Mexico in the last few weeks.  While talking about Cortes, we came across the figure of La Malinche or Dona Marina (her baptized name).  Malinche was a Nahua woman given to Cortes as a slave in the Yucutan.  Her knowledge of both Nahuatl and Mayan allowed her to become a translator for Cortes, as well as his mistress.  History has assigned many roles to La Malinche, but the majority of them fall into two categories: the harlot/traitor figure or the mother/heroin figure.  These distinct views on La Malinche in history inspired me to think about writing about her Tabetha Ewing's "Fugitives, Exile, and Extradition" class.

And this is where Jane comes in!  I came to Jane with a very preliminary idea: La Malinche was physically an exile, sold into slavery and given to the other, the Spanish.  But she is also a historical exile: Her image has been demonized by centuries of art and literature.  She is a betrayer of her own people, the word "malinche" actually means something along the lines of "traitor."  So how is her historical portrayal significant, especially to the nation of Mexico?  At what points in time has La Malinche been reviled and when were attempts made to reinstate her as a positive character?  Why is she singled out in the blame-game when hundreds of thousands of native soldiers fought alongside Cortes in the conquest?

I've spent this weekend in the library and have checked out more books than I know what to do with.  La Malinche is kind of haunting me.  There are no accounts that I've been able to find which give any chronicle of the woman's own words - and she was a translator, a woman who spent her life speaking for others.  Why is it so difficult to find out things about her as a historical figure?  And how have literary images of her enveloped her realistic presence in history with their portrayals? I have so many questions to ask and barely any answers! 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Examining the Role of Historians...Through a Historical Lense.

I am currently swimming in a sea of print-outs (see: Bard allows me to kill many trees, for essentially no money.  I still feel bad about it.) in the library, trying very hard to focus on "The limits of historical knowledge" from John Tosh's The Pursuit of History.  He wants me to ask myself if historians can be objective.  I'm going to simply say no and instead thumb through my newly arrived copy (thank you ConnectNY and Vassar) of Diego Durán's The History of the Indies of New Spain.  I think we can all agree that I have reached a new low (or high?) of historical geeky-ness. 

Wikipedia* tells me that Durán's book "was much criticized in his lifetime for helping the 'heathen' maintain their culture."  Now we all know how trustworthy Wikipedia can be, but way before I read any of that I wanted to look into Durán as a historian contemporary to the time period I am interested in.  Why did he write such a lengthy history of a population of people that had already been conquered and converted?  What was so significant about his work that made it so threatening to the powers that be?  Who in sixteenth century Spain and in the colonies had a vested interest in keeping certain histories forgotten?  Wikipedia is also telling me that Durán's book was not published until the nineteenth century - why?  Can we connect that with the previously asked questions?

I can't say too much quite yet about this work, however.  I haven't really read it (and I feel like I may not get through all of it in the three weeks time the library has allotted me.  I can say that since starting this semester, I've taken a new interest in the process of historical writing and its significance to...everything?  Thanks, Jane!  Now I can barely resist the urge to check out as many histories as I can carry.

Speaking of checking out more histories, I read quite a few excerpts from Bernal Díaz del Castillo last weekend.  The thing I really got out of his history (which is, at best, tedious) is his rivalry with Francisco López de Gómara.  Gómara was hired by Cortés to write a history of New Spain.  As I understand it, Bernal Díaz took issue with this history because Gómara himself never travelled to the New World while Díaz had been a foot soldier under Cortés.  Can you say drama?  I would be interested in comparing the two histories.  Is it even possible to determine which one is more accurate?  It must take a lot of frustration for someone to sit down years after the fact and repute the stories of others just to make one's point.

All in all, I think I have a lot of reading to do. 

*Oh, yesterday I learned that approximately 85% of Wikipedia entries are written by men.  Let's let the implications of that one sit with us for a moment.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Couple Definitions/Explanantions.

Jane wants me to talk about senior project and what that means.  And I wanted to talk about some of my classes this semester now that I've been in them for about three weeks or so.

So senior project:  Essentially, this is a senior thesis (about 70 pages for history majors like myself) written on any topic in my field (the early modern Atlantic world) over the course of a year (the senior one, specifically.)  This is a super daunting task!  I will be starting it in the fall, which is terrifying, and also means that I have to have a topic picked out by the end of this semester.  I used to have a topic (see: blog left in the dust), but that idea is boring to me now.  I think I would like to write about women.  Or race relations?  Or historiography.  I guess I'll figure it out eventually.

On to my classes!  This semester I am taking The Early Modern Atlantic World with Casey King; Sex, Power, and Politics with Verity Smith; Fugitives, Exile, and Extradition with Tabetha Ewing; and Introduction to American Studies with Geoff Sanborn.  And of course my Historical Research Methods tutorial with Jane!  Yay Jane!  (Jane celebration blog, anyone?)

Casey King's class is right up my alley, obviously.  While I've taken a couple higher level history classes focusing on the Atlantic world, I needed something broad to make sure I knew the basics.  This class is working out pretty well so far, and Casey is my temporary adviser while I wait with baited breath for the return of Christian Crouch.  We've only focused on Columbus and Cortes so far, which is a bit outside of my interests - I seem to really like the 17th century English colonies.  But!  I am really into it, still, and the heavy use of primary sources in a lot of our readings is helping me think about history in a different way.

Verity Smith's class moves away from my concentration and towards my own personal passions - mainly, feminism.  You could say I'm a fan.  I don't really know how I can tie this to my senior thesis since we're starting our historical conversation on women with the first wave, but I'm sure I will find something to talk about nonetheless.

Tabetha Ewing's class is a bit of a mystery to me at the moment.  I will get back to you on that one.

Geoff Sanborn's class so far has taught me that I have no clue what falls under the heading of "American Studies."  I've mostly just read a lot about malls and big box stores and state fairs.  Oh, and tea.  I also went on a field trip to the mall.  You're jealous, I know.  This is another class which I am going to allow to lead me where it may.

And now it is late and I haven't even gotten around to talking about enclosed cosmography.  Ah, another day! 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Another Day, Another Blog.

Hello world!  (And by world, I mean Jane.  Hi Jane!)

This is my new blog.  Can you tell?  The emptiness should give it away.  I'm starting this blog as a companion to the work I will be doing in my Historical Research Methods tutorial this semester at Bard College.  As a second semester junior, I've started thinking about 1) my senior project and 2) graduate school.  While number one is up in the air, I think I would like to attend a library and information sciences program in graduate school with the end goal of becoming a research librarian.  I have all sorts of goals!  Maybe. 

I will write about actual important things later, but for now I think I'm going to try to get some reading on malls done.  All in a day's work.  
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