Research questions and methods matching

This week, I attempted to draft my research idea for this course by working through the chart modeled in the figure “An Interactive Model of Research Design” from Joseph A. Maxwell’s book Qualitative Research Design as feature in Trevor Owens’s essay “Where to Start? On Research Questions in the Digital Humanities.” As Owens highlights, I definitely will need to adapt my research question throughout the semester as I learn more about what I’m studying, and with my background as a project manager and grant writer, I will definitely need to learn to leave “fancy writing” behind as I attempt to develop this project.

When looking at this diagram, my impulse was to try and develop my research question since it is at the center. However, I worked down the list and began with the goals. These were easy enough to come up with, as I just adapted the guidelines I am currently using to steer the development of my reading list for my comprehensive exams. As such, my conceptual framework also drew from the body of texts I’ve been working from as part of this process. I will admit that I struggled a bit with these, as I am ultimately approaching this project from a literary studies background and I was trying to align more with the guidelines for historians that we read about in the other essays this week.

I feel that by explicitly stating my goals first, I was able to refine my research question more than I originally thought I would be able to at this stage. In the initial question I had in mind before I worked through this exercise, I didn’t have the terms “social networks” or “map”–those definitely came to me after I determined my goal was to attempt to visualize the elements of the affective atmospheres in Early Modern London’s theatre district. I know I will need to fine-tune this question even further as the semester goes, but as it currently exists it is at least seems to be a legitimate form of inquiry that could possibly result in a digital humanities project.

The section I struggled with most was methods. I can list the texts I will be consulting, but I need to explore my options of methodology further. On my second reading of the essays from this week, I attempted to apply the suggestions for historians (particularly from the Digital HIstory and Argument white paper) to my approach as a student of literature. I identified some theoretical frameworks and primary texts to consult, but it doesn’t yet seem like I’m thinking about the finer details of method. In Owens’s summary of Maxwell’s approach, he points out that “the way you will sample/explore [your sources], and the actual techinques you will use to analyze and interpret them” is just as important as the objects of study themselves. This is something I will need to more clearly define moving forward.

In contrast, the validy section was easiest to tackle–can I actually attempt to create some kind of visualization that captures something intangible like an affective atmosphere? In my mind, this looks like a kind of overlay of a network visualization of the relationships within the tight-knit theatre community of Early Modern London on top of a map of the district, but will this truly reveal anything? I believe it might work in terms of showing how the connections between certain places and people lead to the development affective atmospheres in modern cultural heritage theatre sites, and I’m hoping that by revising my methodology as I research will help solidify how this will work in practice.

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