Out On A Dissertation Limb: Late April Moscow Musings

What a difference several inches of slush makes! When I arrived in Moscow shortly after submitting my D.Phil. this March, much of the city was still underwater with melted ice and pools of icy water several inches deep. Even making the short walk from some of my usual metro stops to nearby archives risked slipping, misjudging a jump, or, saddest of all, misjudging a puddle, resulting in icy, cold, feet for the rest of the day. Fortunately, however, with the onset of something that looks like legitimate spring, those days are over. Moscow remains, well, something less than Los Angeles when it comes to late April weather, but after a gloomy, drizzly, and blustery English winter that included the coldest March in decades, I’ll take 50 degree weather and the occasionally unpleasantly gusty day. Particularly if it also comes with sunsets at 8 o’clock PM, which are increasingly the norm here.

I’m settling in – not long before moving out again, alas – but life goes well here in Russia. My schedule is predictably 9–5: get up, make the journey down to the southern suburbs of Moscow, deal with the changing cycle of security guards who scrutinize my Russian visa, and work in one of two archives in a large archival storage facility: either RGASPI, which houses the reports of the Komsomol advisers about whom I write a great deal in the dissertation, or RGAE (the Russian State Archive for Economics), which houses loads of interesting reports that I wasn’t able to work with this autumn, reports which range from those written by Soviet lawyers re-writing Afghanistan’s corporate laws in the late 1970s to civil and petroleum engineers who build roads, fertilizer factories, and other huge infrastructure projects, mostly in the north of Afghanistan, but also in Kabul and Jalalabad, the largest city near the Khyber Pass and one which saw huge Soviet investment in agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Put it all together, and most of my daylight hours are spent reading, transcribing, and copying portions of this huge mass of material (tens of thousands of pages in total, easily), and making sense of it.

Scrivener: helping your humble narrator organize his thoughts as he thinks of how to re-structure the D.Phil. into something bigger

Scrivener: helping your humble narrator organize his thoughts as he thinks of how to re-structure the D.Phil. into something bigger

And maybe even turning it all into something readable. I’m not – *knock on wood* – Dr. Nunan yet. For that I need to pass my dissertation defense (‘viva’ in Oxfordese), an oral examination which should, I hope, be scheduled for some time this May. If it involves a rushed trip back to the UK at the last minute, so be it: the real issue is that I fly out of Russia for conferences in Italy, and thence to Arizona for Uzbek courses this summer, at the end of May. While my examiners (both historians, one from Oxford and one from another British university) are reading the D.Phil. version of my work, however, I’m beginning to think of how to re-write and integrate the 70,000-odd words (not including footnotes) that I submitted this March, with all of the other material I’ve gathered (and in many cases written first or second drafts of), en route to eventually compressing this all into a tight, hard-hitting scholarly monograph of some 100,000 – 110,000 words (usually the max that most university presses will go for). I’ve begun to consider investing in some better editing software than trusty OpenOffice – Scrivener, for example – which helps me lay out *all* of my material in one window and break down chapters into more easily editable sub-units. And there’s the usual rigamarole of conferences ahead – Italy in late May, southern Germany in mid-September – to help discipline me into whipping this all into better shape.

For now, then, it’s back to hack out some parts of an introduction to one of the chapters I hope to present in Italy …


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s