It’s been a tough year for academics and graduate students. Well, it’s been a tough year for everyone, but unfortunately I don’t have enough space to talk about all that in this post. One of the challenges for academics and PhD candidates, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, has been lack of access to research materials because for over the past year, we’ve been stuck at home. As a PhD candidate in history, this has been incredibly taxing since the bulk of my data comes from overseas archives I don’t currently have access to for a variety of reasons. So what do you do to resolve this while stuck at home?
Luckily, the pandemic has forced people like me to get creative. For my dissertation topic, which is related to the Second World War, I’m lucky that many of my materials are easier to access given how many people like to read and write about this area. Many archival documents have been published in accessible books or other documents collections I can find online or through the LSE Library. Most of the important documents from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in New York have been digitized and are available for free on the Internet. There are countless memoirs I can consult at the library. And on top of that, I managed to do an archival trip before I started my PhD, which has benefited me enormously so far during the last year.
I’ve also consulted with other scholars in my field and have asked them to share copies of documents they have that might be of use to my research. This has paid off handsomely. I even managed to have another historian send me thousands of paper documents he was not using anymore which I was not able to currently access since the archive they are housed in has been closed since March 2020. This has kept me and my research afloat during the PhD. Without them, I’m not sure I would have been able to continue my degree.
This strange time has forced us to find new ways to carry on our research and our lives, but there are also difficulties. Even though I’ve been able to view so many important documents and primary sources, there is always this nagging feeling I haven’t seen everything or I’m missing something. Granted, there’s not much I can do about that right now until archives start opening back up and travel restrictions hopefully ease, but it’s still nettlesome. When you’re doing a doctoral dissertation or writing a book, you always want to make sure you have the most complete source base possible. Again, there’s only so much you can do during a global pandemic, but sometimes it’s hard to escape these feelings.
Then again, COVID-19 has forced us all to re-evaluate what’s possible and what’s not right now. I’m going to do my best to complete the best dissertation I can under the current circumstances. After all, that’s all I can ask of myself.