People who know me well know that in 2008 I was finishing up a bachelor’s degree and applying to graduate schools — a variety because I was torn between several areas of study — when Matt convinced me to skip grad school and redesign WordPress/work for Automattic instead. People who know me well also know that I am the worst tech worker ever and never back things up, and have frequent electronic failures. Kevin has been making fun of this “crazy electromagnetic energy that computers hate” since 2000, and for a while Matt was calling me Jubilee. Where these combine is that when I agreed to take the job and was leaving NYC, my final papers in a couple of courses were lost in a computer death (I loved you, 2007-era macbook!), and with no backups, I just decided to move on without wrapping up college at all.
It’s bugged me, because while I don’t need a degree for the job I have now, nor even necessarily for a job that I may want in the future, having a degree does provide options. If I wanted to apply to grad school now, I could, if I’d finished that BA. Instead, I’d have to go back and re-do a couple of courses whose final papers never got turned in, and jump through a number of administrative hoops to clear out “you didn’t officially drop this course the term in the middle when you took a break” type things, and probably delay it a year. Being in NYC would make this significantly simpler, but alas I’m not there.
Several of those classes were write-offs. They’ll simply need to be re-done, because undergraduate courses fail you if you don’t finish. Graduate classes, on the other hand, have a delightful notion of an incomplete that can last for years. I suppose this has to do with long-running dissertations and the like, but in this case, taking a graduate course for undergraduate credit left me with an INC that the professor said I could overwrite if I ever sent in that final paper.
That paper was so specifically NYC, though: it examined the role of women in 1920s society through the swimwear at Coney Island. It was a really great topic, but research saved on that dead computer wasn’t stuff that would be easily re-acquired. Weeks of sitting in a microfilm (not microfiche, microfilm) carrel scrolling page by page through 1920s newspapers and magazines published in New York City to find every advertisement and news photo that showed a woman in a bathing suit had been torture, and I had no interest in repeating it. So I never went back to it.
This fall I started thinking about going back and finishing college, tying up all those loose ends. The need to be in NYC for weeks at NYPL for the research was still an issue, though, so I wrote to the professor and asked if it might be allowed to change topics. He agreed, and since then I’ve been struggling to come up with a topic that interests me and that has enough of a visual culture record to be doable without being so over-saturated with research that it’s boring.
It’s only a 30-page paper, so it needs to be something specific (like the specificity in that Coney Island swimsuits paper) but tied into a broader historical context (like the shifting role of American women in the ’20s) and with a record in visual culture (ads, editorial cartoons, photographs, paintings, whatever) that can be accessed without needing to spend weeks on a microfilm machine somewhere away from home. I’ve had trouble picking one. Passing thoughts (some to the point of clever titles, some just general topic ideas) have included:
- Environmental Activism in America
- Cover Girl: The Changing Face of Women’s Magazines
- Women in Medicine
- Women of Capitol Hill
- American Spinsters
- Passing Brave: Women Soldiers Who Fought as Men
- Centerfold: Sexuality for Sale
- Women’s Work
- Romance Novel Covers
- Role Reversal: The Sadie Hawkins Dance
- Pirates, Pilots, and Prostitutes: Women at Sea in the Age of Sail
- Witches in America
- Women in Tech (and/or Science)
- Lynching in American Culture
- The Transition of Teaching: a Male to Female Occupation
- Sewing Machines and Women Laborers in [location and/or time period]
- Women of the Oneida Community
- Congregations, Cults, and Concubines: Women in American Religion [some year span here]
- The Martha Washington Hotel, 1911 — 1983
All those thoughts (tempered by how difficult it might be to find source images) wound up in the idea Suffragettes, Spinsters, and Scientists: Non-traditional Women in American Visual Culture. But then that sounded too broad for 30 pages. So then I was thinking of narrowing it to Suffrage and Anti-Suffrage movements. But really I just can’t decide — I’ve had to make so many decisions in the past couple of months, my brain is fried. What topic should I choose?