Although it feels as though I’ve been doing this for ever, I’m still at the early, sponge-like, absorbent stage of my research. Yes, I’ve begun to write, as we’ve all been advised to do, but I have yet to begin real hands-on-head-down fieldwork, so my main activity is reading, reading and more reading. And applying dozens of page markers. And making notes, lots of notes. And engaging in the never-ending trudging between libraries (my only exercise these days), waving plastic cards at beeping machines and trying to remember PIN numbers.

This feels either Sisyphean or Herculean depending on my mood.

One major problem is that each paper or book I delve into comes complete with either a hefty list of references or a bibliography. I’m just finished Thad Logan’s The Victorian Parlour (note, there is a difference between “finished” as in mined for stuff that’s relevant/useful/interesting/inspiring and “read” as in…well…read). The book ends with a 17-page bibliography that lists about 350 books and papers. Of course, not every one of those books is going to be useful to me.

I whittled the list down to about 50 references that appear to be relevant to my research topic (not counting the dozen or so books and papers she lists that I’ve already come across).

Two things: firstly, some of those other 300 references I’m abandoning might contain some vital information that isn’t obvious from their titles, even just a reference to something else. By a process of guesswork and expediency I’m ruling out serendipity. Secondly, each of the 50 seemingly-useful references that I’ve noted will also contain, say, links to 50 more! That’s about 2,500 potential sources from just one original book. Aaaargh!

Also, I have to think about how I’m going to write about Logan’s book in my literature review, a draft of which is going to be due this time next year. At the moment my thoughts are at the intellectual level of “Thad’s a strange name for a woman!” I guess I could discuss the issues that Logan has with the views of one of heroines, Susan Stewart (On Longing, one of those books everyone cites). Is that disagreement really an essential part of my approach to nineteenth century natural culture? Dunno. I’ve got a year to think about it, when not panicking about those 2,500 references, each of which will include another 50 or so citations… I need a beer!