zero-draft proposal

i want to share with you all the very, very beginnings of my new dissertation project. here's the short description that i had to send to the graduate committee of my department for approval. the 3rd paragraph is basically there to argue that my previous work is applicable so that they wouldn't make me re-take my comprehensive exams. i know it's a little academ-icky in how it's written, which i'm hoping to avoid in the future, and i'm not 100% sure of any of this - especially whether the farming connection works or doesn't. but one has to start somewhere, right? and right now, that means reading everything i can get my hands on that seems related.

and soo... i cannot begin taking oral histories from real people yet because that requires the approval of our institutional review board, which i'll be working on soon. but i hope anyone who is interested will save up their stories to share with me. even if you aren't in the u.s. south, but you have a family history here (i can think of a few of you!), your stories would be relevant. and if in the meantime, anyone has any thoughts, resources, citations, i'd be grateful. this is going to be a collaborative project in that it will depend on the people and their histories and the fabrics that are shared with me.

I have just returned from a leave of absence and am beginning my 7th year in advanced standing. I have decided to write my dissertation on memory and mourning in contemporary textile work in the US South. The notion of craft as a form of therapy is a common refrain among textile artists, and in recent years there has been a marked trend toward making and embellishing of "memory quilts," shrouds, and wrapping-cloths, often by hand. The working-through of memory in and through needlecraft has a long history, but has also taken a collective turn among textile artists who are using their using craft in activist contexts. [actually that's not new at all, not sure what i was thinking.]

Part of the memorial nature of this textile work seems to be the use of materials which have specific histories and meanings, and thus I will focus not only on the artist's experience of making, but also on the materials themselves, including the means of production. New generations of crafters and fiber farmers are in transition, and in many cases are seeking to use humane and sustainable methods and materials. I am interested in how methods of fiber production (and animal fibers in particular) intersect with a textile mourning practice. Gender, race and generation are likely to figure into my analysis as well.

Although the subject matter of this project is new, the theoretical and methodological bases remain the same. I will still be doing visual anthropology (or, "anthropology of the senses") within a skill and memory-based culture. Although I will not undertake an entire ethnography, I will observe and collect oral histories from research participants. Moreover, the historical and cultural context is similar in that I will remain in the US South, and my research participants may be primarily located in rural areas. This project will also deal with animals and animal products, although not as its central concern.

I plan to proceed with obtaining IRB approval right away. I will complete a more detailed proposal for my committee by the end of February, and a new review of relevant literature by the end of March. I will then begin to take oral histories throughout Spring semester and during the summer. I will prepare a detailed outline by September 2011, and produce chapter drafts during the 2011-2012 academic year. I will work steadily toward completion by no later than the end of my 8th year in advanced standing (Spring 2013). [actually it would be Fall 2014, whew!]

so that's it. i think i need to begin with the history of mourning embroidery and memory quilts...


  1. Amazing how similar our subjects are !!!!!!!
    Kindred spirits !
    x x x

  2. I have so many of your posts starred in google reader to tell me to get over here and say hello - we have been busy with the start of school and so forth - aack - but so glad to come say hi finally! Love your new header.

    I'm so excited for you that things are getting started with your dissertation. I hope everything gets approved!

  3. oh it did jeana! they said go ahead! so i'm off....

    you're actually one of the people i was thinking of ;)

  4. Congratulations on getting the go-ahead! Sounds intriguing. Would love to read more sometime.

  5. that sounds so rewarding your revised topic! this way you can follow your passion

  6. i hope you have some stories for me too, both of you!

  7. YAY!! congrats on getting approved! I look forward to reading more!

  8. Will you be charting any of your progress here, or does it all need to be kept under wraps until you've finished?

    When you posted that research text with the hightlighted "memory" and "quilt," (on Tumblr) it got me thinking about how we mourn in this society now. We are short on ritual these days.

  9. yes i'd love to keep track of my progress here! as much as my readers can stand anyway. it's something to do with this space, ya know? ;)

    right now i'm just reading, and going to a local craft guild meeting this week. then i have a meeting with my two advisors next week, and hopefully one with another grad student whose expertise is in 19th century samplers. i'm still needing to recruit a third committee member, which isn't turning out to be as easy as i'd like..

    i loved that bit that i posted on tumblr and wish there was a lot more info like that. truly, mourning practices and attitudes towards death have changed so dramatically in the last century. i have no idea how or if most people mourn today, do you? is it mostly through therapy, retail therapy, painkillers?

  10. Of course you should speak with Sherri Lynn Wood. http://daintytime.net/ She does the mourning quilts you are familiar with already, I'm sure.
    And I find the aspect of farming and incorporating animal fibres really, really interesting. I have had people want me to spin yarn from their pet's fur so they will have something to always keep, but I'm not sure if that is the area you are heading to. I will think about this some more.
    Congrats on your outline being accepted, I'm sure your work will be fascinating!

  11. heather, thanks for pointing me to her work ... i hadn't looked at it in a while. i'm glad you think the farm connections is interesting... and yes, the pet fur thing has to be a part of that. i've run into that a number of times and it can be really meaningful to people. i wish i had something spun from my little gigi's fur. it would be so nice to remember her by.

  12. Hey Lady--Congrats on getting back to it! It seems like a project you could live with for awhile-which I think is half the battle?