No Need to Cry a River

Entering my final week of the Laidlaw project it’s hard to believe how fast the time has gone. Just ten weeks ago I was facing the daunting task of climbing the Mourne Mountains and collecting jars upon jars of samples from the River Shimna by myself. It was a lot more exercise than I anticipated and a lot more falling into the river than I wanted (big shout out to various family members who accompanied me to make sure I didn’t drown) but mostly this project has been a lot of fun and because of that I am so grateful to the Laidlaw committee and Lord Laidlaw for giving me the opportunity to carry it out.

My project is centred on investigating the pollutive effects a dam can have upon a river. Fofanny Dam and Reservoir was built along the River Shimna below the Trassey walk and has been the cause of three serious hot water spills in the past decade. The Northern Irish Environmental Agency (NIEA) provided figures from pollution tests further downstream where there was evidence that the river has recovered from any effects of the dam, however minimal testing had been carried out around the actual reservoir. My aim was to establish the water quality above and below the dam and investigate if there was any difference that could potentially be caused by pollutive effects.

After collecting samples of macro-invertebrates from sites above, alongside and below the dam they were transported back to St Andrews. A couple weeks spent squinting down a microscope and some much appreciated guidance from my supervisor and I managed to classify everything down to family level on the taxonomy index. This allowed me to use biological indicators and scores to compare water quality between sites and I have produced some very interesting results. Both above and below the dam had relatively poor water quality, meanwhile two of the sites right above/alongside the dam had moderate to good water quality- a completely different set of results than I had predicted!

The positive outcome from these results is that the spills from the dam and reduced flow rate are not having a significant pollutive effect on the river. Therefore I do not need to recommend any mitigation procedures to the NIEA to improve the river quality. It does however mean that there may be other aspects of the surrounding environment which could be preventing the river reaching its full ecological potential which should be investigated. For the remainder of my project time I now have to write the report and poster to explain the other causes of pollution around the river. So keep a look out for me at the poster presentation in October if you’re interested in what else could be happening to our rivers!

 

^ A picture of me at the final sampling site feeling very proud!

Big Questions:

With fewer than two weeks to go, the completion of my Laidlaw summer research project is fast-approaching, and the more than slightly daunting task of drawing conclusions from the past 8 weeks of research is now upon me. Thankfully in that time I have amassed a fair quantity of notes, all hand-written as I somehow never lost the habit, and somewhere in there I hope to find the interesting and original insights that will make my efforts, and the Laidlaw programmes generous support, all worthwhile.

Attempting to understand the complex relationship of France’s far-right political party the Front National, to the country’s intrinsic, foundational, and undeniably unique conception of secularism or laïcité, has been interesting, and at times involved tackling many more questions than those I originally sought to deal with. Beyond the shocking headlines and video clips of French police forcing Muslim women to remove their veil on sunny southern beaches, and of town mayors (not exclusively from the Front National) defending such actions, there are actually far-deeper issues at play which elude the simple labels of racism and discrimination, albeit that such intolerance exists in France as much as it does elsewhere.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most rewarding and academically fruitful aspect of my summer research project was undoubtedly the two weeks I spent conducting interviews in France at the end of June. I spoke to a broad range of people, Front National party members, and elected politicians of course, but also representatives of activist groups and government officials. While I did hear views I personally would describe as racist and Islamophobic, what I heard a lot more of was a sense of apprehension about the future, and a legitimate opposition to globalisation, multiculturalism, and a direction of modernity which many saw as threatening to their identity.

One interview in particular stands out in my head. On the 19th of June, I spoke to a farmer turned FN regional councillor in the small village of Châteaurenard, not too far from Marseille, who had joined the Front National after a proposed free trade deal with Morocco which would see his produce being undercut by agricultural imports from North-Africa. He saw globalisation as threatening to his livelihood, and the Front National as the only party which would defend local interests against global market forces. While many of us may question how he chose to fight his campaign, few would fail to understand his concerns.

As such, in the debate around the Front National, and laïcité, globalisation inevitably emerges, as does immigration, integration, terrorism, colonial history, political history, and a range of contemporary social issues. I would say that attempting to chart a course through this complex web of often very sensitive subjects, and while taking their relevance into account, remaining focused on the question at hand, has been a particular challenge of my project. Deciding which avenues of research to pursue, and which to leave aside as an inevitable consequence of the time constraints of a ten-week project has thus been an important learning curve from my time as a Laidlaw intern, and will no doubt be important experience for any time-sensitive projects I may undertake in the future.

A grey day in Paris

Cryo Electron Microscopy: continuously challenging technique from start to finish

Image

Looking back to the past weeks of working in a laboratory, I cannot believe how much my supervisor managed to train me and guide me through my project. I have learned so many different and most advanced techniques used in cell biology research directly from him and this made Laidlaw summer internship more precious than I have ever expected. One of the most challenging technique of all I have learned was to perform Cryo-Electron Microscopic imaging.

The elements that are involved in Cryo EM starts from culturing the cells properly. Once you defrost the cells that were kept in the liquid nitrogen tank, you must take care of them by regularly changing the media (liquid with nutrients and growth factors that help the cells grow and multiply in numbers), checking that they don’t have fungal infection or dividing them into flasks for more space to grow. For my experiment, I had to treat appropriate chemicals to my cultured cells to differentiate them into a more mature form of neuronal cells. This added up extra bits of care and procedures to be done before actually running any experiments on them.

Once you fix the cells after the experiment, you would scrape them off the dish they were growing on, and spin them down in a centrifuge to make a palette of cells which will be as small as a grain of rice. And this is where things get more challenging. The next step is to load the palette on a metal stub. This sounds quite simple, but you are expected to deal with a very small, slippery and fragile palette of cells and load them in a shape of a mountain on a stub that is barely 2mm wide. This has to be done within approximately 30 seconds, otherwise, the palette will crumble and become like a jam (which cannot be sectioned and thus will be disposed). Once you shaped the palette on the stub correctly, this is to be frozen instantly by going into liquid nitrogen.

If the techniques mentioned above do not sound challenging to you, here comes nanometer level of samples and thousand pounds worth of diamond knives to deal with. The tiny frozen cell palettes are now ready to be sectioned into 70nm thickness. The machine that you will be handling (a cryostat) has two very small diamond knives (one for trimming to make blocks, and the other for actual sectioning). They are so delicate, needless to say, you should never touch the tip of the knives, but you use a stick with an eyelash attached at the tip to handle the sectioned samples. I would have to say I still feel nervous after handling them for weeks. Once you finally start sectioning the blocks, you will have to fight the static, delicacy of the 70nm thickness, the condition of the knives, temperature setting, weather of the day and all sorts of factors that can change the quality of the section. I usually take about 1 to 2 hours to find a perfect combination for the day that would actually lead to proper sectioning. After all this, you need to pick up the section with a small metal loop with less than 10 microliters of liquid blob. By very gently touching the sectioned sample, it will attach to the blob which will then be moved to 2mm diameter copper grid.

The copper grids with sectioned cells on it are then to be washed, labeled with antibody and gold particles, stained and dried. This takes about three hours to complete as long as you do not lose the grids in between each step. Prepared grids are to be imaged in an electron microscope, which the machine itself takes up a whole room and is also, very delicate to control.

Starting from growing cells to finally imaging the results take nearly two weeks for each cycle, and I personally found it slightly stressful that not a single step during the two weeks are any less delicate and challenging than the other. Nonetheless, it is unbelievably satisfying when you image the grids and finally get to see the result of your experiment with your own eyes.

Late to the Start

There is something quite refreshing about returning to St Andrews after a small sojourn away: the familiarity of everything and the convenience of life is comforting to the weariest of travellers. I was definitely one of them having spent a month away from Scotland and away from the prospect of my project over the summer.

So when I did return last week I found that I felt both comforted to be in just one place but, at the same time, daunted by starting my eight-week project and by how much progress other Interns had made. My peers, it seemed, had all been hard at work, discovering exciting developments in their research. Some were even close to finishing. These facts filled my mind the Monday of my start and they were noticeably difficult to banish. This week I knew would be difficult but I also kind of knew where to begin.

The first thing that I knew I needed was perspective. Not everyone was nearing the end and there were even some new starters like myself. They were good to talk to as they had similar concerns about what lay ahead.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I knew that I needed a plan and a reading list. A detailed plan about how to break up eight weeks of work and material to conquer this project. This was by far the most useful device to ease my worries. Once I had a plan and knew where I was going I was reassured that this as a project was not only manageable but once again exciting!

My last remedy for the nervous Laidlaw beginner might seem slightly odd if not obvious but I found that actually getting down to work and seeing progress being made before my eyes was greatly comforting. After all, this is what I had proposed to do in November and had been looking forward to it since.

As a result of these my nervousness had not only been assuaged but I have been rewarded in my first couple of weeks of research with new information that I previously knew nothing about. My project on Scots in the Bedchamber of James VI and I and their impact on his British policy in the early years of his English reign has been fleshed out by distinctive characters and operators surrounding the King. Working through the secondary literature in a thematic way has allowed me to connect what I previously knew about the early seventeenth century—and the problems of multiple monarchy that James faced—directly to this microcosmic area of the Court and the Bedchamber.

While I have only been reading for a couple of weeks I am beginning to see how my poster might take shape, what I will include in it and how I might even present it. I am beginning to consider what of the vast primary material I will further look at and, having completed the online courses provided by the Laidlaw internship, what other methods and resources I might use in my research. I am no longer fearing the weeks to come but relishing what they have to offer.

So to late beginners everywhere, I recommend the not-so-surprising remedies of taking perspective, making a plan and actually starting but to also think of what excitement and reward awaits.

Panel from Peter Paul Rubens’ ceiling panels in the Banqueting House, then part of the Palace of Whitehall, London. James (on the right) is being offered both the Crowns of Scotland and England. This is one of many representations of ‘union’ which surround James.

In a new uncomfortable environment

In my second and early third week, I started going into the lab to learn basic techniques that I will need to do my experiments and general ones that would be of use to allow me some flexibility when designing my experiments. This was my first time in labs since high school, so it was a new uncomfortable environment for me that needed some adjusting.

One I would like to particularly like to focus on is tissue culture both 2D and 3D. They are both essentially the same procedure initially but it is what you plate the cells into and incubate them in that makes the difference. There is a separate tissue culture room where you must wear different lab coats to avoid contamination. Essentially this is the key: avoid contamination. Coming from a medical background I understand the importance of such a rule to avoid infection and ensure safety of patients. From a research and lab perspective it is to avoid the contamination of sterile cells and equipment and thus affect the results of your whole experiment; in fact, not only your but someone else’s if you affect the equipment of sterility of the hood you work in. It was obvious in my techniques that I needed some practice for example in pipetting using pipette gun my shaky hands would give me away. I believe this was normal as I wasn’t used to using the equipment while trying to be very accurate and careful. When you handle volume of liquids that so small such as in micromilliters and concentrations that are in nanomolar etc accuracy becomes very important because one simple mistake will alter your volumes/amounts hugely.

After the first time, I cultured some cells you leave them in the incubator to grow for a day or two depending on the cell line you are using and their rate of growth. Most importantly you simply have daily check the flask’s confluency because if the cells reach a very high percent of confluency you would have to throw them away. The next day someone came and told me that the flasks were put the other way around: I didn’t make much sense out of that initially and moved on. It was when one of the people I was working with noticed too and explained that I had stressed the cells. The flasks that contain the cells and the media have a neck that points upwards when you lay down the flasks in the incubator. This is important because the cells are on the bottom side and covered with the nutrient media that allows them to grow.

If however, you face the neck downwards, the cells will be on the upper side and the media will be on the other and so the cells will be nutrient deprived and thus stressed. When this was explained to me I could not believe how stupid this mistake was and how it wasted a day’s worth of work. I felt slightly ashamed and embarrassed because to me it should’ve been obvious. However, everyone in the research group consoled me and told me I was here to learn and it’s good I made this mistake early on so it wouldn’t affect the real experiments. According to them everyone does such a mistake “once but only once:” and this was true.  

Forming a common language

Since I’m nearly ending my research I would like to reflect on the different phases of the journey each day. So today I will focus on my first week and part of my second week which was pure literature search and experimental design. Upon starting, I was introduced to Phd students I will be working with and talked about their research and the general ideas of mine and how they can possibly fit together. These conversations were slightly intimidating as they were had many medical jargon and concepts I was unfamiliar with or had very basic knowledge of. My understanding nods without much comments were easily interpreted as confusion and even though I did learn the basics in lectures these areas were far more specialized. I was then left to do some literature research and a lot of background reading so that I can be able to come up with my own ideas and specific parts I wanted to experiment with and what the implications be. After a while however, I was slightly bored or maybe too overwhelmed with amount I had read. I ended up always strolling around into the lab trying to see what people were doing and asking them questions about it. This however, also required some background and even though everyone was helpful and explained a lot I felt there was a lot of new information I needed to digest in my own reading time. I accepted that I needed more research and gave in to sitting quietly with my laptop taking notes, drawing mindmaps and linking concepts till I had an overall picture. I only felt the effect when I had further conversations with any of the research group: it’s like we formed a common language.

Commutative Transformation Semigroups

I expect I have less experience writing than most of the other interns, as when studying maths at undergrad level you rarely need to write in full sentences, so please forgive me for any basic writing errors. What I’ve actually been doing falls into two main categories. The first being writing code for my supervisor’s github page which is accessible online here: https://github.com/james-d-mitchell/libsemigroups-python-bindings, and the second being learning more about semigroups and attempting to find new algorithms which can be of use to making the code more useful. In my opinion the latter of these two is where most of the fun lies.

Over the course of my internship so far I have learned a great deal about mathematics and mathematical research. Unfortunately however in order to explain what I have learned properly to non-mathematicians would require far more space than I have here, so instead I will attempt to explain the basic concepts underlying what I have done. I enjoy studying pure mathematics far more than any of it’s other forms and I believe that mathematics should be learned and studied rigorously and in a “sensible” order. The topic of semigroups is an unusual place to start, in particular most who try to learn about semigroups are already somewhat familiar with the wonders of group theory. Fortunately however as semigroups are so abstract they are relatively easy to define.

I like to define things properly so for my own piece of mind I will give you the rigorous definition of a semigroup. A semigroup is a set X together with a binary operation * satisfying the following conditions:

  1. Closure: for all x,y in X we have (x*y) is in X
  1. Associativity: for all x,y,z in X we have (x*y)*z = x*(y*z)

A semigroup is commutative if it satisfies that: for all x,y in X we have x*y = y*x

A well know example of a commutative semigroup is the set of natural numbers          {1, 2, 3, 4 …} under the binary operation +.

Throughout most of my research I have been working with commutative transformation semigroups. A transformation is a function from a set to itself, it usually doesn’t matter what the set actually contains so for simplicity we tend to use a set of numbers. A commutative transformation semigroup is simply a commutative semigroup in which all elements are transformations, and the binary operation is composition.

As with most things, the best way of understanding this is with a picture:

Here we have three transformations on the set {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6}. How the transformations action on each number is shown by an arrow pointing to where each number is sent. If we apply transformation 1 followed by transformation 2 we get transformation 3. For example if we map 4 by transformation 1 we get 1, and if we map 1 by the transformation 2 we get 0, and indeed transformation 3 maps 4 to 0. Notice also that transformations 1 and 2 commute, meaning that if you apply transformation 2 and then transformation 1 we still get transformation 3. This turns out to be a very powerful property which I am attempting to make use of in order the make my code better.

That’s probably enough for now but if you want more I highly encourage you to explore for yourself. Good luck to all of you with your coming research.

Learning Immunohistochemistry: More Than Just Pretty Pictures

I had expected the initial few weeks of my time in the lab to be fairly challenging to say the least. As an undergraduate, my typical experience of being in a lab environment is a three hour frenzy of activity, frantically trying to get everything done in the allotted time before I begin to feel bad that I have managed to keep the demonstrators in the lab past five o’clock. Moving to a working lab therefore, where people do research day-in day-out, I was a tad worried how different an environment it would be, where what we are trying to found out hasn’t been verified dozens of times by students doing the exact same practical the year before. However over the past month, my confidence has grown tremendously as I have had the opportunity to practise and optimise my protocol for a common biological technique: immunohistochemistry.

This technique is used to visualise expression of a protein you are interested in, allowing researchers to observe expression in a target tissue. First an antibody, referred to as the primary antibody, is raised in an animal by injection of the target protein. It is extracted, and can then be used with the tissue we are investigating, as it will bind to our target. We then use another antibody called a secondary antibody, which binds to the primary antibody and has attached a molecule that emits light after excitation with a certain wavelength, which we can then visualise under a microscope.

This has been my main protocol so far during my time in the lab. I am investigating protein expression at points of communication between nerve cells in sections of mouse spinal cord. I am able to see the junctions between the cells, and other cells potentially involved in their communication and function under an Apotome microscope. Learning to use this rather expensive and intimidating-looking piece of equipment was initially scary, however being able to use it independently has been incredibly rewarding. When the immunostaining works as it should, it allows me to produce images that let me visualise individual synapses between cells, which is well worth the length and at times, unreliability of the procedure.

An example of an immunohistochemistry image. VGLUT2 (red) and PSD95 (green) are presynaptic and postsynaptic markers respectively. The white boxes highlight puncta which lie juxtaposed to one another, and therefore likely represent individual synapses.

Immunostaining takes 3 days from start to finish, and involves a large number of steps, so I am glad that this has been the main procedure I’ve been doing in the lab in that it has taught me patience. “That’s science” is a phrase that gets used a lot, and what it has taught me is probably the most important thing I will take away from this experience. The mild soul-crushing nature of seeing a week’s work gone in an instant when I go to image my tissue under the microscope and see, as is common with this method for a multitude of reasons, that no staining has occurred, highlights that working in science requires patience. Other members of the lab have said if anything, when things work first try, you become paranoid that somehow you have done something wrong. The reality of how long it can take to get any meaningful results is something you don’t experience in undergraduate practicals, and having the patience required seems to be very important. However I have also learned that while it can be frustrating, the satisfaction of something finally working is more than worth it.

 

Heraclius: Legitimacy and Propaganda (on behalf of Ruaraidh McIver)

When I began my research five weeks ago, it was with full confidence that I could both read the entirety of relevant academic scholarship (which I believed to be limited), and simultaneously develop my own independent research. I swiftly realised the difficulties associated with this approach, as my first two weeks were consumed with my reading of numerous historical articles. These all proved informative and added to my own understanding, however the direct relevance of these to my own research were questionable. Upon recognising this with the help of my supervisor, I decided to narrow my focus to individual, and prominent examples of Heraclian texts and imagery. This would prove significantly more beneficial to my research, and the readings that I had pursued previously had provided me with a stable historical grounding from which to analyse these pieces. It is this that I am now working upon.

Upon hearing the name Heraclius, one’s mind immediately relates the Emperor with the Greek god Hercules. To the average person, his exceptional strength, martial feats and fame become interchangeable with the Roman ruler. This association is by no means an accident. While perhaps the most subtle example, propaganda such as this was utilised continually by Heraclius during his reign. This was done in an attempt to both strengthen and legitimise his rule in the eyes of his subjects.

Heraclius was raised to the throne in AD 610, after defeating the previous Emperor, Phocas, in a civil war that had raged for years. Phocas had himself also claimed the throne through the murder of the previous Emperor Maurice, and as such his claim to the throne was viewed as being wholly illegitimate. This civil war had proved disastrous to the Roman state, as the Persian Shah, Khosrau II, exploited this internal instability, conquering Syria, Palestine, Egypt and much of Asia Minor. The situation faced by the Romans upon Heraclius’ coronation appeared hopeless, as the new Emperor held command of a fatally reduced Empire and military. Yet, Heraclius defied all expectation, and through a series of spectacular military expeditions, was able to reverse Roman fortunes, and succeeded in re-establishing the original borders of the Roman Empire prior to the civil war. This success was lauded throughout the Roman Empire, and indeed the wider world. This was not a feat which was soon forgotten, as centuries later Christians within France celebrated this military victory, and the deposition of Khosrau II.

Enamel plaque on a cross stored in the Louvre which depicts Heraclius receiving Khosrau’s submission.

However, it was not only as a military leader that Heraclius was celebrated. Khosrau had claimed the ‘True Cross’ when his forces had seized Jerusalem. There is no reason to believe that Khosrau showed any disrespect to the relic, however Heraclius used this as a rallying cry from which to unite Christians throughout the Middle East under his leadership. After the conclusion of the war, Heraclius recovered the True Cross, and made a concerted effort to display it throughout his Empire. This was done in order to show that he was capable of not only defending the Empire itself, but more importantly the Christian faith. This was evidence of the Emperor fulfilling his duty as a Christian ruler, and being supported by Christ.

Depiction on the Armenian Church at Mren of Heraclius (kneeling on the left) restoring the True Cross

As his reign progressed however, Heraclius became increasingly concerned with his own legitimacy, and reminding his subjects of his divine appointment. This was done by the production of artistic items such as the David Plates, a series of high quality silver plates which showed snapshots of the life of the biblical ruler King David. David, like Heraclius, had not inherited the throne through familial succession. Rather, David was appointed by God to succeed Saul as he was a more worthy King. Just as David had defeated the giant Goliath, Heraclius had defeated the giant of Persia. Heraclius sought to remind his subjects that holding the throne need not always require familial ties, and that he, like David, had been appointed by God to defend his people.

The largest of the David Plates, depicting David (centre left) fighting Goliath of Gath.

My research has now moved on to focus upon the history of Theophylact Simocatta. Simocatta composed a history of the reign of the Emperor Maurice while living in the reign of Heraclius. Very little research has been focused upon this historical piece, with most historians utilising it as a simple narrative history for the reign of Maurice. However, there appears to be underlying Heraclian additions, and it seems increasingly likely that this history was used by Heraclius to legitimise himself. This can be seen through Simocatta’s continual mentions of Heraclius the Elder, the father of the Emperor Heraclius. Most other contemporary sources mention the elder Heraclius in passing, or in relation to making his son Emperor. However, Simocatta makes special effort to recount the military actions of Heraclius the Elder. In doing so, this allows the audience who hear this work to subconsciously recognise the Emperor Heraclius as the true successor to Maurice, as it is the son of his faithful general who restores stability from the tyrannical rule of Phocas. This shall be contrasted with other historical sources of the time, such as the Chornicon Paschale in order to recognise the differences in the work. My research shall soon turn towards the Islamic scholarship on Heraclius, and their records of the Roman Emperor, who himself exchanged correspondence with Muhammad.

Letter from Muhammad to Heraclius which can be read in Quran 3:64.

My internship so far has taught me of the difficulties associated with independent research, and how best to learn from these problems. Consistent focus upon a realistic set of achievable goals has provided me with infinitely more worthwhile results than my initial study. The support offered to me by my supervisor has been invaluable in this, and my own understanding of the importance of academic leadership has developed because of his direction and support. There is no doubt in my mind that this shall continue, and I am excited to see where it will take me.

New Approaches to New Challenges: The Nature of Historical Research for Laidlaw

I began Laidlaw with the expectation that my university experience had adequately equipped me for undertaking a ten-week-long research project on legal history, a topic in which I am keenly interested. I had written multiple 5,500-word essays before and figured this would be no different, except in the duration of the research. What I quickly learned, however, is that the difference is not simply quantitative, i.e., it does not lie solely in the amount of reading, notes, and time required, as these factors necessitate a qualitatively different approach

Essays for class are often short enough that I can construct a sound argument with no more than fifteen sources. This is not the case for a research project the length of Laidlaw, and as such I cannot rely on the same informal research methods I use for those assignments. For class, I will often try to identify information that strengthens or weakens my overall argument while reading and taking notes on a source. The more sources I use, however, the more information I need to incorporate into my arguments, and the number of sources I am using for Laidlaw is such that I cannot effectively analyze and read them at the same time. Consequently, I needed to partition my project into more discreet chunks of reading and analysis to ensure my arguments are as comprehensive and coherent as possible. With the assistance of my supervisor I constructed a more detailed itinerary to give some shape to the next ten weeks.

Since all history is founded on the analysis of primary sources, I began my project by gathering and critically reading the extant introductory materials (not necessarily prologues, strictly speaking) of most legal codes (again, broadly defined) issued between the fifth and eighth centuries AD. I attempted to identify problems or themes relating to my question, i.e., how these prologues used history to make value-laden claims about reality. This opened several avenues for me to approach my secondary literature, which has occupied my time up to now.

A manuscript leaf from the Lombard Edictum Rothari

I divided my secondary reading thematically, and attempted to have my themes roughly correspond to each week of study. So far, I have focused most on each code’s respective manuscript tradition and any problems of transmission, any scholarly work on the uses of history in the early middle ages more generally, the history of identity, particularly ethnicity, the nature of kingship in the Germanic kingdoms and late Roman Empire, and any relevant political history surrounding the promulgation of codes. Although my perennial concern is that my reading is not as comprehensive as it should be, the work I have done so far has hopefully equipped me with the context required to start effectively analyzing the codes’ uses of history, which I will likely begin next week.

This analysis will entail me reviewing all my notes and organizing them based on an interrogation of the questions I think are most relevant to constructing a sound argument. This will also allow me to determine what questions require more research once I have spent some time analyzing my existing notes. Two questions with which I have already struggled are “what constitutes a prologue?” and “What constitutes a code?”. These have major methodological implications as they determine the scope of my research. So far, I have been relying on very loose definitions, which has allowed me to survey a wide variety of legal texts. But this raises the concern that the “codes” or “prologues” I am studying are all categorically different, meaning I risk generalization. Ultimately, I may have to discard much of the material I have studied to construct a more conservative, but also more persuasive, argument.

A Mosaic of Justinian I, the author of the Corpus Iuris Civilis

So far, I have had no problems finding the motivation to work every day, and it will be interesting to see whether this motivation remains now that my task is all the more abstract.Although I foresee this being one of the most exciting parts of the research process, it is also one of the most challenging, and will test my abilities to synthesize a larger body of information than any I have examined before.