The unexpected joys of research

Laura Nebout
Tuesday 6 August 2019

I finished my second Laidlaw summer a month ago, and although the whole program adventure is far from done, the end of the research part felt like a good time to reflect on what I’ve done over the past two summers. Like most people before starting such a project, there were some aspects I was dreading (Would my subject still be relevant to me in a year? Is there enough material out there for me?) but there were many that came across and surprised me in the best of ways.

If one looked at my Laidlaw experience overall, the first summer would sound much more exciting than the second: I had spent three weeks in Lima (Peru), going through archives and libraries to find documents (my research focuses on the role of two women in a small indigenous revolt which took place in 18th-century Peru), discussing my research with historians, archivists and professors who all went above and beyond what I could have expected. My second summer, at least to my friends and family, looked a bit duller in comparison. I spent 5 weeks in St Andrews, with most days spent in the library right after the exam period, reading my notes from last year and doing all the readings I had accumulated over the two summers. This did not seem as appealing as the previous summer, and I must admit I was dreading that period a bit myself, wondering if last year’s excitement would lamentably wear off after a couple of weeks. But (fortunately!) my second summer ended up being just as satisfying as the first one, despite staying in Scotland rather than flying off to the other side of the world. What made it so enjoyable was the pleasure I found in diving again into my research after a one year break (especially as my research is part of the Social Anthropology department, while I study Classics during the year): moreover, being able to focus only on my topic research, without having to stress about exams or deadlines, and having the luxury of time to go through my notes and do extra readings was much more pleasant than I expected it to be. I had time to read widely and deeply, letting my curiosity guide me through articles and books in a way I hadn’t done before for my degree, usually limited by time and other constraints. My time in Peru had been very exciting, but hadn’t left me time to go through all the documents I was finding: being able to go through them without rushing felt like being there again, while having the added satisfaction of knowing exactly how I was going to be able to use it for my project. If I was worried at the beginning of Laidlaw of not having enough material, my second summer proved to me once again that it was going to be quite the opposite issue that would arise from the amount of findings and readings I had after two summers.

Finally, the part of my research I did not see coming and which I appreciated the most was its human aspect: although I was spending hours in archives by myself in Peru, or days in the library in St Andrews, the connections I made with people through my research were not only crucial to my project (there are some things I would have never found without their help) but also a motivation to keep going with it, knowing these people had such an interest in my topic and how much I enjoyed discussing it. I had amazing discussions with the people who helped me in Lima, but I think the best exchange I had was from Scotland, via phone. Almost by accident when searching for a book online, I found a website, made by one of the descendants of one of the women my research is focused on, who had spent years assembling his family tree up to the 18th century (and thus up to the woman I was writing about). Thanks to his website, I was able to find him and talk to him about my research concerning his ancestor. This was probably one of the most memorable and rewarding parts of my research, and reminded me that, no matter how far my research might seem at times to both others and myself, these women who lived 250 years ago very much left their mark on the present.

The Laidlaw program gave me a window into research I will carry with me for the rest of my studies and personal projects, and I am greatly thankful to Lord Laidlaw for this initiative, as well as my supervisor Dr Hyland and the St Andrews Laidlaw team for their support.

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