Allgemein Discussion Research Updates

Where Do We Go From Here?

The first semi-annual update for 2021. Here I discuss challenges and developments in navigating research projects in the late-stage COVID era.

I’ve been dwelling on this post for a couple of weeks now. Twice a year I post updates about the general state of things and trajectory of current projects. This time I’ve been a bit stuck on what to say.

Obviously COVID is a big part of that. After spending several years building something that was finally starting to move into the realm of “hey, maybe this could start cutting me my paychecks,” the entire planet hit a wall. I’ve spent the last year trying to restructure just about everything about what I do.

And it’s worked, for the most part. Sort of?

Archival research was possible for a minute there, and then once again was not. I tried remotely screening films but the technical issues were just so awful that it made no sense to me to keep trying when all my stuff is on YouTube to freely watch on your own time and without nonstop glitches.

If I didn’t have loads of pictures and scans to remind me, it would be hard to believe that just last year I was researching in archives.

Because of this, my lesser-developed major projects are just on hold. I’ll sort them out when there’s an out through which to sort them. Scrimshaw still has a long way to go but is more or less in post production at this point. It’s the equivalent of a 27,509 piece jigsaw puzzle with the same image on both sides except one is reversed. But I’m pretty sure all the content is there, although there may be a little more filming done where I and some others think things can be improved.

I’ve been mostly focused on shorter videos and writing at this point. It just makes more sense. Things like my cemetery research straddled short and complex projects, but that was automatically paused by the winter. I’m going to be scheduling another cemetery cleanup event in the coming weeks. Probably in about a month after it’s been two weeks since Julie’s and my second vaccines.

I wonder how Adjua, Pauledore, and Judith are holding up lately.

If you frequent this site, the Facebook page, or the Facebook group, you know that a lot of what I’ve been going on about has been cast iron cookware. There’s good reason for it.

Even new cast iron has historical connection, and the mindfulness it forces on you when learning to use it properly tunes you into it fairly quickly. It’s weirdly similar to how cycling forces you to be observant of the world around you, and how training in anthropology forces you to see broad ripple effects emanating from literally everything you see.

And it also helps that it’s tied to industrialization and labor history, aaaaand that untold reams of primary source documentation is floating around in digitized antique books available freely on Google, and that there are many top tier researchers on the topic networking to pool resources.

I’ve been able to conduct real research and confer with leading experts, form real opinions and come to real conclusions, and distill them into (hopefully) fun reads that convey deep historical connection in seemingly mundane places as well as the access to research materials available to anyone who wants them.

Interestingly, though retrospectively not at all surprising, as the breadth of my projects is scaled back, the criticism/misinterpretation of my methods or perspectives has increased. It makes sense. More digestible content means shorter duration of attention is required. It’s very easy to invest 5-10 minutes in a new media outlet compared to 30-90.

That being said I want to say a few things about what I do. I discuss topics that I think are worth talking about. There are levels to the discussion, depending on your investment. You can take it at face value, you can simply think it’s neat that I make documentaries from a bike. Or you can get ahold of my sources (always, aaaaalways available), look at my equipment lists and how-to content, and replicate what I’m doing with your own perspectives.

How I do it is 100% baked into every single thing I do.

But.

I don’t (or I at least try not to) do anything that’s been done to death. If I have nothing novel to add to popular topics, then I’m not going to invest a lot of time in discussing them. Why? It’s been done, and quite likely better than I would do them.

I let research lead me where it does, and I’ve sometimes abandoned or redirected the scope of projects upon realizing that I’m not saying anything  original or important. 
There is so much information out there, on millions of interesting topics. Research access has been largely made possible and often times fantastically obtainable. Why build a platform and then use it to rehash old stuff everyone has heard since 2nd grade with nothing new added to the discussion?

I’ve gotten some push back on that. It’s understandable. We are surrounded by popular stories, and it can be exciting when a new presentation format comes along that addresses a story we all know and love. But, as I mentioned if I don’t find anything “new” to add to a narrative or body of information as a whole, it feels close to a waste of time. And so I incorporate new stuff into my discussions.

It can be uncomfortable sometimes. We like to feel somewhat removed from the awful events of the past, while connected to the familiar triumphs over adversity. And we also like to feel like the reverence of our predecessors and ancestors is well placed.

It’s nothing short of jarring to hear, in plain and direct language, that so-and-so was maybe up to some really awful stuff, and that that stuff was considered awful by some of their contemporaries—not just awful by today’s standards.

It doesn’t even have to be people doing gross stuff. Even within the cast iron world, I’ve gotten some criticism for placing the dates of bottom-gated castings well into the 20th Century, with some even in the 21st. For deeply invested researchers, this is nothing new. For casual collectors, it can fly in the face of everything they’ve heard about 19th/early 20th century iron casting.

I can’t change that. I can only relay the information I’ve obtained from [mostly] primary source documentation. And I definitely can’t argue with what happened in the past when someone from the past in question is telling me directly what was going on.

I’ve decided to lean into it a bit. You may have noticed in recent blog posts. I’m not really sure what other way to go about it. If I’m reading through historic documentation and learn something wild, which I then relay, it isn’t my fault if it’s not the story someone wants to hear. I’ve squirmed a bit during research myself.

I do my best to blunt the sting, but I’ve found that an unquestioned reverence for the past tends not to lead to anything great, and is arguably a disservice to those who lived it.

In short, I have no particular agenda other than researching and relaying information in fun and engaging ways. History and historic figures are a lot more complex than just winners and losers. I like digging into that complexity.

That said, I am very excited for the developments of the past year. Having to reassess my approach has not led to a shortage of projects. It’s been tricky sometimes to find legitimate avenues of research on specified topics when in person access isn’t possible. Early last year, Anthrospin was starting to erode the hours and days worked at my day job, as projects became ever deeper, while it was simultaneously becoming lucrative enough to pay me.

That’s no more, for now anyway.

Patreon funds Anthrospin now, and that’s an understandably tough platform when there is so much instability in people’s lives. But with a full arsenal of recording gear and editing capabilities, what Anthrospin needs to survive isn’t much. And so our coffers have been growing steadily with the ebb and flow of patronage.

Our fourth board meeting is this weekend. These are getting steadily more exciting as time goes on. All three of us members are invested and coming up with novel approaches to things. We are cooking up fund raising ideas and working out how best to schedule content. And if nothing else, they refuel the fire that can sometimes have burned down a bit in the endless Groundhog Day of the COVID pandemic.

Anthrospin is expanding in some ways. I’m talking with some professors at Rhode Island College about featuring student content or working out student contributions. I’m very excited for that because so many brilliant students come through that department and I know many of them will have appropriately brilliant things to add.

There are a lot of exciting developments going on, the trick here is time management, and really just getting things in front of people. That was always the trick, really. I had just sorted it out and then was suddenly in a different world. This world has all the same awesome stuff though. I’ve just gotta keep coming along every once in a while and letting you know about it.

I have a degree in anthropology from Rhode Island College. My focus was in biological anthropology but I also have a broad interest in cultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. Pedal Powered Anthropology is an anthropological educational initiative that seeks to bring profound travel experiences to a local level while encouraging others to get out and explore the world around them. This blog details all aspects of my work as Anthrospin, including my take on topics within four fields anthropology as well as bits about a lot of different aspects of culture, primarily race, gender, privilege, the environment and my own personal relationship with anxiety.

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