I am a historian, a PhD candidate at Michigan State University, and I will be doing dissertation research in Germany during the fall of 2009.

As I’ve been preparing for my trip, I’ve realized that there are a lot of people (my wife, parents, other family members, friends, wife’s coworkers) who really have no idea what I do when I’m away for months at a time.  I don’t hold this against them – it’s pretty hard to explain my entire rationale for research and writing before anyone’s eyes glaze over.  I figure that writing about it a little at a time might give them (and me) some more insight into what is, for the time being, my job.

A more prosaic impetus for writing comes from my research in the US National Archives two summers ago.  One of the documents I cam across there (and – unfortunately – failed to copy) was a receipt for 700 dollars worth of alcohol for a going-away party for an official in the US High Commissioners Office in 1956 or 1957.  This is the kind of information that is completely useless as far as my dissertation goes, but it’s one of those stories about research that everyone should hear.

I’m also inspired by a book that I came across in a used book store (actually, Powell’s, in Portland) a while back, Hsi-Huey Lang’s Berlin Before the Wall.  Liang (I think he uses the transposed version of his name academically) was a grad student doing research in Berlin during the mid-50s, and he kept a daily diary which he only published 30-some years later.  I like it as a primary source for the period I study, and I’ve occasionally referred to the work in my writing and teaching on postwar Berlin.

Liang was in Berlin for nearly an entire year, while I can only afford a bit more than three months (and even that will be split between Berlin and Bonn/Koblenz), so I don’t see writing an entire book about the experience.  However, this might just be the perfect forum to help me keep up with everyone who might be interested in what I’m doing, as I’m doing it.  If I enjoy it, look for volume 2 in the spring – writing a dissertation in (about) 100 days…yeah, right.


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