How to Research like a Boss – Part 5

How to Research like a Boss: Part 5 – Tertiary Sources & the Changing Research World – Rules of Engagement, or, Facebook with Caution. (For Review: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

1. Facebook groups and forums are not valid points of research. Let’s just call that spade a spade. When you post a question on Facebook you’re going to get a sea of responses. Some will be good. Some will be terrible. Unless the person answering your question is backing up their statements with primary and good secondary sources, take what they say with a grain of salt. There are experts on these Facebook groups, but having a discussion or conversation about something is different than using these groups to post academically viable research.

Keep an open mind & be kind. Dress history is huge right now in academia. With this explosion of popularity comes an explosion of new research and discoveries that are changing how we view the past. What we know now is probably going to change in 5 years. While research from 20 years ago was ground breaking at the time, it’s not always valid today. This is ok! This is good! This is progress! We are learning more But how do we deal with these changes as Humans With Egos? It is important to be kind and courteous on the Internet. If you’re going to engage in Facebook groups here’s a quick list of how to not be misunderstood:

  • Add a smiley emoji. (really). If your comment is a statement without clarity of mood or tone, it will most likely be taken as snarky or rude, even if you don’t intend for it to be. We’re a delicate species, and emojis are a good way to easily express whether you mean for the statement to be nice… or not. 
  • WHEN YOU WRITE IN ALL CAPS – IT MEANS YOU ARE YELLING AND IT MAKES PEOPLE REALLY, REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE. Please don’t do it. Please. I’m uncomfortable even reading this. 
  • If you critique someone, makes sure it’s constructive. Telling someone they did it wrong, without at least applauding them for trying to even do it right, is just mean. They tried; it’s a step in the right direction. Let’s encourage the forward movement.
  • If someone disagrees with you, don’t get defensive. Ask questions. Honest, thoughtful questions. Your opponent may have spent the past year researching that subject for their masters degree and may have found some new-to-the-field information. Asking questions gets you a lot farther and keeps the lines of communication open.

2. Are you looking for answers or validation? They are not the same thing. One of the reason I am not a fan of Facebook groups is because I see a lot of people looking for validation to do something that they probably shouldn’t be doing. This isn’t research. It’s the search to validate an inaccurate choice. When you post a question like “Are any of these fabrics accurate?” and you get a lot of “No because XYZ” and you find yourself going, “Yeah but…” or “but I don’t want to spend the money” or “I don’t want to order online” or “Isn’t this good enough?” it’s time to acknowledge that you were looking for validation. People’s time has been wasted, including your own. Think about what you’re making and why you are making it. Are you trying to make a 100% historically accurate gown or a costume for a pretty princess tea? Both are OK! Girl – you do you – but don’t pretend to be historically accurate if you’re not. Just be honest with yourself and everyone around you about what your costuming intentions are.

3. The number of years in this field or hobby do not always equal expert. If you ask someone to back up their statements, and all you get is “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, etc,” walk away. Dress history research is changing every day, and we cannot rest on our laurels and past work. While there is a lot of Ego involved in this hobby, the truth should be our cumulative goal. For example: The past 3 years my research focus has been 18th century hair care: pomade, powder, how it was used, actively using it, reading about it, hairdressing manuals, everything. Do I think my research is the “End all Be all” – never to be improved upon? Hell. No. I think what I’ve done is lay the ground work for future scholars to build upon when it comes to a nuanced understanding of hygiene, beauty standards, and practices in the 18th century. I am proud of the work I have done, and I will stand by it. However, if I am still arguing the same point in 25 years when there is new scholarship and research abound, then I’m the crotchety fool who needs to get her knickers untwisted and realize that the new generation has access to information I couldn’t even fathom in 2014.

4. Some blogs are well researched. Some are not. Back in grad school (2009) I started my costuming blog and it has been the biggest blessing in my life. In 2011 I gave a paper about the commercial power and affect on research that the blogging community had (and has continued to have) on the dress history world. Some people loved it…some hated it…but the fact is that this community has changed the world of dress history, ultimately for the better. With all that being said, does this mean that blogs should be your go-to for all your research? No. Simply put, there is good research on blogs and personal websites but there is also total garbage. Blogs are wonderful jumping-off points and can be amazingly supportive and inspirational, but should not be considered academically viable sources. 

5. Explore the Community. If you have the desire to engage in conversation and learn about dress history beyond Facebook and blogs, the go for in-person experiences. Person-to-person is almost always better when it comes to debates and conversations, as the nuances of tone and intent are better understood. Create your own costumer’s guild in your hometown, join a research-focused reenacting unit, or attend conferences and lectures at museums. Join Costume Society of America (or the UK  equivalent). This is how you meet people. I cannot tell you how many brilliant minds are in this field that are not on Facebook groups and forums. Go to events. Meet people. Talk to them. Grow and learn and make new friends! Weee!

Alright…that’s wraps up this edition of “How to Research Like a Boss” next week will be our 6th and final installment of this “How to Research Like a Boss” Series!

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