Rules of Engagement
Ok, So here we are. You’ve gone down a rabbit hole of research filled with primary sources and some good secondary sources, and you are excited because you really feel like you have something to share with the community. Oh My Lordy – that is awesome! Now it’s just important to keep a few things in mind when you share this information.
1. Absolutes are dangerous. Some things can be absolutes: People need to be able to breathe to survive. People wore clothes in the 18th century. Etc etc, but to try and say “In the 18th century women only ever wore/did/saw/said/tied/etc this one way.” Or “XYZ NEVER happened/existed/etc” is dangerous. When I attend academic conferences you rarely hear these types of statements, and when you do hear them usually the person gets heavily questioned in the Q&A by their peers, and almost always there’s a peer there that has primary source documentation that proves the speakers absolutist statement dead wrong. You know what happens then? The speaker looses their footing, and you as an active listener and participant in this field of study begin to question everything they said. Credibility is lost. So even though that person might have had valid and interesting information, you’re going to disregard it because of their absolutist statements that were quickly discredited.
Here are better ways to express your findings:
“My research shows that xyz seems to be the norm within abc…”
“As of right now, it is my belief that xyz happened…”
“It seems plausible that this could have been a standard seen…”
You get the idea right? You can make a statement about your research in a way that leaves the door open for changes in the future, whether by you or someone else. This is the norm that I have seen in academic papers presented at conferences. Like I said in a previous post, what we know about dress history is changing everyday. To pigeonhole yourself in an absolutism is a disservice to you and to the field of study.
2. Release yourself from the need to make a “name” for yourself. Usually the desire for this results in the pressure to make “absolutist” statements. I get it. I really do, you want to make this your career, or you want to be the “best” in the hobby, and you think by finding an empty tree stump to plant your historic costume flag into is going to get you the notoriety and respect you need to feel validated. I have to be honest, as someone who felt this pressure when I was in school, and had this desperate need to really yell out and stake my claim in this field…it’s just not the best way. Because when you do this, you open yourself up for harsh critique. Then you find yourself alone on your tree stump with a bunch of other people questioning you, and your fight or flight tendency kicks in. If you’re a fighter – then you’re going to alienate people and eventually lose respect because people will see you as someone who is mean and argumentative. (Remember, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.) If you go into flight mode – then you’re feeling attacked, hurt, and despondent…and you might want to throw in the towel and not do any more research again because of how mean people can be. You might be an amazing researcher though and you have lots to contribute to the field! Let’s be honest, both avenues suck. You will make a better name for yourself by being kind, keeping an open mind, and sharing your well sourced and documented information, without the expectation of notoriety.
3. Honesty always commands respect, even if it means acknowledging you don’t know everything or even an answer to a simple question. I’m going to use myself as an example here: I know a lot (not everything – no one knows everything) about 18th century women’s fashion. I know a lot about hair products, hair hygiene, and hairdressing. I know diddly-squat about Edwardian fashion, and I know even less about the Viking Era. Don’t ask me about Rev-War uniforms, cause I don’t have a damn clue…and you know what? I’m perfectly ok with this. It’s not my area of expertise and it’s not my area of study. I know plenty of people out there who can answer questions related to these subject matters, and it’ not me. So I go to them or refer people to them when I get asked. Lying about my limits of knowledge just makes life harder for everyone involved. It’s ok to not know everything. If you knew everything thing there would be nothing fun to discover down the road ya know?
|Not from me & not about your clothes. I know nothing Joseph Ducreux.|
4. Submit your abstract to local conferences, historic societies, CSA, etc to help get experience and get your name and information out there. It may seem super intimating (it definitely was/still is for me!) to submit a lecture proposal to a museum, academic society, etc, but in my experience submitting and vetting papers, reasons vary as to why or why not papers are accepted. Some conferences have a lot of paper submissions and have to reject a lot of proposals, and some have few submissions and they’ll accept all the submitted abstracts. There were times when I’ve been on a committee that received a really cool submission, but it was just ever so slightly off from theme of the conference and so we ended up passing it up. Other times, I’ve been on committees where it’s obvious that the submitter did not really put a lot of effort into their proposal and it was reflected in the quality of the submission….and there were other times where we accepted every paper submitted! The best advice I can offer is to reach out, put yourself out there and try. You might get rejected. It’s ok! You also might get accepted…and frankly sometimes that’s scarier! It’s always worth submitting to local/regional conferences like Costume Society of America’s Regional conferences because they are really intended for people who want to practice/share new findings/get feedback etc. It’s a much more welcoming and safer environment than what you might assume. (I don’t know if y’all have picked up on the fact that I used to have terrible anxiety relating to giving papers. Still do…) …but…it is really a great way to share your research, meet new people, and make more contacts in the dress history field.
5. Just like giving a lecture: if you make a statement on the Internet (Facebook, forums, blogs, etc) be ready to back it up. I don’t think I need to say much more than that – but just in case. If you’re going to make a statement about something, it’s wise to just share the source where you got in from in that same comment vs. making the statement and skipping away assuming that people are going to take your word for it….because they’re not…and it’ll turn into a Lord of the Flies situation if you’re not ready. (See No. 1 – above
and my post on Tertiary resources)
6. And finally:
And that’s a wrap for this 6 part (goodness…) series.