What is research?

On Thursday I went to the library after class, as excited as the little kids I used to babysit when I told them we’d walk down to Gordon Avenue. I walked up to the second floor and was surprised to find that the article I was looking for was amongst stacks and stacks of reference books that surely no one but the boogeyman touched. Natuarally, Le Revue de Paris was on the most poorly lit aisle. 1978…1954….1931….1903! I came for the year 1903 because supposedly, one of the women I am researching (a Galician author, Emilia Pardo Bazán) had written a review of the nouvelle writers of Spain, among them Caterina Albert (consequently, the second woman I am researching). It was to be a fascinating link…two women, from two differently literary periods, who wrote two different (and remarkably similar) short stories and now! and now, I knew they’d known of one another.

I flip through the pages of the fragile, dusty book donated to UNC by some alum before my parents were even born. Edition one, no luck. Edition two, no luck….I flipped through countless aging pages and though it felt so romantic, this Le Revue stuff was getting me nowhere. But, I was SURE there was an article. 

In a decidedly 21st century move, I opened my fragile, dusty [mac]book and started to Google away. In fifteen minutes, I had located the article after looking through bibliographies, article databases, google.cat, and finally…one beloved Ebook. Scanned, from 1904. Emilia’s own article, translated by herself, and re-published in Castilian. 

Googlebooks isn’t tactile; it isn’t really sensory at all. It’s sort of exciting…and certainly faster than flipping through hundreds of pages of an old French tome. Most importantly though, it was effective. After all, I found what I was looking for, ¿didn’t I?


Before I came to grad school, I really had no idea what research meant. Oh, sure, I knew that scientists made hypothesis, did tests, and then wrote a summary about it. What was I going to do with Spanish “research” though? Check the pH of a book? 

And though I’m still not completely sure I know what a word as big as r.e.s.e.a.r.c.h. means, I think in this context, it has something to do with reading. A lot. You read, you critique, you problematize (a word they toss around a LOT in G-school) and most importantly, you notice things. Like, for instance, you notice that two short stories, written by two different women in two different time periods are remarkably similar and you ask yourself “Why?” It’s curiosity in action. 

Then, after you read, you write. You write to answer the question “So what?” and you explain to others why it’s new, cool, interesting, or important that so-and-so did such-and-such. 

Sometimes, it involves dusty books, more than a century old. Sometimes, it doesn’t. 

But-and dare I say it- it’s just a little bit fun!


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