What is the relevance of this work today?The topic of my dissertation was a mix between the work about a century ago of a particular historical figure and the developments in three intersecting fields (Field 1, Field 2, and Interdisciplinary Field) from that time to today. I was interested in understanding how that figure's activities a century ago (which have mostly gone unacknowledged beyond a very limited scope) reflected on more general issues, how that experience might be compared to our own, and what relevance that work has on our knowledge today, what it might tell us as we move ahead.
By the time I completed my draft proposal, my dissertation chair had moved on to join the faculty at a university on the other side of the country. My advocate was gone, the person who had recruited me to enroll at his institution, who supported and sustained me. I wished to broaden my base of support, and to benefit from understanding them as part of my audience.
I gave the draft proposal to another faculty member in Field 1/Subfield 1 (let's call him Robert Spritzer), who was not on my committee (which included highly unusually for my program members from subfield 1, subfield 2, subfield 3, and Field 2). I asked for his feedback. Spritzer is a confirmed Old Dinosaur. He latched on to that question toward the end of my proposal.
We don't ask that sort of question in subfield 1 studies? What is the relevance of it? Relevance doesn't play into our inquiries.And there, I suppose, is where I most part company with subfield 1'ers. I do ask those sorts of questions. I wish to. I have little interest in tidbits of knowledge for their own sake (other than to dazzle checkout stewards at the grocery store: Universal Product Code, that's what it stands for. Price Look Up, that's the other one.) Tidbits of knowledge are parlor tricks, not worthy enough in themselves for me to dedicate a life to.
I find myself wondering how to get from my past to my future, leaving behind parlor tricks, seeking relevance.