Tag: organizing

A week in the life of writing a dissertation

I recently had a whole week to work on my dissertation. Each day I wrote my
thoughts at the beginning of the day and a short To Do list. I thought I would
share as it is a small glimpse into the process of writing a large scholarly

Monday, July 11, 2016

Today I worked on
– flow and structure of Chapter 1, part 2.
– take out all of the passive voice in chapter 1, part 2, and parts of the
– Export parts of the Intro and Chapter 1 to Word document to send to

Didn’t finish going through:
– flow and narrative of Research Question and Argument sections of the
– flow and argument of Chapter 1, part 2, to see if it fits section

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I should read through the chapters about the prisoners to see if they actually
uphold my new argument…

To do today:
– Read Introduction for flow and narrative. Check for grammar, argument, etc.
– Read Chapter 1, part 2 for flow, narrative, grammar, and to see if it fits
the conclusion of that section.
– Format and send it to committee.

Need to research:
– which historians argue that “Vernichtung durch Arbeit” was selectively
applied, and which do not.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Maybe I should just roll Chapter 1, part 1 into part 2 and not have parts.

To do today:
– Read through Koel book on history of the SS.
– Start reading Langerich’s biography of Himmler (decided to get the English
version for the sake of time).
– Read through Chapter 3 to see if my new argument is supported
– Notes while reading:
– Clarrify argument for the chapter and rewrite the chapter introduction.
– Use available works about the Neuengamme KL when discussing the
Neuengamme KL
– Address the vast literature about the Holocaust and KL research. Put
the most important in a big footnote.
– Passive voice should be removed!
– Prison Infirmary section: Add wordage that talks about how the SS did
not care for the inmates and wanted them to die.
– Technical writing point: Add @ to the end of the Zotero source when
citing multiple sources. Then in Word, search for '.@' and replace with

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Really frustrated and depressed about the dissertation today. I don’t think I’ll
get it finished, and I don’t care to work on it anymore. I don’t think I’ll get
the argument right. I probably can’t justify/support the argument based on the
research I have already done, and I can’t handle any more research at the
moment. It’s never enough! (This song comes to mind: https://youtu.be/37tzsSP-Dc0)

Well, suck it up, quit whining (elitist, 1st world problems) and get back to
reading through Chapter 3.

Notes while reading:
– At beginning of Prisoner Hierarchy section, discuss why important and what
it shows about SS ideology vs. economic drive.
– Do this for each section.
– Prisoner Hierarchy section:
– Make note that this camp used similar hierarchy as other camps. Self
regulating inmates.
– Section on hair: provide more analysis. What did the different hair cuts
– Letters and packages section: Show that Danish were privileged because
they were the only ones allowed to send and receive letters and packages.

Friday, July 15, 2016

So, good news back from the committee which means I’m in good spirits again.
What I did was actually good and acceptable. So now, moving on. Some thoughts:
– Perhaps just merge part 1 and part 2 of chapter 1.
– Maybe leave Chapter 3 and 4 as is with a clarification or argument that the
survivor voices should stand on their own. Then a fifth chapter analyzing

To do today:
– Read through Spoerer book, to say that I have and footnote it, shows basics
of SS history. Found really good article by Spoerer with discussion about
defining the terms forced laborer, foreign laborer, slave laborer, and
less-than-slave laborer. Use this in Chapter 1 instead of the confusing
paragraph I had before.
– Merge part 1 and 2 in Chapter 1. (not done yet)
– Write up this weeks notes as a blog post (done a few days later)
– Format Chapter 1 and update the dissertation website (not done yet).

The Mechanics of Writing a Dissertation

Update from this post: Setting the Pace from January 3, 2013.

I’m a nerdy, geeky type of guy, fascinated with technology, so I just had to figure out a way to keep myself on track using a spreadsheet. I chose Google Docs through my Google account as it is safely backed up online and I can do cool things like provide a link for anyone to see it and thereby keep track of my progress.


Weekly Schedule
Weekly Schedule

The Plan

With ideas and thoughts cribbed from Eviatar Zerubavel’s The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books, I came up with a deadline (December 31, 2014, so that I can edit and finalize things before graduation in May 2015), and looked at a calendar to plot the days I would be able to work. I first put down all of the events and times where I know I will NOT be able to work on the dissertation. Saturdays and Sundays are out because of family and religious reasons (my family gets me for 2 whole days of the week, where it’s my turn to take care of the kids). 40 hours a week for work. Sleeping time (although that’s the first to go). And any other times I knew I wouldn’t work on the dissertation; holidays, vacations, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

With some basic numbers, I was ready to put together a tracking spreadsheet: 250 pages for a dissertation (on the short end for history dissertations, but I’ll have a lot of digital aspects to supplement), with roughly 40 pages a chapter; 175 days to work until December 31, 2014; 12 hours a week; 2.5 hours a day with 4.5 hours one day of the week. That works out to about 1.5 pages a day (that I plan on working) or .5 pages an hour. That seems easy enough. I can write half a page in an hour… when I have the material in hand (and mind) already. This is by far the hardest part; not waking up at 4am (that’s easy).

I have a sheet to keep track of the days I work on the dissertation, how many pages I write that day, and what I worked on.

Daily Tracking Sheet
Daily Tracking Sheet

This automatically updates my “dashboard” that tracks things on a monthly level, with a cell with giant numbers of how many pages left I have to write. The closer I get to 0, the greener the cell automatically becomes. (I just can’t help it.)



The downside to this, is that it doesn’t really track the progress of the actual chapters; how much of chapter one is left, how much of the introduction is written, etc. I don’t really have a set number of pages to reach in order to call a chapter “done”. It’s “done” when I get all of the information across and points made and theories explored and backed up with examples. That could take 40 pages or 100 pages. But a rough guesstimate and quick goal is for 40 pages per chapter.

The Tools

This is where Scrivener comes into play, or would “more better” if I spent more time figuring and configuring the awesome tracking abilities built into Scrivener. One of the great progress tracking features is to set a “words per section” goal. A quick calculation and another rough guesstimate puts us at 350 words per page, or 87,500 words. You can set a word goal for each section, and then see the results as you type and see all sections in a group at a glance. I have each chapter broken down into smaller sections, and each of those sections gets a word goal.

Now I just need to use all of these tools and get back to work!


One Tunnel at a Time

I have finally decided which tunnel to focus on for the dissertation. After finally getting up the nerve, I called Dr. Wagner at the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial to ask his opinion on which tunnel to focus on. He graciously and patiently listened to my bumbling German and suggested I focus on the tunnel sites at Porta Westfalica.

Herein enters the difference that new media provides in researching a topic. What’s the first thing I do? Search on Google, of course. I found a few interesting sources right off the bat, and after digging deeper, even more surfaced.

I searched for ‘Porta Westfalica Ambi-Budd’ because Ambi-Budd was the business assigned to the tunnels at Porta Westfalica. I got some interesting results:

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 3.34.52 AM

As you can see, there are hundreds of web pages out there with those three terms on them (including this one).

Here are some of the more interesting links I found.


I’ll make sure to go to the Neuengamme archive and memorial site this summer.

The following links could provide connections to sources, but also will be a source in and of themselves. I want to write about what has happened since 1945 with this tunnel, and it looks like a lot of “online” things have been happening. This shows that these tunnels are still of interest today. Why? Well, that’s what I’ll write about in the dissertation.




There are many more. I sure do have my work cut out for me.

(I cheated on the featured image. I started this post in March, and finished it in July, after I visited Neuengamme and Porta Westfalica.)

Setting the Pace

It’s time to really buckle down and get this dissertation going.

I read “The Clockwork Muse” by Eviatar Zerubavel to give me some ideas on how to accomplish the monumental task of writing a dissertation. In a nutshell, the trick is small pieces, planned times, and deadlines. In more detail, here are some notes that I took away from this book and have implemented in my pacing guide to dissertation completion.

800px-BCL5_Saturday_ScheduleSchedule: Schedule specific times to write, specific hours and days each week. Look at your week, plot out all of your existing commitments, family, work, etc. and schedule writing time into the available spots. Scheduling the time gives it reality, fits it in with your already planned life, and gives it boundaries. The book suggests figuring out how long of a session works for you, and keeping your writing times limited to that. I shouldn’t have any problem, because I can only get a few hours in a day anyways. I have a family (a wonderful wife and five amazing children who want to see their husband and dad some time during the week), a full-time job, Church responsibilities, and personal health needs. That gives me about three hours on three days a week. Making some changes during the summer, I should be able to bump that up to five hours on those three days a week. Plan for known vacations, trips, and other blocks of days where you know you will not be able to write. I figured that I will have three days a week to write, but I still have a lot of research to do, so I bumped that down to two days of writing and one day of research.

513px-Elephant_at_Indianapolis_ZooBits and Pieces: Another tip is to divide the dissertation up into as small of parts as possible. This does several things. First it is psychologically a lot easier to think about focusing on writing 5, 10 or 20 pages of a section or chapter, than it is to think about writing a 300 page dissertation. I already had an outline during the prospectus writing phase. That has certainly changed already (due to the need to focus on one tunnel instead of all of them), and will change again as I learn more about the topic. To help with a very basic outline, I looked at several similar works and based my outline on their table of contents. Here is what I have so far:

  1. Introduction: Historiography, methodology, and arguments
  2. Chapter 1: Business Above Ground (193x-1944)
  3. Chapter 2: Decision to Disperse
  4. Chapter 3: Organization of Project X
  5. Chapter 4: Tunnel Technology and Topology
  6. Chapter 5: Collaboration with Killers
  7. Chapter 6: Persecuted and Perpetrators
  8. Conclusion: Meanings, Memories and Movements

That’s about it. I don’t know which tunnel, or which business I will study yet. Once that is clarified, I’ll be able to fill in the X’s and flush out the outline.

One other idea I liked about this section, is to not fall into the traditional trap of writing one chapter at a time. Zerubavel suggests, rather, to write as much as you can on all sections. That makes it that much easier when going through each revision, because you have something there already. Having a draft of the whole dissertation is much different, and far and away much better, than having a draft of only part of the dissertation, regardless of how “finished” the parts are. I’m going to give that a try.

Fail to plan? Plan to Fail: This next part was great in helping me visualize and actually help me believe that this project is actually achievable. With my end date in mind (December 2014, which will give me buffer time and time for revisions for a April 2015 defense and May 2015 graduation date), I figured out a rough estimate of pages needed, how days I will work, how many hours per day, and therefore how many hours available to write the dissertation. Dividing the pages by the hours gives me how many pages an hour I need to write, and a rough estimate of how many pages a day and week I will need to write. I gave myself a whole month of no writing for this year and next for buffer and reality. July of this year is all research, and I’m sure something will come up next year. Here’s what I came up with:


  • 20 months of work (until December 2014, should have first draft all done, and getting revisions for second draft in January-February 2015, third draft in March-April 2015, submit final in April, defend in May 2015)


  • 240 days
  • 12 days/month to work on dissertation


  • 804 hours total to work on dissertation until December 2014.
  • A) 3 hours/day to work on dissertation, until June 2013 = 144 hours, March-June 2013 (Monday, Thursday, Friday 5pm-8pm)
  • B) 5 hours/day if I don’t teach seminary = 660 hours, August 2013 – December 2014 (Monday, Thursday, Friday 5am-7am, 5pm-8pm)


  • 300 pages, goal to write that many pages
  • 0.4 pages/hour
  • A) 1.5 pages/day, 2 days/week, March-June 2013, 12 pages/month
  • B) 2.5 pages/day, 2 days/week, August 2013 – December 2014, 20 pages/month
  • 6 chapters (not including intro and conclusion)
  • 40 pages/chapter (Intro and conclusion 30 pages each)

Next, I mapped out each day on a monthly calendar (March 2013 until May 2015) with my goals and a place to write my actual progress for the day, like so:

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 6.12.59 PM

This gives me a tangible, and handy chart to mark of progress, keep myself in line, and give something to others so they can see how I have allotted my time.

The author also suggests making up incentives for accomplishing certain milestones. I have not got to that point yet, but I know what the prize is for finishing the dissertation… a cruise!

669px-Jean-Luc_Picard_2Make It So: It’s easy for Captain Picard to get things done, he just says, “Make it so” and people do their jobs and get it done. Well, I’m the captain of this ship, and I say, “Make it so.” Some final tips to get writing are to write out a very rough, very temporary first draft of the whole dissertation. That way, when you get to focus on a specific section, I’m not looking at a blank page, but rather have something to massage, improve upon, and form.

Also, I want to make the transitions from day to day as smooth as possible. Zerubavel suggests taking a few minutes at the end of each writing session to prepare for the next. That way the time wasting and destructive self-critiquing of the previous sessions work is avoided. Some suggestions are to edit the latest draft of the up coming couple of pages, gather materials, sources, ideas for the next session.

Finally, it all boils down to discipline and flexibility. Making a plan, sticking to it, but being flexible enough to adapt to unforeseen issues.


All images from http://commons.wikimedia.org/

Organizing the Image Files

Sorting It All Out

These names are just about useless.

I have a lot of images from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum already. It’s about time I start looking through them to see what information I can get. The first issue I ran into, besides the shear number of them, is how to tell which images to look at first. Chronologically would be the best, but how to tell which document image is chrnologically first when they all have a generic file name. When I took the images at USHMM, they were automatically names liked so:

  • KIC000294.jgp
  • KIC000295.jpg
  • KIC000296.jpg
  • KIC000297.jpg

Not very descriptive, to say the least. I needed a way to see which documents came first in the time line of events, so I started thinking up a format for naming the images that would automatically sort the images, but also provide needed information. Since most of the files are images of correspondence between individuals, I decided to have the “To” and “From” be part of the file name. The date is also and obvious inclusion for the file name. Starting with the year, then month, then day makes it easy to sort the images chronologically. But what about documents written on the same day, and documents with mutiple pages? There’s a way to incorporate that too. So here is the naming scheme that I settled on for these document images.


Year  = The last two digits of the year
Month = The two digit month
Day   = The two digit day

Document Number = Each Nazi document seems to have a number, seemingly assigned when written/typed

Page Number  = The page number, if only one page, use 1.

To   = To whom the document is written. If not known, use 'To'.
From = Who wrote the document. If not known, use 'From'

Description = English (for English translation), Spreadsheet, Chart, Graph, etc

This allows me to see briefly what kind of document the file contains at a glance.

That's much better. I can tell which file I need at a glance


Thinking Ahead (programatically)

In an effort to show my skills as a digital historian… Ah, shucks, I’m not kidding anyone there. If you notice the naming format, you’ll see some odd use of word separators, or the fact that I use word separators at all instead of just spaces. That’s my programming mind coming to the fore there. I work with servers, all of them use Linux. Linux is OK with spaces in file names, but life is sooooooo much easier when there are none. So, here I’m thinking ahead to what I’m going to do with these images. Their new names are not just pretty to look at, but they will help me later on when I want to manipulate large numbers of them. With certain word separators in the name, it will be relatively easy to write a script that will search through all of the files and be able to parse out the dates, names, document numbers, page numbers, and descriptions. This info can be put into a CSV file for easy editing and adding information in a SpreadSheet program, which can then later be uploaded to Omeka. So just by taking care to name the files correctly will save me a lot of time later down the road.

A graph showing the total area of two underground projects, A and B. They were looking to have 8x as much tunnel space by 1945 as they had in June, 1944 when the document was made.