If Research Was A Plane, Nobody Would Get On.

This week felt like a long one – in more ways than one. It’s right around that time of the semester for midterms and housing discussions and lots of assignments. The prospects of spring break and the possibility of warm weather are right around the corner. Emotions and tensions can get to a breaking point.  And I happened to have the pleasure of being in the middle of all of it – stress seemed to be everywhere I turned. 

To escape, I decided to return to my Failed Challenge of a few weeks ago: could I find any trace of Queen Liliuokalani’s cancelled visit in New Bedford’s Morning Mercury? I spent my few hours tucked away in the silent microfilm room, endlessly searching that one reel for a glimpse of her name.

I found a lot of interesting information – for example, did you know that President McKinley had been invited to New Bedford’s semicentennial? (He, like the ex-queen, politely declined.) Did you know President McKinley had sent several senators to Hawaii, working with the people to speed along Hawaiian annexation? (It appears it did not go over well with the Hawaiian people.) Did you know that Princess Ka’iulani, next in line to the throne, was considered quite the celebrity of the time? (Her travels through Europe and her time in England, as well as her prospective return to the United States to visit Liliuokalani, were frequently mentioned in The Morning Mercury.)

Unfortunately, while all of this was interesting, none of it directly related to my real purpose for the search. By the end of the week, the one thing I had hoped might bring me a lapse from my stress could not. Once again, I had failed to find my answers. To be honest, I left the library in a huff of frustration, headed home for a rough weekend.

To continue being honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to write for this week’s blog post. After all, I had nothing to show for my work this week, no evidence of my hours with the reels, no information worth passing on.

So to start, I was about to title this piece “A Failed Challenge, Pt. 2.” However, I was reminded of what Prof. Miller had told me after she read my previous piece. In history, there is rarely such a thing as a failed challenge. Or rather, most of history is a failed challenge. As a historian, when I go searching for information or documents or pictures, I am often searching for something that no one else has found. Nine times out of ten, I am not going to find what it is I am looking for. And that’s okay – great, even! That’s the kind of stuff historians and researchers deal with everyday! What I have experienced is partly a failed challenge – one that did not result in what I was looking for – but also a successful challenge – in that I did learn something. And so while the pain of not getting what I wanted is still frustrating, it’s good to know that at some point, everyone gets to this point. But don’t they keep researching? 

So, instead, I chose a line from one of my favorite songs – “If Love Was A Plane” by Brad Paisley. The song, which discusses the pleasures and heartbreaking realities of relationships, states that the odds of a relationship working out are six in ten. As Paisley points out, if a plane had odds like that, no one would ever fly. But we don’t tell people that at the start of a relationship, do we?  As Prof. Miller pointed out to me, research of this kind has worse odds – a factor that I hadn’t realized until I had to deal with it.

This internship (like most internships) is one where I am supposed to earn practical work experience in a field of interest. And in research, what I call “failure” is practical work experience. So I know that I will experience many more “failures” (though hopefully not in the course of this project, because I would like to have more varied blog posts.) But I also know that “failure” is a common result for what I am doing. I need to take the bridge and last refrain of the song in mind. Even though I know the chances of finding exactly what I’m looking for are small, to hell with the odds – I’m going to keep moving forward in my research. 

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