Why do research? Why climb mountains?!

In my last posting, I introduced you to my chosen area of research, Scottish song-collecting in the late 18th and 19th centuries.  So, just how did I arrive there?

I needed a research subject that interested and motivated me, because fitting in part-time study on top of a full-time professional job was going to be challenging.  (I’ll blog about that another time.)  I was self-funded, so there was no pressure on me to pursue any particular research path, but I still needed to justify my research to myself as something that would be useful and relevant to me in my work.

I also had in mind the library research trips I’d been accustomed to make during my Exeter research days.  Who remembers microfilms?  Ughh!  But the reality was that, before the digital age, you either had to get a microfilm of a manuscript, or you made a trip to go and study it in person.  Remembering those time-consuming trips from Exeter to Shrewsbury, London and Oxbridge, and conscious that I still wouldn’t be able to get digitised copies of everything that interested me, I needed relatively easy access to the majority of my sources.  Most of my Scottish materials were accessible within a day-trip – and that’s quite important when you’ve got a family waiting for you at home!

And actually, I could trace a common thread between the Masters’ plainsong research and what I was doing now – tenuous, I’ll grant you, but both dealt with the transmission of repertoires in some sense.  The difference was that I was now considering cultural issues as well – and that was fascinating.

So my subject was chosen partly out of pragmatism, partly out of passion, and partly … well, why does anyone do research?  For the same reason that people climb mountains.  Because they’re there!


About Karen Mcaulay

Karen McAulay is a music librarian by career, and a musicologist by inclination, which explains why she undertook doctoral research whilst holding down a full-time music librarian job. Having achieved the magical postnominals, she was seconded to spend 40% of her week on an AHRC funded project into Scottish bass culture: the basslines and accompaniments in Scottish fiddle tune collections, contributing bibliographical and musicological data to the Historical Music of Scotland website http://hms.scot (blog http://www.music.arts.gla.ac.uk/bassculture/). She's currently on part-time sabbatical researching the University of St Andrews' historic music copyright collection. As well as speaking on her research specialism, she is also in demand to talk about research skills and her career as a part-time researcher.

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