Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Further Thoughts on a Thesis

I'm currently in the middle of William Labov's Sociolinguistic Patterns.  It occurred to me, especially since I'm talking about differences in architectural idiom from Maine to Florida, that linguistically, what I might be dealing with is akin to accents and dialects.  I'm not convinced that even if it is, that it's a methodological problem, but I had to consider it.  I still do believe that it's more complex than that, honestly.  I believe the expression of a residence is more complex than the equivalent of "I am a house, for such and such a type of person, with such and such a lifestyle."  Every occurrence of residential architecture could be a derivative of that statement.  It does nothing to illuminate the wild diversity of colonial American residential architectural forms.

I thought Labov's study would provide some great methodology for my exploration of differences in colonial American architecture.  What I've realized, though, is that although I adore the contrasts as one travels from north to south along the Atlantic coast, it's just WAY too much information.

Labov concentrates on very isolated groups of speakers: the community of Martha's Vineyard, the culture of New York City department stores.  It's wise.  I think I need to concentrate on one particular colony, one that shows a great diversity from county to county.  Virginia might be an option, but I think Pennsylvania might be more fruitful.  With Pennsylvania we have Federalism near Philadelphia, a strong Dutch population in the center, and Germans and other groups on the western end of the state.  It may provide a very controlled and illustrative collection of different cultures to work with, as their cultures were expressed in residential architecture.  The only thing I'd worry about is the effect of climate, because I'm not convinced the climate differs radically enough from the northern edge to the southern.

I may be able to cover two colonies that together display significantly different climates and sufficiently diverse cultures of settlers to work well in one study.  In any case, I think it might be unwise to look at the entire eastern seaboard.  Another idea may be to look at the very first settlements, regardless of where they appeared, but I suspect they'd be concentrated in very isolated geographic areas and would be unfortunately homogeneous in the origins of the settlers in an unhelpful way.

Does anyone work for a scholarship program?  Because I need to get this moving already, and without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it.

©2008, Ryan Witte

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