In a little over five pages, I laid out plans for my research paper. I just wanted (and am in no way compelled) to give a quick update on the status of my project, and on how the plan stands moving forward.
After weeks of worrying about the progress of this paper, it was nice to be able to sit down and actually think about how to turn pages of notes and stacks of books into a coherent argument. Once I began writing, I went much further than I intended to – I usually don’t make very intensive outlines, and stick to planning basic ideas. This time around I was more specific (somewhat), and felt like I laid out a solid path for arguing my topic. My thesis right now (and it remains as a sort of place-holder, subject to change) is that the devotional practices and acts of the French-Canadian community in Chicago reflect a small community amplifying itself through ties to the wider world, and well in-tune with ongoing religious changes in France and Quebec. Shrines to St. Anne connect Chicago to the massive Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Shrine outside of Quebec, and grottos make overt links to France and the rising devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes in the latter nineteenth-century. Much of what I have seen in Chicago’s French-Canadian community during the late 1800s and into the 1900s reflects a community punching above its weight, with visits from the mayor, governor, and archbishop common at ethnic celebrations and Masses, and large processions on feast days that remind an overwhelmingly Irish and Polish city that there are still Canadiens present.
I’m relatively happy with my outline, though I’m writing this before it has been reviewed by other eyes. Nonetheless, it has been satisfying to finally get a clearer idea of the path forward with this project. I now have an effective plan to follow, and much of the anxiety I had about this project is gone. I’m starting to piece together how to use my resources, and I have a good idea of the problems that still need to be addressed.
About those problems that need to be addressed: outlining has made very clear the difficulties I will encounter in writing this paper. Some of the issues I’m facing include a fear that I am not making good enough use of my sources and that I’m leaving out too much of what I’ve researched (where will I put in the story of the French-Canadian priest who left the Church, and wrote pamphlets blaming the assassination of Lincoln – who had served as the priest’s lawyer in the 1850s – on the Jesuits? Right here, evidently). There are so many issues of Le Courrier Franco-Americain with so much information, but I do not think that even a quarter of what I take notes on will be used in my final paper. I feel like I have found so many different stories and interesting factoids that I cannot work into my current argument. Which leads me to doubt my argument, and fear that it is ultimately an overly simplistic argument that an ethnic community defined itself by looking to its homeland. I feel like I will either need to buttress my thesis in some great way so as to make it more original, or come up with a better one to replace it, or just double down and defend it.
Outlining has also made clear to me that I am still lacking a great deal of information, and that I have many sources left to go through. In trying to state how my paper will fit within existing historiography, I was reminded of the lack of information on urban Midwestern French-Canadian communities during the last two centuries. I also have confronted the issue of what type of history I am writing, and I still do not know how to answer that question. I have been looking closely at the works of Robert Orsi for guidance, but still need to strengthen my knowledge of the historiography. This in turn will probably shape the thesis in some form, and likely make it better.
In all, I would say that the outlining process has gone well. I am much better off now than I was before. While there are still problems, they are manageable and can be brought to heel. Additionally, I came up with a title, which I used for this blog post – I’m rather happy with it, because it at once indicates the paper is Catholic and French, and it speaks to the value of the community within Chicago.
I have the clearest idea so far of how this paper will come together, and finally have brought order to the madness. Even if heavy changes are in store, at least I have a plan to change. It can be adapted and altered over the next few weeks, but now I have an operating procedure to follow. Time to put it to use.