We are continuing our series called “How I Do Research.” I am pleased to present an interview with Dr. Harold W. Attridge, Sterling Professor of Divinity and Religious Studies and Classics (Yale). Dr. Attridge is prolific, his outstanding Hermeneia Hebrews commentary stands out in my mind. Without further ado….
NKG: How do you approach research as a whole? Do you have a big-picture strategy? Do your research all at once, and then write? Do you do some sketching and reflecting on paper and then dig into research? Do you go back and forth?
HWA: I have followed different strategies at different times in my career. No matter what plan I’m following serendipity always has played a part. Much of my work in recent years has been on the Gospel according to John. Some of the most interesting (at least to me) pieces that I have produced have come from long worrying about some particular problem (Is John predestinarian? How does its symbolism work? Can we identify the gospel’s genre in any coherent way? Why is it that so many identifications have been proposed for the Beloved Disciple?) A hypothetical answer pops into my head, usually in some odd moment, and sometimes it works out.
The strategy for writing a commentary on John (just what the world needs, right?) has been to work through the text systematically at one level (analyzing text critical issues, sources, literary forms, etc.), but to intersperse that systematic approach with pursuit of some theme or issue that runs through the text.
Another source for some of my work is simply a request for a contribution to this or that publication.
NKG: What kind of notes do you take (ideas, quotes, etc.)? How do you organize them?
HWA: When I started in the world of scholarship, almost 45 years ago, I kept a large supply of little note cards and files. These days I am constantly making notes to myself on my computer, with separate files for bibliography, for individual chapters, for themes, etc.
NKG: What kind of tools do you use for researching and collecting information? (software? Do you store notes in Endnote? Dropbox? Evernote? Filing cabinet?)
HWA: I simply use my own computer files, regularly backed up of course.
NKG: What have you learned about doing research, collecting notes, and the process of writing throughout your career – put another way, if you could get into a time machine and go back twenty years, what advice would you want to give to your younger self about the process of research and how you take notes and read scholarship?
HWA: It’s a little more than twenty years! Good advice that one of my mentors gave me early on was simply to actually take notes from the start and keep them in some organized form. A more fundamental issue is to decide what to research. Having a sense of the state of the field is useful, but it is easy to fall into step with current trends. One might want to ask, “what is most intriguing?” One might also want to roam outside the beaten paths and see what body of primary source material is not being explored.