Thinking about the Big Picture

As this field season has been speeding by, I’m finding myself thinking hard about the way the Adulthood Project is evolving. On the one hand, there is the question at the heart of my own research, but at the same time, there is real teaching and learning happening more or less daily as different researchers join the project. Watching this season’s team delve into the archive and work through the coding process has been inspiring. They are finding materials and considering angles that are greatly enriching the project, but more importantly, are things that they can continue to research and think about. The skills required for them to do their research are ones they can carry with them into their eventual careers. The arts of knowing how and where to find information and realizing what to do with it once they have it will be valuable in a wide variety of industries.

I think what impresses me most is how strong a set of self-starters this summer’s team has proven to be. Megan has taken off with her research into vocational education, getting deeper into the history than I know, and I’m looking forward to seeing her summary of this summer’s finds and whether she elects to keep pursuing her questions. When Vaughn decided to develop an in vivo code at the History Museum, I was surprised and delighted. Micha’s ability to pick up in the middle and catch up with the team less than a week after returning from study abroad has been impressive, as been her exploration of theories of gender and role conflict. Finally, Elizabeth has tackled the responsibility of coordinating interviews and field trips, in addition to building the team tumblr and continuing her research into generational dynamics, particularly between people who came of age in the late 1960s and today’s young adults.

I have long considered the pedagogical potential of the Adulthood Project, and watching the ongoing success of research teams has me thinking about scalability. Obviously, during the regular academic year, I can’t claim 25-35 hours a week for one class to put students to work, but I’m thinking about how to package different modules of research skills for teaching courses on methods. I think I already have tweaks I want to make to how I teach coding. I look forward to talking to workshopping some ideas with Prof. Simon Hawkins at University of Arkansas-Little Rock in July.

In terms of my own thoughts on adulthood as this project has advanced, I am increasingly struck by the idea that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” While both media and scholarly sources are crowded with reports about how different Millennials are or how once-sacred ideas like home ownership or one-earner families are becoming less attainable (or less desired?), what keeps jumping out at me is how many similar patterns I see when I look at the stories the Adulthood Project has gathered. When I first started this project, I was thinking about how adulthood could produce insight into American culture and the common threads that transcend regional, racial, and class-based differences in the U.S. That focus got lost for a bit, but now it’s back stronger than ever.