The biggest challenge with my empirical data was the lack of a natural coherent ‘meeting point’ for my findings. Although they all relate to the coffee shop, and most of them are images from/text about coffee shops, I had to collect what I could get and therefore my material stretches over 250 years and all over Manhattan – and Brooklyn. I decided some weeks ago to stick to Manhattan for my argumentation, for two reasons: First of all, most of my good material represents Manhattan that has been much better documented, and I have been able to find some much more ‘interesting’ examples here. Secondly, in my initial idea about comparing a street in Brooklyn with the overall picture of coffee shops in greater New York, I found out that Brooklyn did not become a part of New York City until 1898, and until then the two cities had had a life of their own. (To my excuse, as I know this fact might be evident to a lot of you, I think we had about the Vikings in my Danish history class when other kids might have learned about the history of Brooklyn…). So, a comparison would not make sense, and I decided to focus on Manhattan.

After a (long) process of puzzling and close-reading and re-organizing my material, I found out that I had to structure my findings more conceptually than through a path, an area, a time period etc. I therefore had some reconfiguration to do, to find out what ‘the social public sphere of the coffee shop’, the continuous theme of my project, even is. I had to ask myself about what components that go into its formation – and which of these components that I would be able to address with my findings.

As of now, on this almost final note of the semester, my study of the medium of the coffee shop has become a study about the production of a social public sphere, as this has unfolded and developed within the public institution of the coffee shop. My arguments will be structured under the following five themes that organizes my ambiguous data:

  1. How the principles behind the foundation of the very first coffee shops in New York has been and still is a framework for the formation of a social public sphere.
  2. The role of the concept of space (and how this has been addressed/considered throughout history).
  3. The coffee shop as a social concept, and how the ‘coffee’ has lead to a cultural act to structure social gatherings.
  4. The coffee shop as a cultural hotspot where poets and artists went to work, and where people went to spot celebrities and be see.
  5. A focus on the cultural production that has taken place in the coffee shop with establishments of clubs and societies.

All of these conceptual categories tie into each other, which I hope I will be able to show on URT.

It has been a technical challenge for me to fit my project into URT, as the structuring of records, type records and recordtypefields confused me a lot in the beginning. At this point I know that I have to “surrender” to URT and let the system guide my argumentation instead of arguing in a way that would challenge the system too much. I guess what I am realizing is that I need to let theory and practice go together, which is the essential ideology behind this program. I need to let my theory take full advantage of the tool at the same time as I let the tool form my argumentation. And this is difficult, for a theory girl.

What hurts me in this Manhattan-focused decision is the leaving out of Brooklyn data that no longer fits into my project. I will still post the particular coffee shops on which I have images and stories, but my studies of business directories and struggles with the Brooklyn Historical Society to be allowed to use images of less known Brooklyn cafes, as well of my collection of Brooklyn demography throughout history might not have been time well spent… Except form the exercise and experience of it all that is always valuable, of course.

Also, I find it sort of unfair that my decision of ‘leaving out’ Brooklyn is based on my failure of not finding enough material about Brooklyn. It is no wonder that Manhattan gets all the flash light, the stories and the myths, while Brooklyn is in the shadow because its documentation – and the access to this – is poor. However, maybe this is what Brooklyn wants…