I can't decide whether this idea is yet another way I'm trying to avoid work I don't want to do (ie, writing the chapter). I was thinking that it might be a good plan to write a bibliographic essay, to make myself think in a consistent way about the historians I'm responding to in my dissertation. It would probably take a week to re-read my notes on the books I've already read, and to "gut" the books I haven't read, so that I have a sense of what their arguments are.
The benefit would be that I'd have something to refer to as I'm writing, because once I start writing, everything I know (both about writing and about the subject matter) tends to fly straight out of my head.
The downside would be that it would be entirely for my own uses, and wouldn't show my advisor that I'm actually getting any work done. And it wouldn't move me forward in the dissertation (except that, well, I might actually end up paying attention to what other people have said, and engaging with the literature).
Thoughts from other academics would be helpful. Thanks!