Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Litany of Complaint about Notarial Records

Someone tell me how to love notarial archives.

For those of you unfamiliar with this beast, these are (at least in my field) books of contracts. X acknolwedges a debt to Y, and promises to pay in Z amount of time. Q is giving R such-and-such an amount of goods of this kind to take to Far Away to sell and return with this other thing. Joe agrees to pay a dowry of this amount to Sue, and then 2 pages of legalese.

I know people out there who have written amazing books from these things. I have heard more than one say "there are treasures in there!" And I've been spending the last two and a half weeks going through them. I have to say, I'm not in love yet.

First there is the handwriting. For my late medieval era, what we have are these scribbles. They remind me of the stuff you're writing in the margins when you're grading the 18th paper of the night, and then the student comes back two days later and asks you what it says, and you literally have no idea, even though it's your own hand. Yeah, they look like that. Plus faded. And kinda destroyed by insects and moisture. One grad school professor described the records she was working with as: "like they had been written in champagne on a cocktail napkin." That's sort of how I feel about these.

I've seen better. But Ive also seen worse.

Then, there are the abbreviations. The notary is scribbling this all down in his book, and will make a fancy copy later, but right now, he's doing something for his own records, so whole words are apparently a luxury.

Also: reading contracts is not exactly exciting. I've worked in court records, and there every document has, if not drama, then conflict. Something to animate it. This? I'm just not seeing it. There are interesting patterns to be found when you stack them up, but individually, they're pretty dull.

And finally, about that pattern: it takes about a gazillion of these things to see it. And I think this is my greatest frustration. I'm going through these godawful books, and I don't know what I'm looking for because I have to look carefully at everything before I can figure out what the patterns are and truly focus in on the ones that are going to be important for me, which will allow me to speed up a bit. Eventually.

Upon rereading this, I realize that these are the same complaints that I could have written the very first time I encountered any archival documents ever, back when I was a wee slip of a grad student. This is that, times twenty. I never realized how good I had it.

So: notarial archive folks out there: teach me how to love these? Because it looks like we're gonna be together for a while.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Quiz time! What Fresh Hell Is This?

"You have to look at, like, 200 of the things. And then, suddenly, you read the 201st, and you say 'Oh! So that's what's going on!' And then you have to go back and check the first 200 again."

This quote, over lunch, from Mr. 3D, my frère d'une autre mère here in Blerg City (yes I'm back).

Archive-based historians, what kinds of records are we talking about?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dubious Investment Advice for Women**

**I am so going to get spam based on the post title alone. So comments stay open only for a week so I don't spend the rest of my life deleting posts by bots.

I love a good shoe. Truly, I do. In fact, today, I was walking -- nay, strutting -- through the library at Hogwarts, and in no small part because of the pair of boots I am wearing. They are comfortable yet stylish. They work with skirts and jeans. They are perfect, and I will cry when I inevitably wear them out and can't find another pair like them.

But today, in my social media account, one of those ads popped up. It was from a women's magazine, and it was promoting what its editors thought (or had been paid to think) were the shoes to have this season (Yes, some people buy shoes by season. We call them "wealthy people"). I clicked on it, and found what I anticipated: there was one pair that was reasonably attractive; the others seemed designed to scream out YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE ME BEFORE I AM TOTALLY UNIQUE NO NOT UGLY HOW COULD YOU THINK THAT YOU SHOULD BUY ME RIGHT NOW FOR $800 SO YOU CAN WEAR ME FOR EIGHT WEEKS BEFORE THE INEVITABLE KNOCK-OFFS HAPPEN AND EVERYBODY HAS A PAIR AND YOU HAVE TO DISOWN ME AND BURN EVERY PICTURE YOU HAVE WITH YOU WEARING ME.

For $990 this (and its mate) can be yours.

But it's not that -- the inevitable disposable fashion -- that caught my eye. That's a given, as is the eyeroll that is my standard response. It was the title of the post. Usually, it's something like "18 handbags you can't live without" or "12 smoothies that will change your life" or something equally hyperbolic. This one, however, was called "Sixteen Shoes You'll Want to Invest In This Spring."  And that title raised a few questions for me:
  • What is the projected rate of return on my shoe investment?
  • Is my shoe-investment tax-deferred?
  • Can I roll it over into an IRA?
  • What are the investment manager fees for my shoe purchase?
  • Will my employer match my contributions?
Oh, wait: by "invest", you mean "Spend the equivalent of 2.5 months' retirement contributions on a pair of shoes that will be fashionable for about the next 5 minutes because poverty in old age only happens to ugly people." Got it.

As the inimitable Twisty Faster used to say, this chaps my spinster hide. First, women are marketed beauty products with food to put on their faces to replace the food that they're not supposed to put in their faces; now, "investment" means "spend money on something whose value depreciates to zero in less time than it takes you to pay off the charge on your credit card."

What. The. HELL.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The University of All Our Besties

I just found out that a good friend of mine is going to be in Blerg City this summer. We were supposed to be there together last summer, but she had to cut her trip short for very good reasons. So: she will be there, and will need a pseudonym. And Osito, another one of my favorite folks, will also be there for a couple days. And a couple other folks just up the road.

And I thought about something that occurs to me quite frequently: as academics, we move around a lot. If we are lucky, every place we land we have some good colleagues, and at least one friend who truly "gets" us. And then we get thrown into other professional situations -- seminars, conferences, even blogospheres -- and we meet other people who get us, on a real, deep level. People who you can make up silly songs about washing underwear for, and who will sing along. People who will suggest ice cream for dinner. People (in my case) who think it's perfectly appropriate for a middle-aged spinster auntie to swear like a sailor.

BFFs. Your Tribe. Besties.

Wouldn't it be nice, then, if we could just found our own university, and pack it with our besties. Jesus, we'd never get anything done for all the giggling and eye-rolling. But it would be a whole hill of fun.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Research Notes from the Voices in My Head

You know those little notes we write to ourselves as we frantically scribble the drafts? Those little square-bracketed comments and reminders? Usually, they are something along the lines of:
  • "Didn't I read something about this a couple months ago? Check notes."
  • "Learn more about banking system to write 1 para."
Just things that you need to remind yourself of. Well lately, one of the voices in my head -- the one that is dubious every time my reach starts exceeding my scholarly grasp -- has been taking over and writing notes. It's sort of like Stephen Colbert's old "The Word" segment, where the talking points on the screen lobbed sarcastic commentary at him.  Here is yesterday's, as I typed it:
  • “Neither revolt’s perpetrator was  kind enough to leave behind a manifesto telling later historians what their riot was all about. [Inconsiderate bastards].” 
This was today's:
  • "A great deal has been written about riots without realizing that not all riots are the same, nor even remembered the same: the meaning of a riot changes. [Yeah, go ahead: pretend you’re a cultural historian. That’ll be fun.]"
Maybe I should just let that voice write my whole book. [You should: People might actually buy a copy if you did.]

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

779 how many crappy words I wrote today. On a brand new chapter.

I hate brand new stuff.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Counting Down

... to my presentation for the seminar at Hogwarts. Less than a month now. So, yeah: probably not much posting will be going on here. Hang tight; I'll be back with more adventures soon.