Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Miscellany from the Archives

  • Oh, thank goodness for readable documents. I'm not allowed to photograph the one I was working on this morning, but it was an official privilege, so although it's long, the writing is nice and neat, and the abbreviations are few and regular.
  • Archival norms are weird, in that they vary a lot from one to the next. Some don't let you bring in any writing instruments, and make you use the pencils they provide. There's the one that has you divest yourself of everything that a document could possibly be concealed in. There's the archive that limits you to three documents a day. There's the one that sent me up a ladder to fetch my own crumbling registers off a top shelf. The one I'm currently working in that put two fourteenth-century parchments on my table, then when I left to go to the restroom, just told me to leave them there, even though the door to the building's main lobby was wide open…and the door from the lobby to the great outdoors – where it's currently raining!** – is open as well. The bathroom, however, is under lock and key.
  • The gloom-and-doom predictions were right: there's not much in the archives of this city for the period I'm studying. In today's archive, it was only perhaps half a dozen documents, and all of them only very tangentially related to my topic. But there are two or three other archives in this city. I'm not worried. And if anyone wants to do a thesis on crime in a small and not very interesting town in the Mediterranean, there's a truly fantastic cache of largely unexploited criminal registers here from the 14th century on.
  • One final note: it's good to be back in the documents again.

**Humidity is the number-two enemy of medieval documents, second only to catastrophic fire.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

In Duke Humphrey's Library, the windows opened, and often were open in the summer, whether it was raining, hot, or everything in-between. Of course, all the MSS and documents in England have probably had to put up with centuries of uncontrolled humidity. Still, it's undoubtedly a good thing that Oxford is getting a proper Rare Books room . . . and yet I am going to miss reading MSS in Duke Humphrey.

Historiann said...

Glad you are having fun, and although that one archived was kind of a bust there is value in having traveled there yourself to verify what you suspected.

Every day means new discoveries in the archives, although it's only sometimes that you make the discoveries that you're looking for.

And, yes: you are a cool medievalist!

Susan said...

When I first went to the archives in Barbados, the windows were open on the storerooms. No wonder half the documents had disintegrated!

a. b. said...

Oy. I work on the same floor as our Special Collections department, and they are insane. Even if you've been working in the library for 30 years, if you aren't Special, they treat you like they don't even know you. A friend of mine who did student work there told me all they're hiding is William Grant Still's vacuum and letters from Socks, Bill Clinton's cat.

It is also the most commonly flooded area of the library.

"Sorry y'all, but there are OUR departmental mops..." ;)

Comrade PhysioProf said...

The archives sound so romantic! I keep picturing you encountering some bearded dude who says in a weird foreign accent, "I don't always visit archives, but when I do, I prefer it to be in Blergistan."

zcat_abroad said...

I, apparently, read far too much crime fiction, because just the mention of criminal registers makes me wonder if there is a novel, or even a series, one could dig out of there.

Is writing fiction that much easier than what we claim to be non-fiction?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Well, zcat, we could ask Gillian. I think they're probably both equally difficult, but in different ways.

My mom keeps telling me to write a novel. And I keep telling her that writing good dialogue is hard (I've tried, and I suck at it), and should not be attempted by amateurs.

zcat_abroad said...

Well, my husband and I have this deal, where the other one is the person who will write the block-buster novel, which gets made into a multi-million dollar block-buster movie franchise... And then we can retire.

Neither of us has yet started. But perhaps the writing group can help - setting good habits of writing every day.