Well, finished Day Two of the research trip. It was also Quiche Day at the convent. There were about five different types of quiches to be had, plus salad. I think the quiche was made with a real crust with real butter, not the fake Pillsbury dough crust I usually use when I make quiche or pie.
On the whole it was a good day. I got through more than I thought, despite having to accept I wouldn’t get through everything. (I feel like that could a metaphor for life or something.)
I looked at a series of files that spanned a decade, which allowed me to see some change or evolution (historians love change over time). I read mostly correspondence and some news clippings. Many of the letters I looked at were “circular letters,” which are correspondence to be circulated among the members of the different local houses or convents within a community. Often they are from a provincial or generalate superior and are a means of circulating information. Like a lot of official correspondence, they can skate over the surface of information, except when laying out details of communities Rule or customs, but they do say something. When they are a part of a larger span of letters or files, it is interesting to see what other records reveal in conjunction with the circular letters. How do we interpret what we read? How do we evaluate?
There is more to examine in this collection as is there in the entire Mercy Heritage Center. The Mercys archivists have done good work with records management. Much of the records that were transferred to Belmont were in good order with finding aids. The Center staff are processing the collections and working to digitize the records for future researchers. I highly recommend looking into its collections and visiting. And besides, it might be Quiche Day when you are there.
Day one of the Great Fall Research Trip down, one day left. (Hey, it’s Fall Break, not Spring Break, or Summer Holidays. Fall-only-two-days-Break.) Things have changed since the first time I entered an archives. Sure, pencils still rule the day, but now one can use digital camera things to take pictures! (As long as they are approved by the archives. Don’t go snapping pictures unless you have permission!)
The trouble with archives is that they are full of cool things to read and look at. Yes, this is a true statement. Now, do all those cool things apply to one’s current research? No. Of course not. They may however be of use at some point. Or they may have the potential to be of use. Or they are just very interesting and therefore the shiny object which could drag a researcher down a rabbit hole. It is important to stay focused and keep moving.
And now we have digital cameras to take pictures of the shiny things for free! But no, we will stay time-on-task because if the copies are free, my time is not and cannot afford to come back before I need to produce a conference paper. Here, however, are a few helpful tips for keeping up the pace:
- Skim and search for keywords: Most historians learn (especially in graduate school) to read quickly. If you have any sense of what you want to find or explore, look for those keywords. And the copy everything around it. (Remember, with digital camera, you can read that document in full later.)
- Get the full citation: Make sure you get the whole citation for future reference. Literally. Sure, sure, you may think you will remember it or have everything you need, but you will one day need to email all of your friends and listservs and then maybe grovel to the archivist to find that source’s citation and you will waste time. Trust me.
- Bring mints: You don’t have time to take a break for snacks or lunch or whatever. Keep your head down and your blood sugar up. If you must break for lunch, make it quick. If you can, bring food that doesn’t require refrigeration. Unless you go to a religious archives where they invite you to lunch at the convent, which is really awesome. Again, religious archives have cool things.
- Don’t hydrate too much: This seems self-explanatory and slightly indelicate to explain why. Besides you aren’t supposed to have liquids in the archives. This is not one of those new-styled libraries where there aren’t any books, but they have coffee shops. (To be honest, I do like that I can get coffee in libraries, but I am morally opposed to having the coffee, or any other food or beverage, near books.)
- Occasionally stretch your legs: You may find yourself getting tired when you spend eight hours in an archives. Stand up, stretch, maybe take a quick stroll down the hall (especially if you didn’t heed the above advice).
The first day also reminded me (as if I needed reminding!) how good religious archives are. There are wonders to be explored and there are good people working in these archives. The Mercy Heritage Center has lots of cool things and I would highly recommend it.
This morning, I got on an airplane and took a nearly two-hour flight to use an archives. I am currently settled in a local hotel organizing my notes and contemplating some grading that I really need to do. I am about to spend two days at the Mercy Heritage Center and explore some files I hope will help me write a paper I will give next April. Suddenly, after a couple years of not having something to research, here I am.
Is it like starting over or starting again? The subject of my paper has to do with the Sisters of Mercy – not new – but it is in an area I haven’t really explored before – so new.
When the Mercy book was finally published, I had to start thinking about what the next project would be. (This isn’t the first time I have thought about this.) I am not in a solid work place. (By solid, I mean a contract more than a year or tenure-track. Fine – whatever – making due.) But what this means is that I have to figure out how to be engaged with scholarship while making it affordable. And fit into my schedule. (I don’t claim that I am the only person in the known world to have such things to consider.)
And I would really like to write another book. I think I have another one in me. It’s either that or write a historical murder mystery involving crime-solving nuns.
I have lists of projects or potential projects and this is the first time one of those items moved from the “potential” phase. I used a call-for-papers for a conference at the Cushwa Center to help propel me back into research mode. (Since my paper was accepted, I have to write it. Funny that. That said, a paper proposal is a very good way of kicking oneself in one’s posterior.) One reason this trip is at all possible is that I get a little research funding in my current position. Without it, I would have to fund my plane, hotel, car rental, food, and photocopies out of my own pocket. This is not cheap.
So, I got on a plane and here I am. Ready to get started. New leaves are turning over. Horses are being climbed onto again. Bikes are being ridden again. Maybe I’ll even go to the gym again and get in shape. New day.