No one, I reckon, will ever say that the Manuscripts Reading Room of the Library of Congress is an inspiring place to work because of its physical environment. It is a bare-bones 1960s kind of functionalism but really, that’s OK. The big dome room in the Jefferson Building is pretty wowie-zowie, but here in Madison–described by one of my grad school profs as “the ugly one” to distinguish it from its two prettier Library of Congress siblings–it’s the papers that are the main event. (Although I should also add, the super-helpful, smart & nice crew of librarian/archivists are a wonderful ornament to this boring room.) I spent many days in January here, working on a little-known political operative named Benjamin Brown French. Even if he is not a big deal in the wider world, he is really special to me and my project. Handling forty years’ worth of his journals and letters was a real treat. One day I was flanked by people working on original documents of Walt Whitman and Booker T. Washington. That kind of moment will make even a well-seasoned archives diver take pause.
End of Month 1