Tag Archives: archivists

When the Archivist says the Thing I Most Wanted To See Is Missing/Unavailable/Not On The Shelf/Apparently Lost to Me Forever

He was nice about it, very apologetic.  Took my contact info in case the Archives Fairy suddenly reveals where it is held.  But still.  UGH.

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End of Month 1

IMG_0186No 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.

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fortuitously beautiful research

RIBA library

I suppose it’s possible that a person might select their research agenda solely on the criteria of conducting their research in wonderful places.  That was not my approach when I started down this road, some seventeen years ago, on the trail of a nineteenth-century American architect.  Tracking down Walter’s paper trail has led to some mildly dismal places (literally the closet of a small historical society, municipal records departments), and some pretty wonderful ones (lovely architecture museums, gorgeous big-city libraries).  I was treated to one of the latter two days ago here in London; it is also one of the happiest justifications for this trip.  The library of the Royal Institute of British Architects is a swish place on two floors of the Institute’s great 1930s Classical building.  Wonderful place, full of distractingly interesting things, and run by friendly librarians to boot.  And we all know, a friendly librarian is a researcher’s best friend.

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