Tag Archives: Library of Congress


endI am writing this just a few hours before liftoff (hopefully), the very last day of my two months in Washington. I haven’t yet counted up the numbers of pages of notes and scanned documents that I have gathered in the five libraries and archives that have been the sites of my research, but I’m sure they number in the thousands.  And then there are a lot of photos too, and general memories, of the great extracurricular events that I’ve enjoyed here.  Given a hasty scan of my pictures and files, I know I amassed and ingested a load of information on mid-nineteenth century architectural practice, especially as it relates to the construction of the Capitol dome, as well as wringing Washington dry of my favored recreational activities.  With some certainty I am willing to name the two greatest revelations of these two months as: the Benjamin Brown French papers (Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress) and the crème brûlée donut (Astro Doughnuts, 13th & G).  Thanks, Washington: although it’s been, almost daily, wicked cold with a chance of bureaucratic cloudiness, it’s also been illuminating, and delicious.

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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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