>In just over a week I’ll be leaving for London and I’m still not sure what the hell I’m doing in terms of the archives I’ll be working in there.
It doesn’t help that one archivist still hasn’t written me back to give me permission and set up an appointment for me, nor that another one, at a similar privately held archive, pretty much told me I probably won’t find anything and I’m wasting my time. OK, fine, but at least I’m doing the scholarly version of due diligence. Of course, he was right, in part because I didn’t discover an edited version of just about all of their medieval documents until long after I’d made non-refundable housing and air travel arrangements. D’oh! In my defense, it’s really recent and didn’t show up in the bibliographies of even more recent secondary works related to the subject. I found it in a rather serendipitous way while looking for something else.
So I may go bust in both of the above archives, but there’s still a lot of stuff I can work on at various libraries and public archives. And that work might lead me to archival resources or microfilms or out of print edited versions of documents and information I’d have a harder time getting here in the US. I keep reading the information leaflets of some of these places and thinking, “Hm, yes, that might be useful. I’ll see where that leads me.” And doing that will be a lot easier and more efficient if I can just walk over to their shelves or call up one of their microfilms instead of using interlibrary loan, etc. So the trip won’t be a total bust. Of course, I’ll be spending about $5000 dollars for this “efficient” use of my time, so I feel a little bit like I’ve done some bad planning.
But still, I do have to go to Oxford for 3-4 days to see the manuscript that this whole project revolves around, so I would have had to fly to the UK regardless. And *that* I have arranged with the manuscripts librarian. *That* I know how to do, since it involves a literary manuscript, where I’m not a total n00b, and where, apparently, I have mad skilz enough to get people to respond to my e-mails. It’s even an extra-special, heavily guarded, you-can’t-see-this-unless-you-prove-you’re-worthy kind of manuscript, and I didn’t even have to flirt with anyone* to get permission to see it, so ha! I can do some scholarly things right! (*That’s a joke. That’s not my usual MO.)
So, meantime, why not blow a bunch more money being all scholarly in central London and meeting up with bloggers, getting a little urban fix for a month, seeing some theater — some of which I can justify as work related (I teach Shakespeare!) — and taking some side trips which I can also justify as work related (pictures of Canterbury and the site of the Battle of Hastings for the classroom!)? Why not?
And on top of all this I’ll get to see my friend E’s new baby (not work related, obviously).
But still, I feel a bit like a scholarly flibberty-gibbet. Granted, a lot of this is new stuff to me — manuscript scholarship, working with civic and archival documents (oh god, please let it mostly be English — I can do French and Latin, but the script is so much easier for me to read when it’s English) — and I’m largely teaching it all to myself (or re-teaching, in the case of my paleography skills), so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. But I so hate looking like an ass, *especially* in front of English people, and *especially-especially* in front of Londoners. (Don’t ask me why — I really don’t know.)
BUT, the good news is I’m feeling more confident about my latent paleography skills. I’m reviewing that Oxford manuscript now, looking for where the interesting (to me) marginalia is (using the PDF I made of the microfilm) and I’m working in tandem with a printed edition of part of the MS that reproduces the marginalia, as well. Anyway, I was just now looking at a MS page and then looking at the printed edition when I said to the long-dead editor, out loud, “Are you a retard? That’s clearly an ‘l’ — not an ‘i.’ Duh.” Te-hee!
Oy, but in general, I have to say that being a medievalist seems always to make me feel like I need to go back and do graduate school all over again, as if I’m just now ready for it. And as a side note, there need to be grants and awards for young profs just to get the skills they need to do the research that grants usually cover. For instance, I have only two languages — French and Latin — but I’d like to do German and Italian. And I sometimes fantasize about making myself into an Anglo-Saxonist, but where would I get the Scandinavian language training? And my paleography skills are limited to late medieval and early modern books and documents, and mostly to English (damn those Latin abbreviations!). But that’s a post for another day.
The point of *this* post is I hope all the librarians and archivists who encounter me while I’m working in London are kind and patient. My mantra is going to be “this is a new area for me,” and hopefully they’ll understand!