Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Archival life

A blogger called Notorious Ph.D has started a series called A Day in the Archives, and it has made me all nostalgic. The link is to Part 1, but in part 2 she gets to the place where you finally have the documents in front of you and you realize that although you (sort of) know the language, you can't read the handwriting. As she says, this can lead to tears and a deep fear that you will have to find another profession.

She has not yet got to the triumphs. The medievalists have all the best stories in this vein, but it can happen in Canadian history too, if you get back far enough. I recall fondly a day when I sorted out that a word that looked like "lorbe" in an 18th century French document was actually the English place name "Tor Bay" (uncrossed T, no accent on the e). And another day when I recognized the words "drap d'Elbeuf" in a very badly written inventory... and actually knew what Elbeuf cloth was. Ah, mastery

Update: April 1. A nice archival triumph story: hardworking grad student discovers the only known printed copy of Haiti's original constitution.
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