Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Other Passages

So, I'm not really on vacation here, although it might seem that way. I'm actually doing research on early 19th century French voyagers for my eventual dissertation (and technically, for my prospectus for the dissertation). If I can find enough interesting stuff here, I can come back for a year and study all day long, which would be great, as long as Claire could come too.

Researching in the archives can be like finding a needle in a haystack. I've decided that I'm going to only look at the archives for the Constantinople ambassador from France. But, that's about 2,000 cartons, and each carton has about 800 pages in there. So, as you can imagine, some days go well and some go sour. Yesterday, I found nothing of value. Today, I found an entertaining letter from an older voyager looking for diagrams for his published "voyages pittoresques". Sometimes, you find things that are so fascinating that you decide to come back later and research them on their own. Many historians have written a second study based on some cache of documents that they found while researching their first study.

It can be stressful though. Imagine looking for a needle in a haystack, but doing so after getting an organization to give you $4,000 based on the fact that you anticipate that there may well be a needle in a particular haystack, although you aren't sure because no one has looked there for a needle. And your time is limited.

But, I'm finding a lot of fascinating things. I haven't answered half of the questions that I came here with, but it's only been five days of research, and I have answered a lot of questions. There have been some very emotional moments too. On a few occasions, I have found great things. Today, for example, I found a consular letter about Alphonse de Lamartine. Then there were times that I found great manuscripts, only to find that they couldn't be photocopied, or visibly photographed, and I didn't have time to copy them by hand. It's a topsy-turvy life in the archives that is probably no way near as exciting for other people as it is for me. But, it's lucky for me that I'm here, and that I love these particular haystacks.

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