Spent the week at the Howard University Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Some of the things I thought while sorting through the boxes, after the jump:
These diaries are taking forever. What if I don’t get through them and don’t get to the correspondence? Maybe I should skip a little bit to get to the correspondence.
These diaries are amazing. I don’t have time to transcribe them. Maybe I should copy them all. Will I get in trouble if I ask for them all to be copied? Maybe I’ll look through them and pick and choose what to copy.
Ok, I have to skip something so I can get to the correspondence. If the diaries are this good, the correspondence is going to be amazing.
Why must all this correspondence take place in the 1960s and 1970s, instead of the 1920s and 30s? Where are the letters from all the people she talked about in the diary?
Careful, careful, Precious documents here.
Hurry, hurry, not moving fast enough. I might not be able to see everything.
Why aren’t the people I want to be in the correspondence in the correspondence?
Maybe I should ask for the diaries back. But I want to see that other collection too.
Please, collection that wasn’t available during my dissertation writing phase, don’t have anything that overhauls my analysis completely.
Please, collection that wasn’t available during my dissertation writing phase, have something amazing that completely transforms how I was thinking about this subject.
Aaaaaargh, all of this correspondence is also from three decades past what I’m interested in!
Oooooh, love letters. Scrawly, handwritten love letters. Someone else should work on those later. I’ll make a note for future students.
No, wait, there’s some from the 40s. Now, how do I treat the 40s? The war makes such a nice break, but if there isn’t correspondence from the 20s-30s, maybe I should look at the 40s. It’s interesting how we decide what to look at. The other researchers in the room with me are each studying a single person, so they are trying to work through the whole collection of that one person. I study a generation of black intellectuals, particularly shared ideas and a shared social network. That has required searching through numerous collections, and not just for the people I already know, because I am trying to understand the network that surrounded each individual. So I limit the massive quantity of correspondence by date—1939 or earlier. Sometimes I peek at the 1940 and 1941 letters. Unfortunately, these three collections are weighed heavily toward the more established part of the individuals’ careers.
Ummmmm, let’s go back to those love letters and see if there is any information about the social network. Yep. These are the best letters in the collection for my part. And they satisfy that historian as gossip urge.
I know for a fact that Person A visited Persons B and C in London, so why aren’t there any letters from Person A to B or C? How frustrating. Oh, maybe they were such good friends that they landed in the partial name folder?
Nope, not that topic either.
So, for four days, I have diaries and I have love letters and a few scattered semi-helpful correspondence. Maybe today in the National Archives will be better. I have a very specific, tiny little needle I want to find in that massive haystack. Luckily, I got the ILL book with the most helpful citation yet the day before I left to come here.
And in four days, I have two new colleagues (a forced lunch is not good for the overachiever, but it is a nice way to meet your fellow researchers), many beautiful urban steps added to my shoes, and a flat tire.