The long silence

I admit I have not been posting much recently, but believe me that I have a good reason for it. A very exciting one in fact – I have directed almost all my effort to making my novel a reality. And it is nearly here! Angling in the Archives will return after I am finally a published author.

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Turnpike Pack

Having recently been dealing with real and very old documents, materials that span for three hundred of local history, I have gained new appreciation for dealing with ‘the real thing’, the stuff that only historians and archivist touch- real life history. I now see how rewarding and beneficial such thing can be for one’s learning- not only reading what somebody found, but doing some exploring on your own. But not all can be as lucky as me. Sometimes there just aren’t any opportunities to access the original documents, be it because the access is restricted or because there is no way of making them available to public without the materials becoming damaged. So what would be the solution?  Enter the ‘Turnpike Pack’. It is an old teaching aid that somehow found its way into Marjon’s archives. What it contains is reproductions of real documents and other materials concerning the subject of travel and transport in the years 1750-1850.  Inside there are posters advertising coach travel, timetables and timesheets of real coaches traveling their routes and pictures of scenes showing the realities of coach travel. While this is not a substitute for the real thing, it gives a unique opportunity to learn and draw conclusions from unprocessed data that could be gained from a real historical document.  But then, why bother with the real thing in the age of electronic information where any document can be digitized and accessed almost anywhere? Two reasons: not all documents can be digitized, some would not survive the process and the sheer volume of what is already traditionally preserved would make digitization the task for ages. The second reason is an example- holding and reading a diary of a man 200 years dead feels incredible. It feels like a superpower- ignoring time and looking straight into the past.

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Social Card

I think that the things I like best to find in the archives are the small things, things that would remain unseen and forgotten or just thrown away because they have no value
other than sentimental. But very often those give us the taste of what life was back then. Here is a prime example: a social card.This one belonged to William Latter that was one of our students in 1906. Inside it is divided into two parts-card playing roster and a dance card. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dance card before.Whether you yourself are a party
animal or a total wallflower , you can imagine the times when even going to a party to play some cards and shake your rumps on the dancefloor would require timetables and lists.


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Archive Bites- Plymouth in the past

The archives are now offering a new series of events that are going to run every month. Those are called ‘Archive Bites’ and will be a small expositions that will feature a thematic series of objects from the depths of the archive’s collections. This past week the subject was Plymouth in the past and featured pictures taken circa 1959 and a historical plan of the market part of Plymouth with all the shops clearly market. For the duration of the day, people were coming up to the archives to look at the pictures and swap the stories of the city. Here is what you’ve missed:

  • Throwing stones at rats in the car park
  • Driving Ford Prefect with it’s windshield wipes closely connected to the revving of its engine.
  • The story of a closure of a famous Plymouth restaurant. Allegedly because of fears that people would choose its terrace to jump off it.
  • Debating the intricate difference between collecting pink stamps over the green stamps.

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Record Novel

Seems like we’ve found a piece of the records that fit the index I have written about before. It’s a record of baptisms, marriages and burials of the parish of St. Andrews in Plymouth for the years 1581 to 1618. That tome used to be a part of the library for some reason. And if you think that such tome can be of any good just to people looking for their ancestors or researchers trying to prove their theories- think again. I’ve written a few times before how archives can be a source for authors, but this thing is in a league of its own. First of all- names. I am terrible with names. I never know how to name a character. But there it is- a book full of names- real names that once belonged to real people. Go nuts- it’s better than the old-fashioned phonebook. Secondly, there are ready-made novels in there, up for grabs. Don’t believe me? Read this:
Fortunatus, s of a negro of Thomas Kegwins the supposed father being a Portugal.

What just happened there? A story of lovers being torn apart by their respective fates, or is it a story of dastardly deeds and base villainy? And what about the child itself? Was his name a cruel joke or a sign of blessings to come?

Pennel, Richard s. of Silfester dec{eased}, a stranger

So did Richard ever learned who his father was? Or what was that made him arrive in Plymouth? Did the past caught up with Silfester causing him to die before Richard was ever born?

Goold, Clement of London, Master of the ‘Susan’ of London, slayne with a falcon shot.

Ok, this one I just have to know: what sort of a trouble a captain of a ship can get himself into to get shot with a ‘falcon shot’? Accident? Murder? Revenge? Somebody write this novel ASAP.
Who would have thought that a record of burials marriages and baptisms was hiding whole novels inside? Strapped for an idea for your new novel? Go pester your local archivist.

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Devon Record Office index


Sometimes, random items trickle down to us from the library. Somebody would pop in and leave something that I can’t understand why we should have it. I can’t even understand why our library would have it. But here it is: the guide to Devon Record Office. This is not a massive book, but think about it for a second: It is a 100-page book of nothing but lists of things that are contained within the records and the ways to find them within the collection. I am writing similar things often- I list documents or pictures and where to find them, one by one. This book just says: land registries-over there, historical land disputes- over yonder. And it’s only the first part, the thing itself must be huge! Or at least, it was. How is your digitization Devon Record Office?
Well, apparently not too bad. There is a clear online presence with access to many records that are mentioned in this guide. Alright!

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It’s alive!

Well, well, well. Seems like the old junk/fancy lamp from previous post is still in working condition, the lamp lits up and the lens is fine too. I actually got to see things that haven’t been touched since the advent of digital photography- slides, microfilmed documents and a commemorative reel made especially for the celebration of Marjons 150th birthday.

I even stumbled upon something of special interest to me, as a person interested in the history of microcomputers- a slideshow that was part of a presentation about role of computers in education. You know, the thing that was used before there was PowerPoint and those horrid gradient backgrounds.  Here are a few pictures, you can still see what’s what even that the backlight is messing with my phone big time.

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Ye old-timey quiz


Today I think I’ll make a small quiz:

What is this thing pictured above? Is it:

A) a piece of old junk

B) a microfilm reader

C) a fancy lamp

D) all of the above






The answer, of course is D. This old piece of machinery is one of our library’;s decommissioned microfilm readers, now residing in our archives. I’m not certain if it’s working, even that it looks fairly intact. We plan to turn it into a fancy lamp if we can make the underside light to work.

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A DVD cases shelf

In the cycle of Strange Things I Do In the Archives: Pigeon hole-style shelf made out of discarded DVD cases. It’s not pretty, since I only had masking tape to work with. Nonetheless I have proven that old DVD cases can be something more than just photo frames and pencil cases:

dvd shelf

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Research in the Archives

Most of the last session I was doing some research for an oncoming project. Archival research is a bit different than library research, the type I used to do for my studies. The archives are mostly first-hand material, raw data that is not ready for direct consumption. In other words, you can write your material based on the data found in the archives, but before you’ll get to the things you need, you’ll dig through everything else that is vaguely related to it. It may be relevant or not really, but it will consume your time nonetheless. What is interesting is that generally, people have no idea how the things stand, cue requests that need to be completed in a few days, but they are better suited for dissertation and involved. Example:
A request comes for a one-page of notes on history of turtle washing. But even if we have materials that pertain to the history of turtle washing. what exactly should that be? Marjon’s alumni that were known to wash turtles? The history of Marjon turtle-washing clubs? The involvement of the community in turtle washing around Plymouth? There is a short article about it in the old magazines and a newspaper clipping from the 70s’. Here is a picture of turtle with a shiny shell, will that do?
A vague request for a few notes might turn to hours of digging through articles, documents, pictures, books, recordings and various other materials more or less related to the topic- a single request that will consume hours of research, not to mention preparing the notes themselves. And finally, instead of asking for notes, why not to come to the archives yourself and do the work yourself if the clean chelonians are so important to you?

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