Category Archives: musings

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it gives a unique opportunity to learn and draw conclusions from unprocessed data that could be gained from a real historical document.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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Filed under artefacts, musings, random stuff

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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Filed under books, long time ago, musings, random stuff

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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Filed under humour, inner workings, musings

Sorting Frozen Moments

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See this mound of completely mixed pictures? That is a classic example of an iceberg. You only see the very tip of it:-). That’s what I was doing recently, sorting the pictures according to subject and series. We got a ton of those as a donation from another department. We have among others: a series that students had taken when traveling to Bergen, a series of children events complete with creepy clown, and very unhappy Plymouth marathonists. It might sound boring, but to tell the truth, it’s right up my alley. If you gave me a box of mixed beads or coins or buttons when I was a child, you’d have me occupied and silent for the rest of the day.
I’m sure that I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say that again: sign and date your pictures. The generations of archivists yet unborn will love you for that forever.

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Lost to interpretation

If there is one thing that I have learned since my arrival to the archives is that very often you can follow the reasoning of people from the past. You see who they were and what they did and why it was important to them. Take Kay-Shuttleworth. He was a doctor-> he saw what poverty did to people-> he didn’t like it-> he had an idea how to fix it. It’s logical. You can follow the process.
Not so with Fawnthorpe. Fawnthorpe was a student of St. John’s and later he became the principal of Whitelands College. This college was a school dedicated to training of female teachers. Hmm, a guy trained to teach boys is a head of school training girls. Well I suppose they couldn’t make a woman headmistress back then, the monocles in all the England would be in peril if they did. Ok, what else is Fawnthorpe known for? A little book called Household Science: readings in necessary knowledge for girls and young women. So the guy who trained women to be teachers also wanted them to be domestic goddesses?
Photo1077But the oddest thing in all this is the Whitelands College May Queen Festival. It all started with Ruskin. Yes, THAT Ruskin. Among many great things that he was, Ruskin was weird. He held very bizarre view concerning feminine purity and innocence. I suspect that the world still suffers because of these ideas. Faunthorpe was Ruskins friend and admirer and following these strange perceptions, he Ruskinmayqueenorganized the May Queen Festival, where a girl would be crowned as a May Queen. It was a celebration consisting of pageants, dances, processions, fun and games. An enormous amount of preparations go into these. There were elaborate dresses made especially for the girls and each one would be presented a golden cross, to tie this festival’s pagan origins to the traditions of Christianity. This festival is celebrated to this day, even that since 1985 it is allowed to choose a King instead of a Queen. It all looks pretty and fun, a venerable tradition if I ever seen one. But I can’t help being weirded out by the roots of it all- one man’s inability to see women as they are and creating an elaborate ceremony based upon it. So, what was with you Faunthorpe? How did Ruskin roped you into it all?
So how do you interpret Fawnthorpe? An enlightened educator or a relic of outmoded thinking? A co-conspirator to other man fantasies or just a guy that wanted to use the occasion to do something nice for young women under his care? I admit that I don’t know.

Pictures are from Whitelands College May Queen Festival by Malcolm Cole

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The thoughts on displacement

In literature as well as in real life,  geography has a great influence on people. And the reason I am talking about it now is the thoughts of alumni that visited the archives recently. They were the ones who started studying in Chelsea and underwent the transition to Plymouth.
Imagine you signed up for this:

 

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Marjon Chelsea entrance

And it turned into this:

 

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Marjon Chelsea entrance

Imagine leaving the place you know one summer and returning to it in autumn. Only to realize that it changed looks and location. You’re no longer walking the grounds that were there since Coleridge had his ‘crazy’ ideas about educating the poor. No more stories of Lady Stanley’s ghost and no more walls to jump.

Instead there is a site under construction, brand new buildings built in modern fashion and a whole lot of space surrounding the place. Imagine you joined one of the oldest schools in England, with the buildings to prove it, only to have it completely changed, seemingly overnight. The college had ran the course of history, the old gave way to the new.
But it doesn’t meant that the old is gone. The new Marjon site was designed to remind us where we came from. Behold the cloisters, old and new:

 

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Marjon Chelsea entrance

The old library and former training school with our legacy building- the chaplaincy centre:

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Old library and chaplaincy centre

As for the ghosts…well, they say that the third floor of the library is haunted and some people would not go there alone. Although I never felt anything otherworldly over there. Maybe some day…

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Filed under artefacts, long time ago, Marjon pride, musings, photos