Tuesday round-up: Girls Talk edition, yee-haw!

As March ends, with its proverbial lionish and lambish ways, I bring you this round-up in which girls talk about things you need to think about:

  • Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar, is back with Part III of her series, “A Day in the Archives.”  (Parts I and II are here.)  In this installment, she offers a wonderful, detailed primer about how to photograph documents digitally in an archive.  (She’s down on transcription, because “it takes time, and you can’t check your work later. And since a lot of North American researchers only have 1-3 months at a time in the archives, we generally go for option 2, which is to get a copy of the document.”)  I’ll put in a word for transcription, however:  it means you do your research right then and there in the archive.  (I work in archives that don’t permit the photocopying of manuscripts.)  Everyone has to make hir own decisions about gathering evidence and ideas–as Notorious notes, it also depends on the condition of your documents and the amount of time you have.  But for me, the best part of archival research is reading a document, taking notes on it, and daydreaming about all of the fabulous ways I can use it in my many sure-to-be prizewinning future publications. 
  • Inspired by Notorious’s example, Clio’s Disciple has posted a nice companion piece called “Days in the Little Archives,” which is a handy guide to navigating smaller provincial archives like those at the county or municipal level; parish, diocesan or archdiocesan archives; or smaller historical societies and libraries.  (I’m not sure what the equivalent smaller archives would be called outside of the U.S. or Canada–check out Clio’s Disciple’s post and please enlighten me in the comments below.)
  • Lesboprof wishes she would have played the lion instead of the lamb in “I coulda been a contender!”  Instead of a bum, which is what she is.  I’ll let her explain:  “I was looking at the candidates for what could honestly be my dream job in the future, and I had a sudden realization. I might have been a contender for the job…right now! Not in five years, not after promotion to full professor, not after an intermediate administrative post, but right freakin’ now! Not a shoo-in, by any means, but the pool is looking a little shallow if these candidates are the best for the job. Of course, I hadn’t applied, thinking it was beyond my current standing.”  She continues, “perhaps this is a particularly female way of looking at moving up. Many male leaders I see have no compunction against reaching for a much higher position, skipping steps along the way. There seems to be a different approach to taking on leadership positions, a “Sure I can” approach, rather than a “I’m not sure if I can” fear. They seem more comfortable blustering and fumbling their way through until they have figured out the parameters of the new position and made it their own.”  Lesboprof asks in the end, “Have any of you skipped steps in your path to administrative jobs in higher ed? How did you manage your self-doubts?”
  • India Knight says she’s so over Catholicism in “Holy Father, I can stay no longer in this Church of disgust.”  She writes, “my daughter was baptised because we feared she might die — she had complicated open-heart surgery a few weeks after she was born, and for some reason I found the sacrament intensely comforting. Beautiful, too.”  But, “it’s hard to pay lip-service to a faith that you feel hates you; a faith that would rather let you die in childbirth than have an abortion, won’t let you take the contraception necessary to prevent said abortion, hates gay people despite having many homosexual priests; a faith that talks ignorant nonsense about HIV and Aids, that would rather watch people die in Africa than let them use a condom; a faith that is unbelievably slow to say sorry about the fact that some of its members are habitual rapists of children.”
  • English Proffie and Folklorist Rose at Romantoes writes in “Dear, Pretty Fairmont” about the hidden or forgotten transnational history and foodways of Fairmount, West Virginia.  (Come for the Pepperoni Rolls, stay for the Russian mine tour!)
  • Here’s one for all of you old-timers like me out there:  Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, and Rockpile covering Elvis Costello’s Girls Talk.  (Do you believe how young Lowe and Edmunds look in this vid?)

“I just wanna hear girls talk! . . . Girls talk and they wanna know how!  Girls talk and they say it’s not allowed!  Girls talk and they think they know how!” 

0 thoughts on “Tuesday round-up: Girls Talk edition, yee-haw!

  1. Thanks for the link!
    I work on church history, so I have also found diocesan archives quite useful. In Spain there is often a cathedral archive separate from the diocesan archive. I’ve also looked at municipal archives, and collections pertaining to particular monasteries that are still owned by that monastery. I assume that the institutional structures vary considerably from one country to another, though.


  2. Hey, thanks for the shout-out! For the record, I’m not opposed to transcribing in the archives. I do a mix, and I’d like to do more on-site, for all the reasons you state. But since a one-month trip to and stay in exotic research city costs me around $2,000, I need to maximize my time. Perhaps chalk it up to the difference btw. working in U.S. & foreign archives?


  3. Notorious–distance and expense is a big part, but so is the fact that you can slap manuscripts down on a photocopier! I’ve never been able to do that–but then, I don’t work with parchment, only paper, and it’s frequently paper that’s only one or 2 shades lighter than the ink on it. So, I just got used to transcribing.

    I also have worked mostly in pretty big, professional archives–the smaller archives I’ve worked in (like the one Clio’s Disciple describes) have much looser rules.

    Thanks to both of you for your posts!


  4. I have to say that I love to do my archival work in the archive, as Historiann says. But of course the reality is as Notorious remarks – who on earth has more than a month or two to delve into a research project? It is possible to get another full year in Exotic Research Country, but so difficult (as H.’s experience demonstrates those pesky fellowships are ridiculously difficult to win). I get really frustrated working in my ERC because it’s one of those places with restrictive hours and even closures of some smaller archives in the summer, so my productivity in summer can be as much as halved. Most of the places I work do not permit digital photography. Some allow xeroxing/ microfilming, others not. In one archive, they wouldn’t even let me photocopy the modern index of a ms collection. (I assume now that they might not actually have had a photocopier on the premises.) And speaking of annoying closures, folks going to Catholic countries: Don’t forget about those pesky feast days – I hear they’re calling them “holidays” now – because those *change regionally* and can really eff up a tight research schedule.

    I’ll never forget the cardiac arrest of a panic attack I had in one archive when they handed me this bundle of ms papers as tall as my wrist-to-elbow. I had only arranged for a one-week trip, and the archive was only open three hours a day. (And let’s face it, sometimes only being able to work 3 hours a day in ERC is *awesome* and sometimes it really blows.) No copies or pictures allowed.


  5. I got kind of spoiled early on, on the research trail. I worked for a federal agency and we had what virtually amounted to an unlimited photocopying budget, plus it was a time-crunched albeit year-long project and they didn’t want you holing up in one place too long. Oh, plus, they hadn’t invented laptops yet, maybe hadn’t even invented ENIAC yet! So we (it was a team project) just crashed the boards and called for copies, and the agency had enough mojo that they usually gave us what we asked for. So the taxonomy of the project was pretty much “search” (in the archives) and then “RE-“(search) back at the ranch, where you could do as much creative daydreaming as you wanted to. It took years to break those good habits when the photocopy budget was funded by skipped lunches. I still try to get copies of what I can, because I like to see the whole thing in situ, plus I figure the saved carpal-tunnel reconstruction will more than repay the out of pocket costs.

    Five links, plus a video! That must be a record. Can we haz class outside this week?


  6. “But for me, the best part of archival research is reading a document, taking notes on it, and daydreaming about all of the fabulous ways I can use it in my many sure-to-be prizewinning future publications.”

    That is exactly my experience. I tend to transcribe, and having the luxury of reading the documents in detail is always an emotional boost. I come back from research trips rejuvenated and excited about my project(s). Also, I find that I’m more likely to use sources that I transcribed while at the archives than those that I photocopied. Part of the explanation is that I know them better, because I took the time to transcribe them while I was sequestered in the archives. Unless time dictates otherwise, transcription is the way to go.


  7. Indyanna: I have to say that photocopying and digital photography would be the only way to go if we didn’t have laptops. Digital transcription is the only way to go–sometimes I have to search in documents I took notes on years ago, and keyword searches help jog my memory like nothing else.


  8. And Jacob: I think I’ve got photocopies from a research trip 11 years ago that I literally haven’t looked at since I ordered them. It seemed like the right idea at the time–but I’ve learned that I just don’t go back into them to do the research once I’m back home.


  9. When I got to BFU, the U had (in addition to the mumified ENIAC) *a* computer. It was a block long by a half-block deep, and they sometimes even allowed grad students to swing by with a fistful of punched cards, which a week later produced a baleful of printout paper that was incomprehensible, except to sit on.

    I haven’t transitioned to digital camera-research yet, but when I go to my local, everybody is sitting there snapping away. Why do they charge a “fee” for this? Back before they paved Central Park West, a team-mate of mine and I showed up at the New-York Historical Society to snap pictures of a big box of documents–stat! The ms. chief at the time was known for barbecuing researchers and having them for dinner. But for whatever reason, he moved a huge table out of the way, spread out a green felt cloth on the parquet floor, loaned us a tripod, and let us go to work. I even learned after we got the film “developed” [This is described in the ABC-Clio Encyclopedia of Defunct Research Practices] that you could run the raw film through microfilm reader-printers for 15c/shot and avoid the significant costs of what were called “photostats.” Then the Wisconsin glacier retreated…


  10. I asked a similar question at Notorious’s spot but I’m tailoring it slightly to how this conversation has played out.

    On the issue of transcription: I used my digital camera predominantly for my dissertation research and I certainly recognize the disadvantages. In fact right now I’m transcribing some of the documents that are particularly difficult to read or incredibly dense. If it’s too difficult to read once, then I might as well transcribe it.

    But, in terms of the archives, and assuming for the purposes of this conversation that time in the archives isn’t a problem (maybe a year or so) and cameras are allowed, what do those of you who swear by transcription do when your documents are incredibly long? Things like long reports, hundreds of folios each, with tons of descriptive detail. I type pretty quickly and fairly accurately but these kinds of things take months to type. At first, I was committed to typing but when it took me a full month (maybe six weeks) to get through just one volume out of hundreds that needed to be consulted, I had to switch to the camera.

    I’d love to hear what you all do when it comes to that kind of volume.


  11. thefrogprincess: since I traffic in women’s history, Indian history, and the history of barely literate Anglo-American schlubs on the frontier, the documents they leave behind are pretty brief, if they exist at all! So, I haven’t had so much the problem you have with your documents–of having to decide what to take notes on. When my people appear at all–let alone pick up a pen–they’re pretty terse.

    But, on occasion I have run into lengthy documents or whole volumes of correspondence–and there, I just pick and choose. I transcribe parts, but not all, and fill in my notes with explanations of what I’m leaving out, so that I can preserve the look and feel of that document in my head. (And on occasion, I have returned to archives to fill in with other transcriptions in those gaps.) Since the docs I work with aren’t photocopy-able, and since 18th C handwriting is so elongated and flowy it would take hundreds of digital photos to capture them, I prefer just to take notes on and/or transcribe what’s interesting to me.


  12. On my last research trip to the Capital Cities of Ruritania and Megalomania I used a combination of methods. In the Ruritanian National Archives, I was allowed to use a digital camera. But first I went through all the files, transcribed some key documents and the contents of some of the folders. Then I photographed everything.

    The Megalomanian national archives do not allow digital photographs, and photocopies are exorbitant. I also had about eight bankers boxes of material to skim through in a week. (Oops, didn’t plan that one well, but I didn’t know how much they had based on the catalog entry). After the first day, I realized that I would have to make several more visits before I had everything I needed. I transcribed a few things, and spent most of my time taking notes on the stuff that was not obvious from the finding aids and catalogs (sort of a breadcrumb trail so I could find my way back to the interesting parts of the files).

    I did my dissertation research by transcribing things into spiral bound notebooks in pencil. Its pretty durable, the material is all in chronological order, and you can add marginalia (like keywords) as you work with the notes. I’m glad I did, I lost a bunch of information from the dissertation when my hard-drive crashed earlier this year. There is something to be said for the old-school methods. The notebooks are ten-years old, and I still use them.


  13. The frogprincess brings up an important point. One of the disadvantages of photocopies, microfilm, and digital images is that they can make reading manuscript material more difficult and sometimes impossible. (Especially in those cases when the image of the page captures the echo of the text on the other side of the page.) Nothing works for me as well as squinting at the live page and trying to work through it.


  14. I’ve used digital photos for research where they are allowed. It was a particularly successful endeavour for capturing large amounts of images from trade catalogs for later reference. Even where the images are a little fuzzy or I managed to cut off part of the page, there’s enough there that I can both reference the image and send a visual to the Awesomely Fun Place That Oddly Has Material Relevant To My Research when I request graphics for publication.

    What I’ve learned the hard way with digital photos is: have extra, extra batteries. And take an extra data card or two. I went through over 150 images, and still had more catalogs to go through. So frustrating!


  15. I was fortunate that when I started my dissertation research, laptops were just becoming available. Well, what passed for laptops in the 80s! I got one and even with the extremely limited memory and program options, used it to transcribe in archives and libraries across the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. (I just had to watch out that I didn’t annoy others working in the same area with my rapid, noisy touch-typing.)

    Mostly I’d transcribe the documents in the archives but as time runs out, I always resort to ordering copies. I often ended up frustrated by the photostatic copies made by the archives from their microfilms. Additional frustration stems from the problem that we didn’t have a microfilm reader at the U which could output as digital images until this past autumn.

    The quality of digital images provided by many archives is pretty awesome nowadays so if you can’t bring a camera in, sometimes you’ll still luck out. But it’s still best to be a quick hand at transcription!


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