Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Back in the archives

My life consists of two main things these days: the British Library, and the World Cup. I spend the entire morning and early afternoon in the archives, going through the India Office records at the British Library for hours, researching for my dissertation. Then just before 5pm (when the reading room closes) I rush home just in time as my friends start arriving to watch the World Cup.

I absolutely love sitting there for hours in the British Library. There are quite a few files on my topic for me to go through, and the more relevant files (usually of around 150-200 pages of documents each) can take me up to three days to go through really thoroughly, carefully reading and taking notes. I have about 15 more files to go through, but I've just finished the most important ones. Luckily my topic for my MA is narrow enough by year range that I don't have to go through hundreds of files - just about 30 or so! And that's not counting the other primary/archival sources I'll be perusing next week at Oxford and the Public Records Office up in Kew! Being a historian is a hell of a lot of work.

But it really is a labour of love. I love the routine that my day has fallen into now because of this. I wake up in the morning, shower, change, and walk over to the library up in Euston. Dump my bag in a locker (because you're only allowed to take transparent plastic bags that they provide into the reading rooms), and go up to the reading room. What's great is that practically everyone in there I see on a daily basis. We're all the same people, day in and day out. It makes the atmosphere very comfortable and familiar, in a way. A couple of people I know personally from my university, but the others have become familiar faces from our shared daily experience in the archives. You acknowledge each other's presence specifically by not acknowledging each other at all - if that makes sense. We all know that we all recognize each other, but nobody really says hello or anything. But you sense it, in a way. You start to become familiar with other people's routines - who is always there early, who goes for a lunch break when, who usually leaves at what time, etc. Some days when I go in a bit late, I walk to my seat in shame. And once when I wanted to get home to watch the 2pm game I ducked out quietly so people wouldn't notice me leaving to watch the football, because who leaves the archives to watch the football?

Funny thing that happened to me the other day. I went up to the counter to get a couple of files I have on reserve and the guy asked me for my last name so I told him, and he looked through the box with all the little name slips and said, "Ah yes, here you are, So-and-so, J" (as in my last name, and first initial J). And I said, "No, I'm So-and-so, X" and he looked surprised and went back into the box and said, "Oh, here you are!" So there were actually two of us in there with my same last name! I immediately looked around the room but nobody else in there looked Arab, but you never know. Now I'm really curious as to who that other person in there is...


  • I'm curious too!
    I hope you don't have a double identity crisis!
    And good luck with your work :)
    Personally, I have an expiration date in MY university's library. One section of it is new with high walls and the other is a dungeon. I remember last Xmas, I was balancing a workload of 5 exams & 2 final reports (i.e. major stress). I went to the dungeon, with its low ceilings and that bookish smell which I do like, but it wasn't the time. I don't know what happened but I was trying to find the books and I was worrying about my exams. Before you know it, I was hyperventilating. I started to see spots and slowly knelt on the ground. I spent 10 minutes in the dungeon, on my back, trying to breathe normally...

    By Blogger Erzulie, at 6/15/2006 5:36 am  

  • kleio - Sounds like fun! Today is my last day of work - teachers come in to sign out, have lunch, etc., but my last day with the kids was Tuesday (full day) and yesterday (report card day). While I am so sad to see the little 'uns move on, I am so burnt out and in need of rest. I do not think people know how much work goes into teaching children so young - they think it is all fun and games. But you have to be switched on all day, every second. It is so much harder than teaching university, where at least the students can control their bladders :) Anyway my point is this - while I am so jealous at the hours you get to spend doing research, the thought of having to do it right now would kill me ;) Now football - that I can handle!

    erzulie - That is too funny! You sound like me... I have had moments like that! kleio, think thumb tack ;) Loooooooooool!!!

    By Blogger Raine, at 6/15/2006 10:57 am  

  • Erzulie: Holy crap - what happened to you? But I know the feeling - I've had those before. But yeah, Raine had a bad one - I had just had major thumb surgery, was all drugged up, and two days later went to the doctor's office where they had unwrapped the big bandage to put my hand into a cast, exposing the big pin that was sticking out of my thumb, holding my ligament back in place. Anyway, I walked out into the waiting room and when Raine saw it, SHE fainted - despite the fact that it was my thumb with the big pin sticking out of it, and I was all drugged up on Percocets! She passed out by the elevators and had to lie down on the floor in the hallway. LOL! Sound familiar?

    Raine: I can imagine how hectic teaching those little tykes must have been. But it must feel so satisfying now - seeing them moving on to the next grade. Did you fail anyone? Hehehehe. Well I'll be in Kuwait in a couple of weeks and during the two weeks I'm taking as a proper vacation I'll be able to remember what it means to really relax!! For now, though, the nice even split between research and football ain't bad.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 6/15/2006 11:03 am  

  • Lol maskeena ikhtich! And thumb surgery! You know, I don't think people know how much thumbs are important. Three years ago in Kuwait, a saleswoman shut the dressing room door on my thumb. It hurt like hell. I wasn't crying, but I sure was tearing up from all the pain. My thumb turned purple and I couldn't write for a week or so.
    Moral of the story: Appreciate your thumbs. And keep them out of door hinges.

    By Blogger Erzulie, at 6/15/2006 9:41 pm  

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