Thursday, June 24, 2010

Random Thoughts from a Day in the Archives

Researching has always presented a certain challenge for me. The problem is that I am chronically fidgety. Under normal circumstances I have about 5 things going on at once. Going to the archives means only doing one thing. That kind of discipline is really hard for me. Maybe medication would help. Whatever. Anyway, to make up for the lack of clutter in my mind, I tend to just start thinking of things. Here are a few thoughts from today:

1. You know what the problem is with people today? A lack of doggerel. Back in the day, horrible poetry was everywhere. You never see that today. What will entertain researchers of the future?

2. The acceptance of computers into the archives means I can now listen to music, which does help me. However, if someone can explain why I'm such a sucker for 60s and 70s English folk music, I'd appreciate it.

3. Those archivists--if only they would stop giving extremely helpful suggestions that enlighten me on collections I would never know about otherwise and were extremely helpful for my book, I'd get through my entire research agenda on this trip.

4. I've decided to bring my book up to 2000 (as opposed to 1940 for the dissertation). This is getting pretty interesting. It's certainly easier to write modern history. When you are looking at a subject as abstract and difficult as I am, finding an archive where people are saying exactly what you want them to is very unusual. But it sure is more common with comment periods on federal legislation. Nothing like wackos writing in complaining about the Endangered Species Act.

5. There are only 2 good reasons for researching a topic I think. One, the topic touches you in a personal way. Two, the research takes you to the place you want to be (whether that's nearby or far away). If there are other reasons, I don't know them. I am in Seattle. Is there anywhere better than Seattle in the summer? I don't think so. I've always said that there's probably some amazing topics to write about on the history of North Dakota. Why? Because who actually wants to spend time there? And if a topic doesn't have a personal connection to you, whatever that may be, I don't see how you can spend the time it takes to write a book. Obviously, there are other perspectives of course, but I couldn't do it.

6. Given my decision to move the book up in time, it would be super helpful if Bob Packwood's papers came available. Plus, that would be an entertaining archive to explore...