Monday, February 10, 2014

I Am So Excited About My Archive Research Adventure!

Used with the permission of the archivist pict...
Used with the permission of the archivist pictured, Cyndi Shein. An Archivist surveying an unprocessed collection of materials. Surveying is commonly done to determine priorities for preservation and/or conservation of materials before an archivist begins arrangement and description. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Elizabeth Jamison, Dissertation Gal:

I have to tell you that I am about to embark on my first archive research expedition!

I can’t believe that the time is finally here, and I will admit that I am a little nervous.

Okay, a lot nervous ;-).

I thought I’d share what I have gone through so far - in preparation for the trip - in case there are any researchers out there who are going to have to go through this at some point.

And really, what’s the point of researching if you don’t find something original? From what I’ve heard from others, archival research is a wonderful, difficult, and priceless experience.

I will also share some invaluable advice in my next post from veteran scholars who have so graciously answered my emails asking for advice. Thank goodness for supportive communities.

So first my personal story!

Those who have been following my blog know that I kind of got off-track last year (although in retrospect it was for the better), but last January 2013, I started my search for resources about my topic and ran into a road-block.

I was told that most of the materials I wanted had been burned in a 1995 fire! This stopped me in my tracks for a while because I had this strict timetable and when I realized that everything wasn’t going to go exactly as I had planned, I shut down.

I like to control my situation. I learned from this to be flexible in the dissertation process. We can’t control everything. We just can’t (as I write this I am calculating a timeframe for completing my dissertation, so you could say that I am talking out of my A#$.)

But before the “shut-down” I contacted the ETS archives and got some basic information, which I put in a file and promptly filed away.

Fast-forward to this past Fall. I committed to the dissertation again and started working, but was feeling frustrated with my secondary sources. I like to write with my own voice and I like to use primary sources, so quoting so many secondary sources was starting to feel - stilted - and I knew I had to plan a trip to the archives.

So then started my renewing of the conversation with ETS. They are housed in Princeton, NJ, and let me tell you, the archivists are so nice!

But I did have one issue - the archivist I spoke with last year no longer works there, so I had to track him down, find out who his replacement was, and contact that person. And thank goodness I did, because my archivist has been so fabulous. So I will introduce the first rule in archival research:

RULE #1: Be good to your archivist. They are your best friend

I can’t tell you how much my archivist has helped me. He’s the one in charge of all the files at this particular library, and he is preparing files for me now, before I go, so I won’t have to spend time searching when I get there. He has been helpful and kind throughout countless emails, and I really appreciate him. I plan on buying him a nice dinner for sure.

I was worried about flying to New Jersey. I mean, I’ve never been there and who knows how it will be? But my archivist told me about a hotel on the campus of ETS/Princeton (no cab costs!!!!! no rentacar!!!) and I made reservations.

So I am flying out on Monday night and will be there until I fly home Saturday. The flight home is crazy: Trenton NJ - Orlando - Miami - Atlanta. Wow! A two hour flight packed into 12 hours.

I had to BEG my principal to let me take a couple personal days (I asked him before Christmas when everyone was in a good mood) and then the rest of the week we have furlough days, so it really worked out.

I also had a crazy thing happen a few weeks ago which could have ruined my trip. In January, I got a strange letter, one I’d never received before. It was for Jury Duty! And ironically, it was for the very week I was to go to Princeton.

At first, like the fire stopping me and making me shut down, I almost shut down and said, “F$#!! it” But you know, I didn’t! I actually wrote a letter and begged and emailed and called and got the jury duty postponed. AMEN.

Rule #2: It doesn’t hurt to ask. Really

So, we get to the present. I sent my archivist some more finding aids, which are box numbers and file locations for my specific topic. This weekend I need to plan and do laundry and pack and make sub plans and buy some winter clothes and get it TOGETHER.

I wonder what I should bring? How am I to transport my files? I can only carry so much on a plane … I also need to go buy some winter clothes because I’m a Georgia girl and there’s a whole lot of snow in NJ. Plus, I have so many printed-out files. Do I bring those?

These questions will be answered in a later post - after I’ve returned, hopefully enlightened and successful.

My next post will also include some great advice from veteran scholars who were kind enough to send me emails about their archival research experiences.

If you have ever done archival research I would LOVE your feedback.
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