Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Finding what you need, but not what you want...

For ages, I'd been looking for the records of the Fulbright Program in the 1970's.  It seemed like it was a lost decade--the National Archives had plenty of 40's-60's material, and seemed to pick it up again in the 80's and 90's, and I'd found quite a bit of post-2000 records elsewhere.  At the National Archives, when I found folders with 70's dates on them, I was disappointed to see that they were just notes--just correspondence about the Annual Report, for instance, but without actually including a copy of the Annual Report.  It was so frustrating.
At the Munich conference, another American PhD student had asked if I'd been to the archives at University of Arkansas.  I didn't know anything about them--I just knew about the Fulbright Papers Special Collection, and assumed the University's archives would be more useful for a biography of the Senator himself.  I didn't really think anything of it until I was talking about the missing 1970's reports with Richard yesterday.  Sure enough, they're at the University of Arkansas--it turns out the other student was asking about the CU special collection. It was transferred there in 1983, so it has all of these 1970's records, reports, etc. that I've been needing.  I'm kicking myself now, but I suppose I hadn't really had a chance to make a trip out there before now anyway.

While I'm absolutely thrilled to find this collection, I'm struggling with the idea of going to Arkansas.  I've joked with my supervisor about not wanting to go to Arkansas, but there are some very serious reasons behind my wish to avoid the place.  The University is in Fayetteville, spitting distance from my birthplace, and it's the town where my family used to go to Wal-Mart (store number 3!).  I don't remember living in that part of the country--we moved to Missouri when I was 2, and after we moved to Washington state when I was 6, I never went back to the area.  It's my dad's home--it's where he was born and raised and still lives today.  We haven't made much of an effort to keep up with each other, and I can't imagine going to see him--I haven't seen him since I was 5, so it would be like meeting a stranger.  But while I can't imagine seeing him, wouldn't it be weird to be in the area, doing my PhD research, and not going to see him?  It's a deeply personal issue.

When I picked this topic, it seemed like a welcome change from my BA and MA theses on the relationship between terrorism and politics and the media.  Student exchanges were happy, positive experiences to read about, and I thought I would be interviewing people about their brilliant, life-changing time abroad.  When my project turned towards archives, I was fine with that, too--my family lives near the National Archives, perfect!  I combined a research trip with a visit for my nephew's birthday--what a great project!  But now this...my research is leading me to confront my fears and my suppressed feelings, to visit the place I always joke about, always reject.  It says I was born in Arkansas on my passport, but that's about the extent of my relationship with the place.  When I was talking it over with Richard last night, though, I realised how cool it is that I'd be returning in this way--as a PhD researcher visiting from a UK university.  Nobody saw that coming.

It's very complicated.  I've got a couple of months to think about it, but it sounds like I'll be going in January.

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