Thursday, 15 January 2015

Archive Trip--Day 4

On my third day in the archives, I finished up my first cart and moved on to my second--a huge improvement over my last visit to the archives, when I only completed 2 carts over the whole week. Using a camera really does make a massive difference. Last time, I just took notes and even though I'm a fast typist, it's still much quicker to just snap a picture. It's also more accurate--there are no typos, no confusion over page numbers or dates.
The second cart was correspondence from the first accession in the Fulbright papers, so I moved back in time from the post-senatorial (post-1975) era to the start of the exchange program (1946). There seemed to be more "scholarship enquiries" in the earlier set and more "thank you" letters in the later set. It makes sense--in the early days, people didn't know where to get information about this new program they'd heard somebody mention. By the time Senator Fulbright was out of office in 1975, there were thousands of potential letter writers amongst the program's alumni.

My favorite find of the day was a series of letters between a concerned mother of a grantee, Senator Fulbright's office and the State Department. The woman wrote to Senator Fulbright on behalf of her son, who had just arrived in Germany and was struggling to find accommodation. The Senator's office wrote to the State Department, to make enquiries about getting him assistance from the embassy. The Senator replied to the woman, in the meantime, to let her know that they had taken the matter up. The next letter was an update from the woman--her son has found accommodation in Germany and is settling in just fine, so please don't proceed with your enquiries. The Senator's office sends her an acknowledgment and writes to the State Department to cancel its last request. Now, this is all very mundane, but the reason it was my favorite letter? This whole thing took place within a week. Even today, it takes my letters about a week to make it through the post between the UK and US. You can imagine what happened--this guy wrote to his mom when he arrived and said he was struggling to find accommodation, the letter took a week to get to Mom, he found accommodation, then wrote to tell his mom the address. In the meantime, she's taking it up with the program's founder! He might have only been staying in a hotel for a few days before finding permanent accommodation--it certainly wasn't a matter to bring up with the embassy!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Archive trip--day 3

Day 2 was more post-senatorial correspondence, but this batch had more to do with the Fulbright Association, the program's alumni organization. In the literature, you really get the impression that the Fulbright Association was a separate, private activity, initiated by alumni and nothing to do with the Board of Foreign Scholarships or Senator Fulbright. Reading correspondence between Senator Fulbright and Arthur Dudden, the founder/first President of the Fulbright Association revealed, however, that the former Senator really did take an interest. He encouraged Dudden and discussed the nature/role of the Association. He believed in an advocacy and lobbying role--something I really didn't see in the literature or in official documents.
To the extent that archive research can have new 'discoveries', this was my first big discovery for this trip--evidence of Fulbright's support for alumni activities, including advocacy and lobbying.

There were still some enquiry letters, even as you get into the 1990's. I still just can't believe the cajones of people who would write to the octogenarian founder of the program and ask for a recommendation. Some people even name-dropped, telling Senator Fulbright of a connection he shared with their father/grandfather/cousin/etc. I almost laughed out loud at one enquiry letter addressed to Senator Fulbright that said "Dear Sir or Madam," and asked for application materials. It wasn't even a language barrier issue--the letter writer was American!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Archive trip day 2

Going back to the archives was weird on the first day--it's been 2 years since my last visit, but everything was the same. Campus looked just the same, the library & the student union looked unchanged, the Special Collections staff were the same (although Vera, the Fulbright papers archivist, was the only one who remembered me--she's lovely and it was great to see her again).

The good thing about everything being the same--it was easy to get stuck in. I knew what I was doing, what to ask for, and I didn't have to fill out researcher permission paperwork as they already had it on file. Vera set me up with 2 carts of boxes to get started. This is the luxurious thing about doing research at a smaller place--2 carts, 18 boxes! And I don't have to put them away when I go to lunch or go home at the end of the day--my desk is my desk, waiting for me when I get back to it. It's such a different experience from the Textual Archives room at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. I used to skip lunch, work straight through and only leave when I was done for the day, because I hated to have to return my cart and then request it again after a break.

This trip is all about correspondence--I didn't touch it last time, because I was only here for a week and it's very time consuming. It's really important, though, and my book reviewer specifically mentioned it as something that would strengthen the archival/historical side of my book.

I started with Fulbright's post-Senatorial correspondence about the exchange program (8 boxes, records dating 1975 to 1993). Most of my first day was spent flipping through letters he received from people asking for info about the program, requesting application materials--even flat out asking Senator Fulbright to give them a grant or put in a good word for them! He responded politely but firmly that he wasn't involved in the selection or administration of the program--indeed, by this point, he was in his 70's/80's and long since retired! My first reaction was to shake my head at the nerve of these people--I would never contact the founder of an exchange program to ask for an application form, or to request a recommendation.

But then, I thought about the different context in which these letters were written. The people who were asking (stupid) basic questions about applying didn't have Google. There was no Fulbright Program website, where you can apply online or download an application form, or check the FAQs before you dash off an e-mail to the program's administrators. These people didn't have the information resources we do now--all they knew was the name "Fulbright", so they went straight to the top. They probably didn't even know he wasn't a Senator anymore, to be fair. And besides, it's not the fool who asks!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Archive Research Trip--Day 1

Thanks to generous help from my friends & family, I've made it back to the Fulbright papers! My mom lent me her car, so a couple of days ago I drove down from Minnesota. The road trip was alright--I've always loved driving and seeing new places, but it was a bit tedious. The route took me straight through the snowy windswept prairies, Iowa's "Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area", and the Bible Belt. I saw a lot of pro-life billboards and every time I scanned the radio stations, I found Christian music, Christian talk, and Country music. In Missouri, at least, I also found some classic rock, pop and NPR.
Sometimes I just forget about this part of the country, these (typically) red states with relatively small populations. Doing this drive made me realise that this America might be the only place in the US that an international student knows. It's amazing to think about the difference between, say, Iowa State University and my alma mater in Seattle, University of Washington. I had lunch at a Cracker Barrel near the university in Des Moines, and thought about how international students would perceive Cracker Barrel. Would they take it at face value, thinking it's a "typical American restaurant"? Or would they get it, would they appreciate the nostalgic quirkiness of antiques all over the walls and checkers on the porch?
Another thing that struck me about the Bible Belt was the sight of little chapels, quite old ones in small towns, once the Western frontier. When I went to Toulouse back in June, I felt an amazing sense of history in St. Etienne Cathedral--a realisation that the church as an institution once played such a central role in people's lives, in communities and towns. The Catholic church in pre-revolutionary France was the establishment--the biggest landowner, even more powerful than the monarchy, etc. In America's prairie states, the church was central in the community, but in a completely different way. The church wasn't a pre-existing institution on the frontier, it was introduced by the settlers (seems more voluntary, in a sense). These churches were multi-purpose institutions, providing the local schoolrooms, and even offering meeting space for secular community groups. They're small, simple little buildings--a stark contrast to the grand cathedrals of Europe, built to impress.
At any rate, it's been interesting to get reacquainted with this part of the country (I hadn't been to Missouri in 21 years, and had never visited Iowa). One of the common themes that appears in educational exchange literature is the concept that grantees see their home countries differently after the exchange experience. I don't really count as an exchangee--more of an emigrant at this point. But every time I've returned to the U.S. over the past 7 years, I've certainly seen it differently. Driving still comes naturally (thank goodness, since I was on the road for 12 1/2 hours!), but little things feel very foreign to me now. U.S. currency, for example, always feels strange for the first few days. The vast amount of choice in American superstores like Wal-Mart and Target is overwhelming to me now. In the early days of living in the UK, I missed the superstores, but now they feel as foreign as Morrisons & Sainsburys once did. It's amazing!

I'll try to update regularly throughout this week and next...and will actually talk about the research in my next post, too!