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!

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