Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On pirates (otherwise known as archivists)

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent more time than what is healthy going through documents in the National Archives at College Park, MD. I’m doing research for my master’s thesis, which is why I came to the US in the first place (the travelling and the foreign culture experience is only a bonus). In a strange way, the research is both hard work and autopilot usage at the same time.

It is tiresome to spend hours and hours each day going through documents where, sometimes, you can barely read what it says, and often even if you can read it, it’s hard to know whether or not it will be useful (my thesis is yet unwritten, after all). For documentation purposes, I photograph every single document that might come in handy. Since I hardly will be able to go back (I hear the commute between Oslo and Maryland is a total drag), I’m terrified of missing something important. So I overcompensate, and take pictures of a lot more than I need to (like newspaper clippings of the Jordanian Prince Mohammed’s engagement pictures…)

However, since I do have this security net – knowing that I’ll have all the sources I need (and more) electronically when I go back home – it allows me to pay less attention to what I am doing. It usually takes a few seconds of scanning down a document before I’ve decided whether it is of interest, and if so, I don’t continue reading. Instead I take a picture, knowing I will have access to it later. In between pictures, I have plenty of time and opportunity to look around and let the mind drift.

The archive is a pretty strange community. A lot of the researchers come there from afar (myself being the prime example), and they often have a limited time to spend there. Thus they tend to exhaust the opening hours in order to get as much done in as short amount of time as possible (myself being a really bad example – I like to come late and leave early…). This means that they very quickly become friendly with the staff (members of which are doing an excellent job). The staff is more or less permanent, of course, but they too form a strange community since they constantly must adapt to new researchers while still keeping up with the “veterans”.

Me being me, and the job being relatively mindless at times, I cannot help but creating stories for some of the people I’ve come to see almost every day. For some reason, in my mind they are all playing a part in a pirate story (I bet you wondered where the pirate part would come in, didn’t you?).

There are two pirate ships. One is captained by the fearless Italian-Shooed Joe. He has a bright and capable crew under his command – Roy the Accountant is the first mate, and other prominent crewmembers include Ezra Mousetrap, Sheila the Nymph and Fireman Carl. However, in sheer strength, this crew is no match for the shipmen of the competing pirate ship – lead by Captain Charcoal-Barrel Bill. His crew includes musclemen and –women like The Duckman, Big Al, Big-Italian-Al and Hippalong-Sally.

Now, this tale wouldn’t be complete without a few ships from the Royal British Navy chasing the pirates like rats: the Virgin is under the command of Sir Adam Noblenose, who for some reason is cooperating with a whole family of Irish nobility – Patrick the Young, Patrick the Bohemian and Patrick the Lady.

Though this is a story begging not to be written (I have a bunch of those too), it seems that one thing is clear: even when I am doing academic work, my creativity points towards writing fiction. Like a pirate’s compass pointing north (or towards what you really, really want…).


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I enjoyed research. I enjoyed journalism. I adore creative writing. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Ha, Pirate story. Very clever.

Did you know about the site http://www.footnote.com/ ? It has historical documents online that you can access, well, online...as in from the internet. Certainly not what'd you'll find in the Achieves, but not shabby either. Some are free, the good stuff costs, but, a year's subscription is $80 bucks not bad for total access. Check it out, maybe there's something there of value.

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Cruella Collett said...

Elizabeth - this is largely how I feel too. It's in creative writing I have my heart (and hopefully my future), but since I also must rely on a job to pay the bills... Then again, how much money can you make as a historian, eh..? ;)

Galen - I did not know that site, but thanks for the link - I will check it out! I am also working with some online sources. There are a lot of really good databases out there these days, and it's not considered "bad research" just because one uses online sources anymore. As long as one stays critical (as one should with all sources) and uses common sense, plenty useful information can be found online.

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