Sometimes the scrawled letters on a page slow reading to a halt. Unlike printed words in a bound volume or transcripts that risk sanitizing history, handwriting produces an entirely different reading experience. Words unfold, as they were written originally, and events take on new meaning in the materiality of the archives. The manuscript of a letter or diary may be neat and legible when composed in tranquility, or scribbled hastily in times of anger or mourning. In print, the end of Sara Coleridge’s life was hardly a mystery, but reading her manuscripts changed everything for me.
What is Research?
Research helps solve mysteries we didn’t even know existed.
While most scholars search for answers in an archive, others like me seek out questions. For us, discovering a mystery is as fun as solving one. Visually speaking, the first experience resembles an exclamation point, a quick and straight cut through the files to where the spot marks the x, like many an algebra equation, begs a solution; the second is a gentler promenade along the sinewy curves of the question mark, where the final point opens an inquiry more than it closes a claim. As Theodore Adorno writes of both marks, “An exclamation point looks like an index finger raised in warning; a question mark looks like a flashing light or the blink of an eye.” Habitués of the Harry Ransom Center would do well to discern which punctuation mark they best resemble. [Read more…] about Researching microbiography in Tennessee Williams’s artwork
What can a pink silk ribbon with a beadwork message JE M’ELOIGNE SANS ME’EN SEPARER (translated, “I’m going away but not leaving you”) tell us about young people’s relationships in eighteenth-century French history? As an historian, I constantly ask questions like this: looking for neglected artifacts or fragmentary texts in special collections to think about the stories they might tell. [Read more…] about ‘It looks like a garter to me’: Students, slow research, and the long history of young couples’ intimacy
Researching the life of a novel means uncovering the traces of how it was written—not only the edits, corrections, and additions made to a manuscript, but also the conversations in letters or in diaries that show how these decisions were made. Finding and bringing together these traces reveal what cannot be known when reading the published novel alone. By teasing out these connections, the researcher can be in dialogue with the novel itself in new ways. [Read more…] about Jean Malaquais and the life of a novel
Research is part of the history of Hollywood’s Golden age. Eighty years ago, in the heyday of the studio system, little libraries on studio lots employed a handful of people who collaborated with writers, directors, producers, and designers to dig up the details that made the movies look and sound authentic. Studio researchers made sure that audiences were focused on the story, not the modern look of a movie set in the nineteenth century. [Read more…] about The women who made Selznick’s screenplays
“Just use this time to rest,” the doctor advised me as though he was delivering good news.
Rest as a concept did not exist in my worldview. While melancholy and illness doubtlessly pranced rampantly through Appalachian Georgia’s red-clay hills where I grew up, lack defined life. Extended periods of rest without productivity were far removed from a life of dirt-under-the-fingernails. I was taught that no impairment should excuse a body from working. The catastrophically ill for whom work was no realistic option were largely reduced to taxidermy animals: lifelike, immobile, and widely understood to be expensive, useless, and resented. Most I knew spent their days inside, measuring their days in television static and soft chimes that rustle the collecting dust on a mantle clock. I later came to question these representations: as part of the problem. [Read more…] about TIME TO REST: Rethinking disability and research