Sunday, July 26, 2009

Musings from the Road

In the finest tradition of modern historians, I am currently on the road, researching my dissertation at various archives around the country. So far I have been to the New York Historical Society, Princeton University, the Library of Congress, the University of Virginia, and tomorrow the University of North Carolina. The remainder of the trip will be taking me to the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library in Harrogate, Tennessee, the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky, the Indiana Historical Society, the University of Rochester and then back to Princeton to finish up what I was doing when I passed through there earlier.

New York City was, as always, tremendously exciting and fun. I was staying at the Travel Inn Hotel on 10th and 42nd streets in Midtown Manhattan, which is about two blocks from broadway and the theatre district. The walk up to the historical society was a few miles, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. It's always great to see all the people going about their business in Manhattan. So many people from so many places doing so many things. It boggles the mind to consider all of the myriad activities of such a host, but that power to boggle the mind is one of the things I love about New York City. I saw the revival of Schiller's Mart Stuart while I was there. It was an interesting production. Only Mary and Elizabeth were in period costume, while the rest of the characters were in business clothing. Elizabeth, played wonderfully by Harriet Walter, stole the show with a delightful performance. I must say, my only substantial objection (I would have prefered everyone in period dress, but oh well) was that Elizabeth's evasions of responsibility were played up for laughs instead of the deadly serious dodges of reality and responsibility (with deadly consequences for much more than just the poor Queen of Scots) that Schiller intended them to be. The sense of a tragedy was compromised, and while this is my only real objection to the production, it is a serious one.

Princeton is a beautiful town, and the University is gorgeous. The procedures to get into the manuscript room are a bit tedious and the photography policy is downright silly. But, all of that aside, I enjoyed working there a great deal. Unfortunately it was at this point of the trip that my computer really began melting down. The monitor began fading in and out and doing all sorts of weird stuff. It had been doing this sporadically for a little while, but a moderate amount of jiggling and playing around usually got it to stop after a minute or two. But now it was becoming endless. But I was leaving for Washington and hoping that it would stop.

The Library of Congress is a wonderful place to work. Surprisingly laid back once you get through all of the security, the archivists are very helpful and you can photograph to your heart's content. I did not achieve all I wanted to while there, but I expect to be back over the Christmas break to finish up. Tragically, the computer died for good and I had to purchase another one. Also tragically, my metro pass got demagnetized, forcing me to purchase another, and I also overspent on the commuter train!!

Western Virginia is some of the prettiest country in the United States. I finally saw James Monroe's house, Highland. It was quite small, particularly compared with the large mansions of James Madison at Montpelier and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello (not to mention George Washington's Mount Vernon) but it was still very nice. Curiously, the only bust in the whole place that I saw was a large one of Napoleon Bonaparte. Monroe was perhaps the most radical supporter of the French Revolution among the founders (certainly among any of those who made it to the Presidency), and his daugther was good friends with the children of Josephine (Napoleon's first wife), Hortence and Eugene. The University of Virginia is amazing and Charlottesville is a very pretty little city. I enjoyed working in the Special Collections Library very much and found lots of interesting letters and pamphlets there.

North Carolina is hot. I can't say much more about it, the archives are closed on the weekend and I'm staying about 70 miles from Chapel Hill. I'll be there all day tomorrow researching and hopefully getting through all the things I need to get through. On Tuesday I'm off for the Cumberland Gap!

The trip has been lots of fun and very expensive. I traveled with my roommate Emily for the first leg of it to DC, she's studying the Holocaust in French North Africa, and that was wonderful. She's one of my all time favorite people. Then I stayed with my colleague Hannah and her parents in Staunton, VA, which was great. I've stayed with them before and we always have a good time. Now I'm alone until I meet up with my glorious benefactors in Indiana and proceed back to Las Vegas in the longest possible imaginable route. I will update again from the road and perhaps share some of my thoughts on our illustrious leader's attempts at attaining his ends.