Research beyond borders

Annotated almanacs in the Huntington Library

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Cacti Gardens at the Huntingdon. Courtesy of Catherine Evans

Cacti Gardens at the Huntingdon. Courtesy of Catherine Evans

In this latest International Placement Scheme (IPS) Blog, Catherine Evans, an IPS Fellow, talks “Annonated Almanacs”.

I didn’t start a PhD to see the world. However, I must have had Dr. Seuss floating around my head when I heard about the AHRC International Placement Scheme: “the more you read the more you will know, the more that you learn the more places you’ll go”. A call to always scour departmental emails perhaps? Whatever it is, I’m glad that Seuss spurred me to apply for the IPS scheme. I was lucky enough to be awarded a four-month fellowship at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The Huntington is one of the largest research libraries in North America, specialising particularly in the English Renaissance. With collections of over 420,000 rare books, and 7 million manuscripts, I assumed that this would be a daunting and challenging place to work. However, the last four months I have spent working at the Huntington have shown me that the most imposing of institutions can also be extremely welcoming.

I began my PhD around a year ago, moving to the University of Sheffield to study with Emma Rhatigan and Marcus Nevitt. My thesis examines the sensory experience of time in early religious literature from 1530-1660. Critics have often asserted that the early modern period was characterised by a drastic change in the perception of time, moving from a cyclical understanding of the calendar marked by religious festivals to a linear, proto-capitalist progression. My project seeks to nuance this construction, considering how early modern authors and divines engaged the senses in their approach to temporally inflected religious problems, such as predestination and the conditions of bodily resurrection.

Chinese gardens at the Huntington . Courtesy of Catherine Evans

Chinese gardens at the Huntington . Courtesy of Catherine Evans

Whilst at the Huntington, I have taken a break from looking at early modern psalm translations and sermons to undertake a focused survey of the library’s holdings of annotated almanacs. This was the first piece of focused archival research I have carried out, so I was somewhat apprehensive about how best to start. However, the curators at the library were incredibly helpful and giving of their time. They talked me through the various finding aids, and even ran searches using a staff only online catalogue to help me identify all the almanacs with annotations within the collection. I’d be expecting to find evidence within the almanacs of how people organised their time, assuming that this form would lend itself to creating a more ordered, linear view of the progression of time. However, in the process of my research I found that almanacs paradoxically offered a space in which to pleat the fabric of time, with annotators often writing against the books’ projected uses.

Page from T. Hill 1571 almanac, with zodiacal man. Courtesy of Catherine Evans

Page from T. Hill 1571 almanac, with zodiacal man. Courtesy of Catherine Evans

Although the collections were extremely engrossing, the excitement of LA and beauty of California were too great to resist, and I’m happy that I made the most of my time in the area to explore further. Weekend trips to San Diego, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas with other fellows were a highlight, as well as visiting Yosemite and exploring the beaches of Orange County. Although LA can be a tricky city to navigate, being here for such an extended period of time meant that it was easy to get to know different neighbourhoods. Although the Huntington is based in San Marino, the majority of fellows live in Alhambra or Pasadena, only a few miles away from Echo Park (the Peckham of LA, according to a man met in an arcade game bar) and Highland Park, home to Donut Friend, which became a weekly fixture! LA is also overflowing with museums and galleries, ranging from monumental LACMA to the tiny yet moving Museum of Broken Relationships.

The IPS fellows were warmly welcomed into the research community at the library, with Steve Hindle and Catherine Wehrey-Miller both working hard to include us in events and help us make the most of our trips. Whilst I was in residence, I was able to attend two fantastic, wide-ranging conferences: Ben Jonson 1616-2016, and Early Modern Literary Geographies. There was also a busy programme of Brown Bag talks, monthly seminars by the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute, and public lectures. These were a great opportunity to expand my academic horizons. It’s easy to become very insular whilst working on a thesis, but meeting other academics and grad student working on topics from LA bibliographic history to the pre-history of photography, and discussing their work made me more aware of the connections that can exist between the most unlikely sounding subjects.

8 of the AHRC fellows with Steve Hindle, Director of Research at the Huntington . Courtesy of Martha Benedict

8 of the AHRC fellows with Steve Hindle, Director of Research at the Huntington . Courtesy of Martha Benedict

Although the archival work I did at the Huntington was fascinating, and will form a cornerstone of my thesis, making personal connections and becoming a part of such a vibrant and stimulating community of scholars was also extremely beneficial. Un-official readers’ happy hour gave an opportunity to sample all the bars of Pasadena and Tuesday tea breaks created an occasion to chat shop over cookies and coffee. Other fellows and visitors to the library were extremely generous with their time, making suggestions of different avenues to explore, books to read, and people to contact. Presenting my work at one of the lunch time talks was a daunting but worthwhile experience, as I was able get feedback from scholars with a wealth of knowledge about early modern religious practice.

Leaving the UK shortly after the referendum results, and being in the US for the Presidential election added a bittersweet edge to the placement. I am extremely privileged to be able to travel so freely with my work: the combination of a British passport, an inoffensive research project, and an eminent host organisation easing my way. It feels as though these opportunities, to connect with people from all over the world and help form new, if transient, communities will be increasingly rare both within academia and in all walks of life. I had some extremely heartening discussions, with academics from all over the world, who shared how their own careers and lives have been shaped by taking part in international fellowships. I can only hope that I will be able to heed their advice, and always remember the importance of reaching out to visitors and creating supportive communities wherever I go in my future career.

For me, this fellowship will surely rank as one of the highlights of my doctoral experience. Living in a beautiful pool house on a road where wild peacocks roam, cycling in the sun each morning to work in a wood-panelled library surrounded by 120 acres of immaculately manicured gardens, discounted coffee and tacos on site… All this made a welcome change from the normal PhD life of running between library and seminars in the rain, clutching a carrier bag full of books to your chest to ward off evil spirits. Most importantly, I was able to extend my academic horizons and produce some new research using little studied material. Oh, and get a fabulous tan.

 

Lake Tioga. Yosemite. Courtesy of Catherine Evans

Lake Tioga. Yosemite. Courtesy of Catherine Evans

This year’s round of the International Placement Scheme (IPS) is now open for applications. Please see the AHRC website for more information (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/opportunities/current/international-placement-scheme-2017/)

The IPS scheme is an annual programme providing Research Fellowships to AHRC/ESRC-funded doctoral students, early career researchers and doctoral-level research assistants.  The IPS scheme offers dedicated access to the internationally renowned collections/ programmes/ expertise held at seven world-leading, international institutions:

Harry Ransom Center (HRC), The University of Texas at Austin, USA

The Huntington Library, California, USA

The Library of Congress (LoC), Washington DC, USA

National Institutes for the Humanities (NIHU), Japan

Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA), Shanghai, China

Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., USA

The Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), Connecticut, USA

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