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“Happy Hunting!”: Adventures of an AHRC IPS Fellow at the Huntington Library

In this guest blog, Natalie Cox, doctoral candidate at Warwick University reflects on her recent AHRC International Placement Scheme Fellowship at The Huntington Library, California. 

 

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With the Californian sun blazing down, I was welcomed through the wrought iron entrance gates by the gold letters declaring “The Huntington Library” and led down a grand driveway by a lush procession of palm trees and an array of flowering plants. What a beautiful start to my first day as an AHRC International Placement Scheme (IPS) Research Fellow, and one I was to enjoy everyday between January and April this year. How did I get here? Well, I was the recipient of a three-month AHRC-funded IPS fellowship at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. My project was to ‘travel through text’ with famed explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and see how he read textual sources in his personal library, which is held at the Huntington.

 

photo%202Based at the Munger Research Centre, the reading rooms quickly became familiar and friendly spaces. I joined a lively research community and was encouraged to make trans-Atlantic connections, mixing with prestigious researchers at the Library’s weekly coffee afternoons, working group lunches and evening socials. The Huntington has a strong core of PhD students from local universities who gave helpful advice on researching and living in CA (the burning issue being the best place to get ice cream!). I developed a strong working relationship with Rare Books Curator, Alan Jutzi, as he took an enthusiastic interest in my project and was always available to answer my queries, even seeking my opinion on newly catalogued items. The greatest privilege of working at the Huntington was being surrounded by 120 acres of the most beautiful botanical gardens. The scenery was spectacular. My working days were enlightened by sun soaked lunches and creativities were sparked by walking through the glorious landscapes – my favourite place to wander was the lily ponds.

My home office

My home office

 

I lived close to the Library in a house with a pool in Northern Pasadena that I shared with two professional actors, two cats and a dog. It had great transport links and, with new friends from Library, I was able to experience the diverse and entertaining culture of California. I found myself in the audience for late night talk shows, attended my first baseball game, visited many museums and escaped to the beach. Going further afield, I took a whirlwind trip to Vegas and drove the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to San Francisco.

 

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Zuma Beach, Malibu

Being at the Huntington was a wonderful experience that was so much more than three months of reading in the CA sunshine. It has added a great wealth of knowledge to my PhD by providing a unique case study using materials I could not access anywhere else. I hold a Collaborative Doctoral Award with Warwick University and the Royal Geographical Society and undertaking this Fellowship has enabled me to enhance this collaboration through forging an international network of colleagues and friends. My conversations with the Curator have continued since my return to the UK and there is definitely scope to build a larger project from this research beyond my PhD.

 

 

The Paris Hotel, Las Vegas

The Paris Hotel, Las Vegas

Dodgers Stadium, LA

Dodgers Stadium, LA

Discover more about my CA adventure: textualtraveller.wordpress.com. Tweeting @nataliercox

Natalie Cox, University of Warwick

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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Notes from the Huntington Library, California

headshotJoan Redmond is a History PhD student from Dublin, studying seventeenth-century Irish history at University of Cambridge. From July to October 2013, Joan was researching at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, as part of the AHRC International Placement Scheme.

While I was packing up my College room and getting ready for a four month research trip to California, the question I was asked most often was, ‘Why are you going to California for research?!’. Yes, Los Angeles may seem like an odd destination for a student of seventeenth century Ireland and its religious changes, but I was bound for the Huntington Library, a semi-hidden treasure of rare books and manuscripts, located in the rarefied surroundings of San Marino, a prosperous city just north of LA in the San Gabriel Valley.

My research focuses on the period 1641-1660 in Ireland. It was a time of great rebellion, religious division and civil war across Ireland, England and Scotland. Pretty exciting stuff for a historian, right? And from July, I was bringing my warring Irish subjects to southern California, and to the Huntington.

Japanese_GardenThe Huntington actually consists not just of the library, but of an extensive art collection and acres of beautiful, themed gardens: thus there is the famous Japanese Garden, the strange and creepy Desert Garden, and the multitudinous varieties of roses in the Rose Garden (my particular favourites being the Anne Boleyn, Dolly Parton, and of course the St Patrick roses). The Huntington provides a unique environment for scholars, ranging from the compulsory 11.45-1pm lunch break, to free coffee and biscuits on Tuesday afternoons.

Huntington_LibraryThe Huntington was founded when railway tycoon Henry E. Huntington decided to build a winter house for himself and his wife Arabella in sunny California; after their deaths, the house and gardens were left in trust, as well as the extensive rare book and manuscript collections that Henry had gathered across his lifetime, and Arabella’s art collection. Together, these form the academic paradise that is the Huntington, one visited by thousands of tourists every year, but also catering for several hundred Readers, there to consult the scholarly materials, and top up their Vitamin D.

1641_rebellionThe major collection for my work was the Hastings Irish Papers, a vast collection spanning from the late sixteenth into the eighteenth century. These papers are a treasure trove of information about seventeenth-century Ireland, with glimpses into everyday life and high politics. Personal highlights included a disputed marriage case involving a recently widowed, conveniently wealthy woman, in which one of the chief witnesses was a little boy ‘hiding in the chimney-piece’; what happened subsequently we unfortunately do not know, as a response to the letter describing this case does not survive.

Grand_CanyonMy four months at the Huntington also provided ample opportunity to experience American life, and to partake of that great US tradition, the roadtrip. I attended two baseball games, one on each coast, and now have my loyalties divided between the LA Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. Los Angeles and southern California is also home to a huge diversity of cuisines, with Mexican and all varieties of Asian being especially well represented; I consider it a particular achievement that I did not come home about 10 stones heavier! I saw the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite, and San Francisco, all fantastic in their own way, and each contributing to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Dodger_StadiumDespite the impression of non-stop fun and holidays, I can assure you (and my supervisor!) that there was also work done: the documents I found and the information gathered have provided some critical context for my PhD. I am very grateful to the AHRC for the opportunity to go to the Huntington, and to everyone who looked after me while I was there. It has been an incredible experience on many different fronts, and one I will genuinely never forget.

The AHRC’s annual International Placement Scheme (IPS) provides funded research fellowships of up to 6 months at world-leading international research institutions such as The Huntington Library, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. Applications for IPS fellowships are invited until 15th January 2014.

Talk to current IPS fellows and AHRC staff in a Twitter chat from 2-3pm on Wed 11th December @ahrcpress, #AHRCchat.