A little while back I received a letter from a friend who wrote, “I haven’t heard you mention how your classes are going.” Oh yeah! Classes! Sometimes being in London is so exciting that one forgets one is taking classes, although I have only actually forgotten to go to a class once. Which is not a bad record.
My department is a curious hybrid of literature and history which resides in the English department, for the purpose of making their research score higher, but which takes in students of history, journalism, art, and science. It’s called, seemingly as a non-sequitur, the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters. Basically the idea is to sift through the archives of 15/16/1700s England, piecing together the lives and letters of all sorts of people from the period, from Queen Elizabeth to libelous printers.
Our guiding spirit is a cheery, bubbly, cowboy-boot- and lit-up-Christmas-tree-pin-wearing woman named Lisa Jardine.
Lisa (we all go by first names) is head of the department and one of exactly three faculty members. (There are ten students pursuing a master’s degree and about a dozen PhD students.) I’d post photos of the other two teachers (Robyn Adams and Matthew Symonds), but the pictures I took of them are really quite silly and my final projects haven’t been graded yet…!
So what exactly do we learn in our classes? One course, which has just finished, introduced handy IT tips for researchers, starting with Zotero, working through all the online databases (for instance, something like 85% of everything published in the 1700s is available on Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and there is a totally awesome website called Old London Maps), and concluding with a brief, terrifying overview of Microsoft Access. Another course is a broad survey of all the changes going on in the early modern world in art, literature, science, religion.
Then there’s a weekly Latin class. Latin was still the major language for intellectual work and diplomatic communication in most of the period, and as our teacher points out, it’s a great language to learn because you never have to speak it. I’ve had a whole semester without learning to ask where the bathroom is. Shoulda taken this at Rice!
Finally, our Friday class is in two parts: the morning course is ‘textual scholarship,’ taking in such topics as the history of books, paper and printing; how to transcribe old documents; how to work in archives; and, most fun of all, how to read really old handwriting.
It’s a bit like a crossword puzzle, or a cryptoquote. For instance, once I tell you that the second paragraph starts with “Thomas Bannister,” you know what an ‘h’ looks like and all those words that look like “fro” are actually “the.” And so on. Give it a shot!
Friday afternoon is trip time. Each week we go somewhere new, like the Victoria and Albert Museum…
…the National Archives…
…and St Paul’s Cathedral. This picture is so beautiful I won’t be able to write anything afterwards, so savor it. And talk to you soon!