Archive | May 2012

We know where we’re going, but we don’t know where we’ve been

The War of Devolution is well under way. It looks like the Canadian government has been significantly reducing its efforts to acquire, catalog and preserve its documentary past, and the 2012 budget forces the knife even deeper. Recent measures taken/proposed by the Library and Archives Canada include: significant staff cuts (including cataloguers, archivists and digitization staff), reading room/library closures, abandonment of its policy of acquiring copies of all newly published Canadian works, and cutting back on its acquisition of documents, which is leading to the dispersion of its documentary heritage to public and private buyers, Canadian and non-Canadian. One other rarely-appreciated but critical archival task is also being severely curtailed: the number of fields in catalog records are to be halved, with the provenance field (i.e. details on where each document comes from, i.e. the “history” of the historical document) being eliminated altogether! Future budgets project that by 2014 funding levels will be 58% of where they were in 1990 (adjusted for inflation).

Details at A recent summary here.

Technically not “European” (in my preferred narrow definition), but certainly of importance for anyone doing early colonial history in North America, and anyone who cares about researching history in general.

Recent book on EMEnglishMH

Missed this when it first came out a few months back:

Carlton, Charles. This Seat of Mars: War and the British Isles, 1485-1746. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

You probably know of Carlton’s previous works, particularly his Going to the Wars, a social history of war during the British Civil Wars (or whatever they’re calling them these days). He also authored Royal Warriors: A Military History of the British Monarchy in 2003.

There’s a good review of his latest work by Ian Atherton at

New article on recruitment in Elizabethan England

Younger, Neil. “The Practice and Politics of Troop-Raising: Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex, and the Elizabethan Regime.” English Historical Review 127 (2012): 566-591.

The Oxford website doesn’t have an abstract, but here’s the first page to give you a flavor:

“BY the mid-1590s, Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, had emerged as the leading military figure in England’s war with Spain—a war entering its second decade with no end in sight. After beginning his military career under his stepfather Robert, earl of Leicester, in the Netherlands in 1585–6 and participating in the ‘Portugal voyage’ of 1589, he rapidly advanced to more senior positions. First given command of an army in Normandy in 1591–2, he led major amphibious naval attacks on Spanish territory in 1596 and 1597, and was ultimately given command of the unprecedentedly large English army sent to repress rebellion in Ireland in 1599.1

Unlike most of Elizabeth’s ministers, especially during the latter part of her reign, Essex was a genuine military enthusiast. He was interested in the science and practice of warfare, enjoyed both campaigning and the company of soldiers, and was increasingly recognised as the nation’s leading patron of soldiers.2 He also believed that aggressive prosecution of the war was in England’s interests, and that it might lead not merely to a settlement which would safeguard England’s security, but even to the ‘utter ruine’ of the tyrannical Spanish enemy.3 Thus, although Essex’s military exploits were expressions of service to the Queen and the country, Essex also had deep personal interests in them: they advanced his vision of the war, furthered his career and supplied the means to develop and sustain his personal clientele.

Essex’s ambitions, then, rested to no small degree on his military successes. Yet, in order to pursue them, he needed resources, and here he was dependent on the military supply systems put in place long before his emergence as a leading political figure. Despite the almost twenty years’ duration of the wars with Spain (1585–1604), England never established a standing…”


So what did you do in May?

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A coded letter awaiting deciphering? No, the volumes I managed to look at while at the British Library. I spent a few days at both the Bodleian (Oxford) and several Cambridge libraries, but most of my month was spent at the British Library. For those who’ve never been and might go, or who, like me, were only familiar with the old Manuscripts reading room when it was in the British Museum, I’ll let you check out their website for the basics. But here are a few tidbits on BL research mechanics that were reinforced for me over my 2.5 weeks there in the Manuscripts room. I always like to know as much in advance as possible, and so here’s what I wish I’d known on day 1, hour 1: Read More…


Early Modern Online Bibliography has had a few recent posts discussing new avenues in Digital Humanities. Things like annotating old maps and textual analysis. Check it out.

Keep digitizing those sources! Therein lies the bottleneck.

How do you take notes in the archives?

Report from the front line.

Over the past 1.5 weeks here at the BL I’ve surreptitiously spied on my fellow archive rats to see how they take notes. No surprise that most use a laptop, though of course there are still several old-schoolers using pencil and paper (haven’t seen any 3×5 notecards, oddly enough). And one guy that keeps shining a bright light through the paper, looking for who knows what. [The BL doesn’t allow any photography – the bastards.]

The vast majority of those using laptops are using some type of word processor software. Only a few, including myself, use some kind of database program – the only one I could identify was Evernote.

I did just notice an interesting variation, however: someone using an iPad for notetaking. I brought one for the trip, but haven’t been bringing it to the archives because of my tiny portfolio case [note to self: bring a bigger bookbag]. I was particularly intrigued, however, by *how* he used his detachable wireless keyboard. I have one for the iPad but chose not to take it on the trip, for space reasons and because my laptop has an even better keyboard. But this means that I have two objects with large footprints that I have to fit within 1-2 feet of the edge of the desk (to reach the keyboard and to easily read the ms). Thus both the book stand and keyboard are angled at a 120 degree (or so) angle to each other. This means having your body facing the laptop and craning your neck off to the side to read the book. As it is, after transcribing for several hours my back/neck/shoulders get sore and I need to switch the laptop from one side to another (and the angle of the chair as well). Ironically, I had thought I’d have more soreness in the first part of the trip from bending over mss to photograph them. Ah, the occupational hazards of the life of the mind.

What I didn’t appreciate (and he has) is that with a small, portable, detachable keyboard you decrease the footprint by separating the keyboard from the screen (i.e. iPad), which means you can put the small, ‘short’ keyboard right in front of the book stand, have the screen off to one side, sit straight, and have the book lined up with the keyboard and close enough to see easily, just a foot or so away [Did I mention the BL Mss room has horrible lighting, and most of the mss handwriting is tiny? And I probably need bifocals?] This would seem to provide a much better sitting posture since your shoulders and head/neck are in proper alignment. Plus, it encourages you to stop looking at the screen, which makes for faster touch typing (even if there may be a few more typos).

Of course one other way to mitigate this would be to not transcribe so many sources, but personally I find it more time consuming (or at least mentally taxing) to read through a source and then paraphrase/summarize it than just transcribe it. And transcription provides you with the ability to refer back to their exact language in a way that summarizing doesn’t. Of course it also helps to use various abbreviations (qq for quelque is one of my faves since my fingers always trip up on that word for some reason, and don’t even get me started on aujourd’hui), maybe even use AutoCorrect for common ones.


Nerds can be so cruel

Graffiti found in the men’s room, 2nd floor of the British Library:

“Malcolm Quinn is a saucy ruffian with a screw loose and no prospects.”

Malcolm, you’ve been served.