Saturday, November 21, 2009

Follow Up Thoughts to Previous Blog on "Journey Isn't Half The Fun Anymore"

On October 21st, I posted a blog entitled, "Journey Isn't Half The Fun Anymore," bemoaning the increasingly accessibly and searchable Internet archive as a device that will change the way historians conduct research in a negative faction. I asked, "Does this Internet juggernaut pound researchers with so much narrowly defined information that the jewels hidden in unrelated documents fall by the wayside?"

Now, having spent the last month researching a variety of projects in the archives at Western, I have had two reactions to my assertions about the future of research.

My first reaction was: working in archives is not fun. The limited hours (10:00 to 4:30 Monday to Friday) are difficult to deal with, especially because many of my classes fall within that time frame. If everything I needed to examine was on the Internet, I would be able to access it at any time, without having to stay on campus and pack myself sandwiches for long research days. Additionally, I longed for the searchability that computers offer. Being able to make a computer find my key words would have greatly facilitated my work, instead of scanning through rolls of microfilm hoping that a certain last name jumps out at me. Essentially, I was convinced that my idealistic dribble about the journey being useful in archival research was completely ridiculous.

This week, I had two wonderful experiences that have caused me to retain my previous position. I am currently researching two separate projects that fall in generally the same time frame in London (a heritage house from the nineteenth century and farm manufacturing companies during the nineteenth century). While looking through assessment rolls for the name the occupant of my heritage house, I saw Elijah Leonard, living on Talbot Street. Elijah Leonard is the owner of a major farm implement manufacturing company I had been researching for my other project! I was not looking for Mr. Leonard at all, but low and behold, there he was. The next day, I was going through old city directories for advertisements about manufacturing companies, and there was David Bruce, owner of a manufacturing company. David Bruce happens to be the first owner of my heritage house!

So, researching two separate projects and stumbling across these relationships between the two (both of which proved useful) was pretty amazing. You get that excited feeling in your stomach! Perhaps I wouldn't have found those relationships if I had been using keyword searches in a computer.

Perhaps the journey isn't always fun, but when it is fun, the rewards are amazing.

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