Monday, 25 July 2011

Nothing changes, or if it does it's for the worse ...

Two recent research trips worthy of comment.

Firstly, a trip to The National Archives a week or so back was at the behest of a client who asked me to check several reports in the (paper) National Register of Archives. I must confess to more than the usual professional interest here because I used to work at the Historical Manuscripts Commission, which, in more civilized times, used to maintain the Register at Quality Court in Chancery Lane. It grieved me to find that the NRA is now stuck away in a corner of TNA, unmanned and apparently unloved; a real loss this as the 40,000 plus reports are full of information of use to the researcher, much of which will never make it online. The Register deserves to be better known - and better treated by TNA.

Secondly, I was at the British Library last week, checking some references to the nineteenth-century printing trade in the personal papers of the political reformer Francis Place. Add MS 27,798 is a volume of Place's memoirs in which he dwells at length on his involvement in the political campaign to secure the repeal of the laws designed to prevent workmen combining to form unions. Having followed with some interest recent events involving the Australian-born American owner of The Times newspaper, I needed to suppress a laugh that would have disturbed the repose of the reading room when I came across the following choice extract that refers to a strike in 1810 by the printers who produced the paper:

'The Times newspaper was then as now [Place was writing his memoirs in 1829] in the hands of men as utterly dishonest as men can be, of men whose avowed purpose, is, to procure money in large sums by every means which may in their opinion be effectually used for that purpose.'

1810, 1829, 2011 ... And 50, 100, 200 years from now as well, no doubt, the same situation will obtain ...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections

A recent research trip to the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections at the British Library proved interesting. My client needed various sources checking for references to a particular individual and his extensive family, a wife and some 14 children in total! Curious to think that despite all of those names, and a great deal of diagnostic information with which to orient enquiries, I located just two references to the family. A disappointing result, of course, but also a useful illustration of the considerable lacunae which, as is well-known, exists in the documentary record detailing the history of the British in India.