Collective memory? No. Myth and memory? Nup. It’s all about me- it’s the historian’s memory- or lack thereof.
I’ve been writing away for the past couple of weeks on a little topic in my thesis that has me all excited and flustered. I’m not going to go into specifics- not that I want to keep it from you, of course, but I must be a little circumspect and besides, who will buy “Judge Willis the Soap Opera” if I divulge all here? But I’ve been quietly rubbing my hands in glee, anticipating interest from well, all of about twenty people in a particular thing I’ve found. It was, as my earlier supervisor John Hirst would have said “a knock-down argument”.
Except that I found it. And lost it. And now I can’t find it again.
It’s a letter that I’m looking for. I thought that I remembered seeing it typed up amongst a collection of other letters. I think I can remember a rush of excitement seeing it- AH HA! There it IS- in writing! And can I find it now?? No…
I’m rather obsessive about my record keeping. I could pretend that it’s because I’m a methodical person, but the truth of the matter is that, commencing this thesis at a relatively advanced age, I’m frightened that my memory is going to go before I get it written. I know that I sound like a hypochondriac, but perhaps you should consider my mother’s strong family history (five of seven siblings) who have suffered neurological illnesses of one type or another. I’m watching my mother’s brain slowly turn to cement, and I’m losing the Mum I love bit by bit. So my fears are not completely groundless.
So, I turn to technology. In my research mainly I’ve been working on letters, dispatches and newspaper articles. I have an Access database that lists them chronologically by writer, recipient, topic, location 1, location 2 (because many of these letters are found it several locations). There are literally thousands of them – 1444 the last time I looked.
Books and journals go into Endnote.
I’m a fairly quick touch typist (faster than I could write by hand) so it’s no hardship to type up documents and I code them in NVivo. N Vivo is intended as a qualitative research software program, but you can use it to code the themes in any sort of document or artifact. I use it at a fairly basic level for data recovery only. When you want to find all the material you have coded on a particular theme, it collates it into one document. When I type up notes on a book or journal, it goes into NVivo as well. Of course, this is the weak spot- if I don’t code the document, then I won’t find it in NVivo. But I usually print out a hard copy and tick off on the top once I’ve put it into Access (if applicable), Endnote and N Vivo.
So how have I lost this letter? I just don’t know. I have a fairly vivid dream life- did I just DREAM that I read it? I can’t work out why I didn’t make a note of it somewhere; why I just put it back into its plastic sleeve. And yet I have my chapter plan written a couple of weeks ago where I can see that I thought then that I had read it. I must have read it in-between entries on my other ‘secret’ blog that I write about my thesis-writing because I don’t mention it there. I’ve found one small reference, and another letter that perhaps I had misinterpreted. Did I just misread it? Did I conflate the two? I’m distrusting myself, and that’s not a good thing.
For those of you writing history, how do you keep a track of everything you have?