Joy in the archives

My archive trip was great fun and, as is often the case, productive in ways that I was not anticipating. I was looking for material relating to two different patrons: Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, and Felice Orsini Colonna. I didn’t find so much on the cardinal—I think there are probably better places to look—but I came away with some wonderful material pertaining to Felice. So, that’s all good. In addition, I read several letters from sixteenth-century musicians. The letters were catalogued in the inventory, so not really a discovery, but I don’t think anyone has published on them yet. Anyway, I have plenty of work to do, and I am already working out when I can return.

In a previous blogpost, I wondered how Felice Orsini Colonna had learned to run a household and to perform her identity as a Roman noblewoman. Not long after that post, I heard from a fellow scholar that Cardinal Sforza had entrusted Felice to the care of Giovanna d’Aragona—Felice’s future mother-in-law. So, in my recent visit to the archives, I decided to look for useful tidbits of information in the daily letters Felice wrote to her mother-in-law when they lived in separate cities. They had shared interests, and I imagined their letters must have been full of information about this or that writer, or musician. In fact, the letters I read (not all of them; I couldn’t see everything I wanted to see in a fortnight) were entirely taken up with relating the health of Felice’s children, and asking after her mother-in-law’s own health. Of course, this could have been in part down to their correspondence not being private (thanks, Valeria De Lucca!), as much as it could be related to the relationship between the women, or between grandmother and grandchildren, and to the very real and understandable concerns over health given the standard of medical care (not to mention the cultural importance given to male heirs).

I did eventually find the kind of information I sought, but in a different place: in Felice’s letters to Cesare Gallo, her husband’s secretary. In those letters, she thanks Gallo for sonnets that he sent her; she sometimes mentions artists, and on one occasion a musician. I didn’t get through all of this correspondence either, but I made a good start.

The other reason this trip was so joyful was that I brought my daughter and my mother with me. Introducing my daughter to real Italian food and gelato was a pleasure. Some researchers who are parents are able to travel for weeks without their young family. I could not bring myself to do it, even though I knew our daughter would thrive with her dad, as he’s more than capable, and I knew that I really wanted—needed, even—to do this work. I couldn’t have done any of that work without my mother coming to provide childcare, and I’m very grateful for that. So, thank you, Mum, for your labour, and thanks to my daughter for being a fun travelling companion.

Thanks, also, to other parents for blogging about how to fly with a car seat. In case it helps someone else: I used bungee cords to attach the FAA/TÜV-approved car seat to a lightweight, collapsible hand trolley. I packed our clothes into one large suitcase with good wheels, and had our carry-on items in a small rucksack. When my daughter was too tired to walk during the travel, I wore her in a buckle carrier. It was manageable. More than that, it was liberating, even, to find that I could balance work and family that worked for us.

The staff of the archive were enormously helpful, informative, and welcoming. I am so glad to have met them.

Now I’m back home, and the new semester is starting in two weeks. I have a lot of material to sift through in my research time, and I’ve plenty of writing to do. It’s good to have found my archive feet again.

Nifty Tool for Setting Writing Targets & Strategy

This past week, I discovered an online ‘flexible planning tool for writers & students’: Pacemaker. I’ve created a plan that (if I stick to it) should mean I can finish a draft of a monograph chapter by the end of August while still taking a couple of weeks of holiday. I took the basic ‘Rising to the Challenge’ strategy and then tweaked it to suit the time I have available (not as much as I’d like, given the quality of work I’d like to produce). I’m only a few days in, and I’ve found it really motivating so far. I’m exceeding my writing targets (I do expect to slow down, alas), and I’ve discovered that I know more than I thought I did about the topic and this relatively new material. So, that’s a nice confidence boost.

I’m also preparing to head in to the archives next week and I’m feeling a bit nervous. My spoken language skills feel very rusty. I know they will return given a little time. The staff of this particular library are among the friendliest, most helpful people I’ve ever met, so it will all be OK. If I was better prepared for the practical side of things (it’s a long time since I’ve experienced temperatures above 22C, let alone above 30C), I’d probably be less nervous. I do have positive feelings about this trip too. I’m excited. It turns out that I really, really enjoy sitting in a quiet library to read and figure out other people’s account books and letters.