A History Nerd Haven

Yesterday was my first day researching at the National Archives for my thesis.  It was such an experience.  I’m a little at a loss for words.  I trained people on how to do archival research.  I did it every day and really loved it.  I’d never been to the National Archives before, but really, how hard could it be?  Wrong.  Dead wrong.

That building is so big.  It’s gorgeous, totally what you need when you need when you’re doing research.  The building itself is so old, so it’s chunked up into lots of separate rooms.  That made it hard to find my way around, which wasn’t a big deal except there’s super security at the entrance of almost all the rooms.  You also aren’t allowed to take pretty much anything in either:  a computer (as long as it’s screened and registered), loose leaf paper (as long as it’s approved and stamped), and a pencil.  Trying to juggle it all while finding my way and managing security made me a little awestruck.

I also realized I have no idea what I’m doing!  I talked tons with the Legislative Archivist and his two interns.  They helped me tons and got me pointed in the right direction.  I only thought I had an idea about what I wanted to research.  I was probably two steps below ever touching primary documents when I showed up.  Welcome to the big leagues…  I have so much to do.

But I got my researchers card.  It’s so cool.  I’m such a nerd…  Adding to my nerdiness was just being surrounded by tons of people who were just as enthused about history and researching as I was.  People were bustling about and digging though files.  Some people who are there often recognized each other and were sharing research finds.  The level of discourse that was generally going on there was amazing.  It was intelligent, academic, and full of energy.  The people were excited about what they were talking about.  It feels so rare to find other history nerds out in the world.  Usually I’m the only one who likes this stuff and gets so wound up over talking about it.  Sigh…

I also made lots of friends with the guards.  I know it sounds silly, but it’s hard for me to be at ease in social situations.  Chatting with friendly guards was a big thing for me.  It made the whole trip that much better.  I can’t wait to go back.

That being said, I left yesterday feeling really dejected.  As any good archivist would do, the one I talked with really tried to discourage me.  It sounds weird, but most people have never done this type of research before and start with really high hopes.  Shrinking their expectations is necessary.  I thought I was going into it realistically, but I underestimated how much bigger the job was at such a large facility.  There’s just so much to look at.  By the time I got home, I was feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.  This is going to be a big job.

It doesn’t help that my advisor is being really quiet.  I can’t get him to help me brainstorm or approve anything.  I still haven’t nailed down a specific thesis statement, making my date range and official topic still fairly fluid.  I don’t want to get too far into my research and waste time if my advisor ends up speaking up against it.  Arg.  Nothing can be easy, can it?  My available research days are quickly disappearing, so I’m pressing on with or without him.

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