Very interesting trip to subject’s birthplace. Found out that he was only there two years and then the family moved to somewhere else. Some parts of the area have changed very little in the last 180 years. Now need a trip to the next place they lived!
It was amazing to see an original Register of births from 1840s and the census from 1851. The local archive didn’t yield as much information as I and hoped but the local library was more successful. The local museum had a story of the place gallery which gave me an insight to how it would have looked when the subject was there.
I attended a very informative lecture at the RGS this week. It was about the albums of Naval Surgeon J Litton Palmer, who was travelling in the 19th Century. The lecturer made some interesting comments regarding memory, memorial and historical perspective with reference to recording information contemporaneously, recording it after the event and the use we make of that information now. which made me think differently about how I might approach my biography in terms of creating my critical distance, and and how I should use my subjects own writings
Have booked trip to subject’s birthplace, an island off the coast of Britain for the end of April. Have had an email back from local librarian saying they have a couple of books I didn’t know about so that will be interesting to look at.
Also finished reading a book about writing a biography – not a how to book, but how I did it. It’s called “Dreaming of Rose, A biographer’s journal” by Sarah Lefanu and it charts her journey writing a biography of Rose Macaulay. It’s very interesting insight of the ups and downs of a biographer’s life, particularly as she is not the first person to write a biography of Rose, so has other people’s previous thoughts on Rose to contend with and some of Rose’s friends and relatives were still alive at the time.
Unlike Sarah, my subject was born in Victorian times and, to date, no-one has written a biography of them. There are clearly advantages and disadvantages to writing about someone who has died in the recent past – you can talk to people who knew them. However you also have to be careful of not causing offence or risk being done for libel. In contrast, I have to construe my subject’s character and personality from what they wrote about themselves and from what little else others wrote about them.
Good news – Found out that I have been awarded a small travel grant which means I can go and visit my subject’s birthplace for 3 days 🙂
I now need to contact the local librarian to arrange access to the paper held locally. Trip planned for end of April 2014.
The bad news is that I heard on the Radio that there was a fire in the National Archives at Kew, London, UK. Don’t know yet how much damage has been done or how long Kew will be closed . It is another place I need to visit.
Discovered I need to get permission from the donor to access one set of documents held at Cambridge library – another bit of bureaucracy and time constraint.
Still need to apply for larger funds for the longer trip which I would like to do in October/November because the weather would be suitable then. Found that it is quite difficult to get funds for non-fiction research if it is not part of a PhD. Doing a biography excludes you from Arts Council funding in the UK, and also some funds are only available for previously published authors.
Well, I suppose it was too good to last – all the excitement about the maps, only to be told during last week’s visit that in 1880s, the RGS didn’t necessarily keep everything they were sent, i.e. they do not appear to have kept the original journals of my subject, although they do have the transcribed account, which I know my subject did not agree with, so it wasn’t published in The Proceedings of the RGS as planned. However, saw some amazing contemporary photos of the areas my subject travelled to, so not all downhearted.
Successful visit to the RGS on Monday. Was able to handle hand drawn maps of my subject’s journeys done in 1880’s – amazing. I am able to get copies too (for a price) so it will save me a lot of time not having to do them myself. An added bonus was seeing letters written by my subject and discovering that his personal journals were brought back to the RGS with a view to being published in the Proceedings of the RGS – but this didn’t actually happen. However, the journals are not filed under subject’s name so will have to do more searching to see where they might be.
I have started mapping my subject’s travels – but it is going to take longer than I thought. One reason is that I have had difficulty getting large scale maps (in English) of the country predominantly travelled in. It is large and most currently available maps cover the whole country on one map which makes it difficult to plot accurately, in addition to the changes in the way places were named in 1860 and now. I am hoping the Royal Geographical Society may be able to help me out.