Methodology 1: analysing the Forbes letters

Methodology 1: analysing the Forbes letters 

Last week I missed a blog and felt quite guilty about this – it’s the ‘weekly’ bit of the Weekly Blog banner that did it. It was missed due to a minor cold, but which was accompanied by aliens removing my brain and blood, so I sat or rather lay around doing nothing and feeling completely energy-less, apart from being annoyed. Annoyed? Yes, because I’d been doing something interesting on the Forbes collection, but which had to be shelved for a week.

This is (a) reading all notes on all letters in the Forbes databases, around 5000 items, (b) writing summaries per decade, and (c) writing a more detailed account of letters in 8 separate years, 1 per decade of the collection’s duration which have been selected randomly, which are the years 1854, 1866, 1876, 1885, 1897, 1904 and 1917. Basically, it involves reading the whole lot, getting a broad purchase on time-periods and any changes, and taking some cross-sections for detailed reading. This Herculean task – reading 5000 things, some in much detail, and writing notes on it all is no quick activity – has been resumed since my cold receded and is now nearly completed, or rather will be in about 3 or 4 days.

I’m doing this, using the Forbes databases but without benefit of the VRE because this isn’t up and running yet, because of a side-comment by a reviewer of an article I’ve had accepted subject to revision. Instead of focusing just on particular letter-writers, they wrote, what would happen if the letters in and out were also looked at as flows over time. Good question. So instead of just revising the article, I’ve undertaken this major piece of work before doing so. It is something that would have been done at a later stage anyway, once Forbes is fully completed and on the VRE, but, oh dear, curiosity has got the better of me and I want to know now as part of revising the article.

But, with my contributions to The Archive Project book that was completed recently in mind, elsewhere I’ve spelled out a broad methodology for working archival collections that goes something like ‘scoping, mapping, and detailed analysing’. Is what I’m doing with Forbes at the moment different? No, it’s actually a variant of these, although of a more detailed and thorough kind. I still have two decades of work to go, but the result will be that I’ll know the Forbes collection and its contents as never before.

Last updated: 10 October 2015


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