The boxes, folders or sections at the end of archive collections fascinate me. I’m strongly drawn to them, and it is their apparently random character that attracts, that they are kind of pick and mix of things that someone else has assembled and I can rummage through. I’m currently spring cleaning (trying to) and tidying my study at home, with a large part of this being to tame or reduce if not entirely to remove all the piles of paper generated over the three or four years since I last did a mammoth clear up. These are on my desk, in piles at the side, in three wire baskets, and in small boxes in an alcove in the room. I use the present tense ‘are’ a bit loosely, for they were there yesterday morning but are being reduced slowly but surely. But, oh, this morning, after putting so much in recycling bags yesterday, I’m now regretting every shred of it and have a strong urge to get it all out and go through it again. But then, if I’ve not read it or used it for four years and didn’t want to yesterday then probably I won’t ever!

What are all these piles of things being reduced to, what are the traces that remain? I ask this with a professional interest as well as a personal one, for most of the people whose letters I have been concerned with are likely to have gone through similar processes themselves.

Of what remains: 1. There is a large and completely unsorted pile of things that have being dumped there over the last year and which were, when they were placed there, current work in hand. 2. There is a pile of items now neatly in plastic wallets concerning each of the collections that have been worked on in the Whites Writing Whiteness project. 3. There is reproachful pile of nine or ten books wanting to be read which I have been ignoring in favour of picking out things on settler colonialism. 4. There are almost completed drafts of three journal articles, on Roman letters, on Olive Schreiner’s suffrage letters, and on settler women on the frontier, which I wrote because of burning interest but then my attention was taken by other things (and finding these has made me guiltily aware there are three or four more almost finished articles on my computer which have also been abandoned). 5. There is a pile of typescripts of avant-texte versions of Olive Schreiner archived manuscripts. 6. And there is a more randomly composed pile of ‘just stuff’ which I couldn’t assimilate into any of the others.

What is in the ‘just stuff’? There is: 6a, unanswered email from 2014 which I managed to miss; 6b, a photocopy of notes Schreiner wrote on some manuscripts I came across during a 2013 archive trip; 6c, a shorter piece of my writing attempting to spell out the characteristics of the epistolarium; 6d, detailed notes about epistolary space; 6e, printed out journal articles I should have read way back but didn’t because I didn’t finish writing the articles they related to; 6f, a 2015 letter from someone inquiring about one of their ancestors (which I did reply to, but failed to file the original inquiry); 6g, the programme of a conference I attended in 2002 (yes 2002); 6h, a 2011 letter from the ESRC; 6i, postcards from various trips; 6j, drafts of leaflets about both the Schreiner and the WWW projects (which really should be recycled); 6k, a bunch of stuff about a 2012 car I really liked and which I hope is now giving someone else pleasure. Oh yes, 6l, there are a few scraps and pieces with much dust which reduced me to violent sneezing so I have just put them in the recycling bag.

What now? See 1. above, which I must go through but feel somewhat frightened of as I’m sure it contains things that should have done but have been missed.

PS. The photo is ‘after’; ‘before’ the floor and desk couldn’t be seen.

Last updated:  22 February 2018