Venticinque: Archival Arrival

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Following the Feast Day of John the Baptist, I enjoyed my early morning walk to the Archive. It was my first day back at work since I returned from Sicily, and I smiled brightly knowing that the Italians would all be getting a late start after a long night of enjoying each other’s company. I thought about how, as an American college student, I come from a society that has a very peculiar relationship with alcohol, and how in many respects our frowning upon drinking prompts the ‘binge drinking’ culture that many young Americans partake in today. Italy has never really experienced this problem (although, one of my Italian teachers in Rome told me that many young Italians in Milan and in other northern, metropolitan cities are becoming more susceptible to the party scene common in northern European countries and in America). In the States, it can be such a controversy even to sip your parents’ drinks when you are out in public, but since being in Italy, I have seen how wine and other dinner drinks are used as conversation enhancers, rather than the means of turning oneself from an introvert into an extrovert. This is just one of the many aspects of Italy’s social framework that greatly interested me.

Often times after work, we interns would join the MAP staff for a glass of wine and aperitivo at a local cafe.  It was so wonderful to see how the conversation would flow as we sipped on our wine, and how different this social custom is from what I grew up seeing in America.
Often times after work, we interns would join the MAP staff for a glass of wine and aperitivo at a local cafe. It was so wonderful to see how the conversation would flow as we sipped on our wine, and how different this social custom is from what I grew up seeing in America.

As I signed in and walked towards the office, I realized that my internal musings on Italian culture were really very productive. Because I was spending more time at the Archive than I had originally intended (I had planned on working less hours and only four days a week) I was not often out in the piazzas during the day observing the Italians, nor was I yet embarking on my day trips outside of Florence. I truly appreciated the fact that I could spend so much time in the Archive under the direction of Sheila and the MAP staff, but small observations on more trivial aspects of Italy were, I thought, tremendously eye-opening, and I believe that they helped better inform my understanding of what “Italy” means.

Now, to get back on topic, it was time for me to once more envelop myself in all things archival, and I was glad that Sheila soon came into the office and asked if I wanted to go and have a coffee while we discussed what I had been working on. Thus, we walked down the street and stopped at a small café. First, we needed to discuss the Guide for Researching Women Artists, since I had been updating it during my time in Sicily. I pulled up the Word Document I had created, and thoroughly described each section while also explaining why I chose to organize the information in the way I did. Sheila had given me the names of three different women artists: one being a well-known artist, the other being slightly obscure, and the third being unknown. Using them as examples within the guide, I had included a variety of search engines and search results for each artist, while being sure to separate the instructional information from the concrete examples. I began to compile bibliographic references in the subsections as well.

All of this may sound confusing, and in honesty, each revision I made to the guide was a learning experience, because this level of specificity was one I had never before reached. Sheila was impressed with its organization and even more eager to show me how to complete the bibliographic material more thoroughly. We made plans to meet the following evening at the Kunsthistorisches in order to utilize their reference section. I cannot describe how excited I was for the opportunity to learn from Sheila in this capacity!

I was greatly impressed by the vastness of the Kunst's resources.  I felt as thought I could spend a lifetime here with my nose in these books!
I was greatly impressed by the vastness of the Kunst’s resources. I felt as thought I could spend a lifetime here with my nose in these books!

When we returned to the Archive, I showed Sheila the list of documents I had ordered, which ones I had already looked through, and the one I was currently scanning. She sat down with me and we began looking through it together. Sheila helped me to discern the words that I did not understand – whether due to illegibility or because I did not yet have the vocabulary. I am not doing justice to Sheila in saying that she is an excellent mentor, for she is far more than that. Sheila was an incredible, intellectual resource, an eloquent and compassionate teacher, and a passionate, disciplined, impressively accomplished scholar. Every interaction I had with her benefited me greatly in archival skills, writing, researching and data collecting techniques, and in the pursuit of my passion. When I expressed concerns about my proficiency in Italian, she did not worry in the slightest but helped me to format the research to my current abilities. One of the best lessons she taught me was that no one came into the archives knowing what he or she were looking for, how to seek it out, and how it could revolutionize a field of study. A scholar was meant to go to the archive with a passion, a topic, an interest; and it was the archive that dictated the entirety of that scholar’s future career.

This was the very beginning of the pile of source material that Sheila and I used for the Guide for Conducting Research on Women Artists. It grew substantially as we continued working!
This was the very beginning of the pile of source material that Sheila and I used for the Guide for Conducting Research on Women Artists. It grew substantially as we continued working!

When Sheila and I met at the Kunst on Thursday evening to compile a more extensive bibliography, she showed source material, dictated the citations to me and then gave me time to finish taking down notes. She graciously spent hours with me looking through these books and choosing the most important sections – showing me how she arrived at those conclusions. I learned so much. By the time I returned home that evening I was both exhausted and exhilarated. Sheila tasked me with continuing this work at the Kunst while also conducting a very specific type of research there…but I will touch on that in a later post! Additionally, I would continue my work at the Archive by looking for correspondence between Cosimo III de’ Medici’s court and that of London and/or any references to medicine or the natural sciences.

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