Field trip to the Morgan Library

I found the format of our visit to the Morgan Library to be very effective. We began with an overview of collections and research procedures from Head of Reader Services María Isabel Molestina that painted a clear picture of what it would be like to do research at the Morgan, from the broader question of how to secure permission and reading space to the quotidian specifics (pick a locker; wash your hands!). This made the idea of doing primary source research at the Morgan feel accessible and open.

Then we moved from that procedural overview to a focus on several case studies using materials pulled for us from the collection. The curator’s enthusiasm for the materials and the kinds of questions and problems they posed was palpable; to me, that conveyed a sense of the real joy of doing archival research once you’re deeply engaged with your material(s). In our Schomburg visit from the week before, we spoke in generalities about issues like digitization and when/why having access to original documents is desirable, but without concrete objects that instantiated these issues, it wasn’t so easy to imagine concrete instances in which they would apply. At the Morgan, we saw firsthand a letter not included in a published historical record that appears and presents itself as a comprehensive print edition of correspondence in the collection from which it comes: an example of the way the print record can actually obscure objects in the archive by simultaneously ignoring them and making it seem unnecessary to return to the originals at all.

I very much appreciated, too, the constellation of possibilities represented by the full Paris Review interview draft in conjunction with the published interview and the available audio files. This case study showed that even recent, thoroughly archived material can raise potentially unanswerable questions.