35 days, 4 libraries, c.180 call slips, 6 museums, 3 lovely Fellows…. Yale, it was a blast!

In September 2012 I took up a month-long Visiting Research Fellowship at the Lewis Walpole Library (LWL), Yale University. I was awarded the fellowship to conduct research towards my doctoral thesis, which focuses on the visual cultures of Roman Catholic emancipation in Great Britain and Ireland, 1821-32, and provides the first detailed academic analysis of a body of satirical prints that were produced in response to the prospect of full civil and religious liberty for Roman Catholics at key points in the 1820s, during the passage of the bill through Parliament in 1829, and after the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed (13 April 1829).

As I sit and write this blog post back in Brum, it all feels like a dream. I had a wonderful and productive time; in short, it was intense, but by far the best month of my academic life. I doubt whether I will have such an experience again. To research at the Walpole is to research in an idyllic academic bubble. And you get to play croquet on your lunch break.

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The LWL is a specialist library for eighteenth century studies, open to researchers by appointment. It boasts the biggest collection of eighteenth-century graphic satire outside of the British Museum: given my research area, it was the place for me to be.

And what a collection they have. Day in, day out, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in research with no distractions, calling relevant print after relevant print, making notes (24,000 words of them) and thinking, thinking, thinking. In fact, I wasn’t prepared for my Fellowship to be as formative to my thinking as it has been (I feel like I’ve joined up the dots of my ideas, if that makes sense); my PhD is definitely going to be all the better for having been there.

The Library is tucked away in the beautiful town of Farmington, CT, about an hour away from the New Haven campus.

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With a wonderful guesthouse over the courtyard where Fellows stay, Timothy Root House (built 1786), rocking up at the Library in the dazzling 30c heat, I couldn’t believe my luck. A few hours later and after a tour of the library, I was emailing my friends, family and supervisor declaring that I was ‘living the dream’….

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I really was.

I had to opportunity to identify and study in detail a whole host of prints, rare books and manuscript material, none of which are available to me in the UK. The Library’s reading room is pretty special, and it was a great place to study. It was relatively small, and reminded me of the Barber Fine Art Library at the University of Birmingham, for those of you who are familiar. All around are eighteenth-century paintings, sculpture and furniture.

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I had the pleasure of being in residence with three lovely Fellows: Emily C. Friedman, Assistant Professor of English at Auburn University, AL; Matt Wyman-McCarthy, History PhD candidate at McGill, Canada; and Rachael King, English PhD Candidate at NYU. I learnt a lot from discussions with them about their work, their approach to the archive and their experiences of academia. From them, I also learnt about perfume, American football, Seinfeld and ‘Kraft-dinners’ (what a combo!). I should also thank Emily, again, for treating me to a delicious Mexican meal during my last week; I promised that I would carry this lovely tradition of hers forward and treat my budding ‘junior colleagues’ to slap up meals if I ever get to the point that I am the senior one.

Along with the wonderful staff at the Walpole – particularly Maggie Powell, who is the kind of director who leaves beer for you in the fridge, the lovely Sue Walker, Cynthia Roman, Ellen Cordes, Todd Falkowski, and the ever helpful John Clegg –  I was spoilt for generous company and stimulating conversations. One thing I especially liked was the mandatory coffee and cake break on Friday mornings, where all staff, Fellows and day-readers got together to chat and listen to an informal presentation of research by a Fellow. Check out the serviettes (I snuck one home with me for prosperity!)….

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I was particularly pleased to be in residence for the Walpole Library’s Annual Lecture, which was given this year by Robert Crawford on the theme of ‘Robert Burns and Scottish Independence’. It was thought provoking and exceptionally well delivered. As a Fellow, I was invited to the canapé reception, in the gallery of the Yale Center for British Art, and formal dinner afterwards; both were rather splendid! I had the pleasure of meeting interesting people, including one of the Trustees of the Walpole Library, and I particularly enjoyed talking semiotics, typography and teaching with John Gambell, the ‘Yale University Printer’.

I spent the majority of the month at the Walpole Library, but did make a trip down to New Haven on a few occasions. I spent time at the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale Divinity School Special Collections, and the Yale Center for British Art.

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Fantastic architecture and holdings aside, I still cannot get over how helpful and friendly everyone was – from the Yale shuttle bus drivers, to security staff, librarians, and Yale students I struck up conversations with – it made researching on a very limited time frame run so smoothly, and I could not have got through all the material I did without that. One of my favourite anecdotes is that, on my second visit to the Beinecke (a week after my first visit, having only ever spent about 2 hours there), I walked up to the lending desk and was greeted with a ‘Hey, Carly! You’re back!’ from one of the loveliest librarians, Ingrid – researching at Yale was a joy!

On one of my trips to New Haven, I was lucky enough to have lunch with Prof Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of History of Art, Yale University, who had just flown in from London after the opening of his exhibition at Tate Britain. Tim is one of the most engaging academics I have met, and I got an awful lot from our conversation; he suggested books for me to read and opened up new research questions that I should explore. The same afternoon Gillian Forrester, the Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Center for British Art, treated me to coffee (my thanks to Dr Paul Spencer-Longhurst, Paul Mellon Centre, for going some way to setting this up). Gillian is incredibly knowledgeable, and was very generous with her thoughts about my research.

One day each weekend I gallery-hopped and explored the local area. I could write whole posts about each place that I went to, and maybe I will at some point. The YCBA, the Wadsworth Atheneum and especially the Hill-Stead Museum (so good I went there twice. The House, collection and volunteers, especially Susan Williams, were fantastic) are now some of my favourite places.

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And, Yale University Art Gallery’s vast and wide-ranging collection is impressive to say the least.

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All in all, I went for research, but got much more from it than that. I learnt a lot from the whole experience of organising a major research trip, travelling solo, studying abroad and in multiple libraries, and especially from meeting interesting and knowledgeable people.

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On the morning before I flew home, I spent some time looking through the Guest Book at the Root House (where Fellows stay). The number of eminent academics who have stayed there, and by token the amount of inspiring scholarship that the Library has informed, was quite staggering, if a little overwhelming; I feel privileged to have been a part of the Lewis Walpole Library Legacy. As I’m sure is the case for most LWL Fellows, my ‘Golden Asses’ has pride of place on the wall…

Note to future fellows: take a thermal vest – the reading room is, at times, near-arctic!

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One thought on “35 days, 4 libraries, c.180 call slips, 6 museums, 3 lovely Fellows…. Yale, it was a blast!

  1. […] 5) 35 days, 4 libraries, c.180 call slips, 6 museums, 3 lovely Fellows…. Yale, it was a blast! […]

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