Team Macintosh have just begun the second week of their placement in the Department of Geography. Here, I turn the blog over to Lauren and Ophelia to offer their reflections on their first week as research assistants:
Despite thus far having only transcribed a small percentage of William Macintosh’s correspondence, Team Macintosh is undoubtedly making significant progress in revealing several interesting aspects of the late travel writer’s life and adventures.
There are, of course, many challenges in trying to read eighteenth-century handwriting. In addition to the smudges and tears that obscure many of the letters, accurate transcription depends upon having a dictionary to hand and one’s brains engaged. Existing records and transitions, and on-line resources, are searched in the hope of correctly identifying some archaic word, only to find that a random-seeming squiggle is, in fact, the name of an acquaintance of Mr Macintosh or, indeed, a very simple word! Though some words may never be deciphered, a feeling of elation occurs when, having had the entire team staring vacuously at the same apparently indecipherable script for a long time, we finally succeed in identifying a previously unreadable word or phrase.
Whilst ‘transcribing eighteenth-century handwriting’ may not ordinarily be at the top of the list of abilities to include in a CV, there are undoubtedly many other skills that have been, and will be, acquired throughout this placement; we have been provided with an invaluable opportunity in being able to develop our research skills in an academic environment in addition to furthering our analytical abilities, teamwork, and organisational skills. The communications and adventures of William Macintosh are genuinely interesting and the next two weeks of transcription will provide further pieces to slot in a fascinating puzzle that is was his life.
Having always had a keen interest in history, particularly the period since the Enlightenment, I was very excited when a research opportunity in historical geography arose within Royal Holloway’s Department of Geography, and I quickly set my sights on applying for the position. Now, working alongside an extremely conscientious classmate, Lauren, we both have the lucky opportunity to work closely with many interesting eighteenth-century letters sent to and from a surprisingly unknown Scotsman, William Macintosh.
Upon arriving on our first day, one week ago (and after having navigated a few technical difficulties with IT), we first viewed the letters which we would spend the next three weeks working on. At first glance the papers looked like a beautiful, artistic, calligraphic maze which we had to battle our way through, and, indeed, it was extremely challenging at first to comprehend all the points various individuals were trying to make. But several cups of coffee later, we finally began to master it!
Obviously, some people wrote in a clearer fashion than did others, and probably one of the most frustrating parts of this placement is the fact that if you cannot decipher a word then it will likely forever remain unknown, but that fact has only made us more driven to understand the true meaning of the correspondences between Macintosh and his acquaintances.
After only one week, this experience has allowed me to develop particular skills surrounding, but not limited to, time management and attention to detail in a formal academic research environment, whilst supplementing a key interest in history (and so contributing experience towards a related future career).
I am very grateful to work within Team Macintosh, and alongside Dr Keighren, and contribute to his research about an exceedingly interesting period of history. I am looking forward to seeing what we will discover about William Macintosh over the next two weeks.