Monthly Archives: July 2016

Reflections on the placement

Ophelia and Lauren engaged in transcription.

Ophelia and Lauren engaged in transcription.

For the past three weeks, I have been fortunate to have had the enthusiastic and careful assistance of Ophelia King and Lauren Muir—working as Department of Geography Placement Research Assistants—in transcribing a large quantity of Macintosh’s correspondence. All told, Team Macintosh transcribed more than 250 images of correspondence (more than half of the material I photographed in Avignon in 2012), undertook helpful primary research at the National Archives, and completed very useful name indexes for the two volumes of Macintosh’s Travels. Here, I ask Ophelia and Lauren to reflect on their experience.

What have you most enjoyed about the placement?

Lauren: I have genuinely enjoyed every aspect of this placement but the most enjoyable aspect has been continuously unravelling the journey that Macintosh embarked upon and finding out connections between many of his correspondences. To be a part of bringing Macintosh’s work ‘back to life’, so to speak, has been greatly interesting in every way and I have really enjoyed discovering how his works are so important to both modern and historical geographies.

Ophelia: Working within Team Macintosh over the past few weeks has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Both working within the office and at the National Archives has been fun and enlightening, as it has allowed me to develop an understanding about a period of history and parts of geography that I love, all while working within a wonderfully talented team. I really would love to do the past three weeks all over again!

What was the most challenging aspect?

Lauren: Aside from the horrendous handwriting of some of Macintosh’s acquaintances, which slowed the transcription process at particular times, the most challenging aspect of this placement was finding further information that confirmed the identity of an individual mentioned in one of the letters.

Ophelia: The most challenging aspect of this placement, for me, has been trying to work out and research parts of the material we could not transcribe. Due to different people having various different styles of writing it meant that even with the three of us researching one specific area we could not accurately transcribe the material. This was particularly frustrating but made the experience all the more worthwhile when the three of us could help each other to piece together the puzzle of William Macintosh’s life!

What do you think you will take away from the experience?

Lauren: The whole process has truly been one of the most interesting things I have done throughout my time at university thus far and I have definitely enjoyed furthering my academic research skills both in the office and through our trip to the National Archives. This transferable skill is one I would not have had acquired had I not been given this opportunity and it is something that will undoubtedly be useful in both further education and within my future career.

Ophelia: This placement within the department of Geography has provided me with a plethora of opportunities to develop skills which will undoubtedly prove useful throughout further education and for my future career. I am so very grateful to have been given this opportunity to work within such a fantastic team and to advance a number of transferable skills, due to work within both the office and the National Archives.

To Kew to view Macintosh

Team Macintosh at the National Archives, Kew.

Team Macintosh at the National Archives, Kew.

Team Macintosh (Lauren and Ophelia), now in the third week of their placement, have been making excellent progress in transcribing Macintosh’s correspondence from the Archives départementales de Vaucluse. So much so, in fact, that we were able to spend time today at the National Archives in Kew undertaking some original research.

The team was there to view the original copy of William Macintosh’s will and to read letters concerning a dispute between Macintosh and Richard Burke, Collector of Customs at Grenada, and brother of the more-famous Edmund.

Team Macintosh hard at work in the archive.

Team Macintosh hard at work in the archive.

Team Macintosh reflect on their first week

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:

Lauren Muir

Lauren Muir

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.

— Lauren

Ophelia King

Ophelia King

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.

— Ophelia