For the past two weeks Rhys Gazeres de Baradieux and Sam Thatcher have been working with me as College-funded Placement Research Assistants, undertaking the transcription of a selection of Macintosh’s correspondence from the the 1760s and 1770s (covering his time as a plantation manager in Grenada). In this blog post they offer their own reflections on the placement.
What have you most enjoyed about the placement?
Rhys: I think what has been most enjoyable about the placement is getting a first-hand insight into the various colonial interventions and business dealings during the time period described in the letters we have been reading. With some letters mentioning “the purchasing of negroes” in a seemingly justified manner, or describing the desirability of Macintosh moving back to the higher latitudes in search of a more suitable environment and better health, it is interesting to identity links with contemporary themes in geography such as Orientalism and the construction of racial stereotypes. Furthermore, most of my experience around these topics has been learnt via someone or something and so finding this information for myself has been an interesting opportunity.
Sam: I have enjoyed getting to know more about the lives of people in this period of history, particularly with reference to the various dealings Macintosh has with people in the Caribbean and the UK. It is a really great opportunity to read first-hand, both the style and the nature in which such a diverse range of transactions, bargains and mediations took place in different places and spaces over time.
What was the most challenging aspect?
Rhys: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most challenging part was getting a grasp on eighteenth-century styles of handwriting, spellings and idioms. On the first day, for example, between the two of us we only got through perhaps 6 or 7 pages, however the process quickly sped up as it became easier to interpret the material with which we were working.
Sam: Working with Rhys; he’s really annoying! Joking! (Working with Rhys has been great and made the job a lot easier, I would have struggled without him). More seriously, the most challenging aspect has probably been trying to decipher those hard-to-read words or squiggles, particularly given Macintosh’s apparent inclination to spell words differently at different times, to miss out letters or just to use words that have since fallen out of common parlance. An example is “would”, which is often written as “wod.”, which very often causes confusion! This is made harder when the flow and manner of written English is very different to that which our 21st century ears (and eyes) are used to.
What do you think you will take away from the experience?
Rhys: Given that I’m keen to continue my studies after my undergrad, the placement has offered an interesting insight in to real-world academic research and some of the processes and procedures involved. I’m interested perhaps in following up some historical themes in my postgrad studies, so the placement has given me some sense of how that might be done.
Sam: I have found the placement really interesting, both from a historical perspective, but also from a geographical one, as the letters reveal many dealings, some dark, which give an idea of how imperialistic mindsets have shaped both the way we view the past, but also the way in which their practices have led to the world we live in today. For example, how the events around the time of these letters have led to the complex chain in the flow of commodities in the sugar industry that we see today. In practice this has led to sugar becoming a well-travelled and complex globalised commodity that has become embedded in our everyday lifestyle. I find it fascinating to think that this all began with people like William Macintosh.