September in review

One of the several folders that make up the archive of Macintosh’s papers in the Archives départementales de Vaucluse.

Today marks the end of the first month of my Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship. Never have thirty days passed more swiftly! Much of the first two weeks of the Fellowship were devoted to clearing the decks—finishing outstanding review work, completing appraisal and grant-planning paperwork, attending PhD annual reviews, handing over my administrative roles, and so on—but I have, since then, been able to devote my working days (circumscribed by the school day!) increasingly to the task at hand. As my other half, also an academic, juggles the challenges of teaching in 2020/21, and as I see the flurry of departmental emails about the logistical and technological teething troubles that blended learning has thrown up for my colleagues, I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a position to focus on my research in this way.

Academia is, however, an anxiety engine—rapacious in its expectations as to the quantity and quality of the work we produce—and it is hard, therefore, not to hear the ticking of the clock and to think “Have I done enough today?”. My own curiosity about Macintosh and the impact of his ideas has always been driven, at least in part, by the complexity of his life, spanning as it did the Highlands of Scotland, the colonial Caribbean, the Early American Republic, British India, Georgian London, Revolutionary France, Enlightenment Germany, and so on. That same complexity is, of course, a considerable analytical challenge and is fuel to the anxiety engine: “Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Will I actually be able to do this?”.

As a way of keeping the anxiety engine in a low gear, I have been writing a daily diary of my research, which I have found quite a useful way of feeling I have achieved something each day (and reminding me how much longer it would have taken were it not for the Fellowship). In summary, I have:

  • Transcribed 53 pages of Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook (c. 26,500 words)
  • Verified 118 pages of letterbook transcription (c. 59,000 words) produced by Team Macintosh 2.0 in 2017
  • Written eight blog posts (including this one)

At the same time, my Dad (aka Team Macintosh 3.0) has completed a further 25 pages of transcription, bringing his total to 228 pages (or c. 114,000 words). Thanks to his efforts the letterbook is now done and dusted—all c. 244,500 words of it. While it was important to fully transcribe the letterbook (which I hope in the future might form the basis to a digitised version of it), the other manuscript material will necessitate a rather more selective and targeted approach. While I will follow Alan Hathway’s instruction to Robert A. Caro to “Turn every goddam page”, I will certainly not be transcribing ever “goddam” page—there is simply too much.

My goal for the next month of the project will be to take stock of the remainder of the archival material. This will involve collating photographs taken over the course of a number of separate visits to the archives in Avignon and bringing together transcriptions produced during the last eight years. I will seek to identify a series of priorities with respect to the reading (and selective transcription) of that material that will allow me to work through all the Caribbean papers prior to beginning writing the book’s first empirical chapter, which will cover the period of Macintosh’s political apprenticeship—from his first arrival in Antigua (c. 1754) to his final departure from Grenada (c. 1777).

1 thought on “September in review

  1. Pingback: October in review | On the archival trail of William Macintosh

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