It takes a village; or, reflections on (collaborative) lone-wolf scholarship

Christian Slater as Adso in “The Name of the Rose” (1986)

Although research can often feel like quite an isolated business, especially in the context of a pandemic, it is rarely truly solitary. Even though my work on Macintosh might seem to epitomise lone-wolf scholarship, it is, in fact, collaborative and depends on the assistance and guidance of many people. I have been particularly aware of the collaborative nature of my work in the last week or so as I have sought to chase up various archival leads accumulated during the last eight-and-a-half years.

In firing off a dozen or so reference requests to libraries and archives in the UK, France, and the US, I have frequently been amazed at the rapidity and helpfulness of the responses. Although the website of the Archives nationales in Paris warned that it might take months to process my request for a reproduction of material, the photographs arrived within two working days, free of charge. This incredible efficiency was beaten only by the staff of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania, who answered a query about the George Macartney Papers at 6.30 a.m. on the day of my enquiry and later provided gratis reproductions.

This week I have also benefited from the language skills of a number of colleagues: Dr Dominik Hünniger pointed me in the direction of some German-language reviews of Macintosh’s Travels that I hadn’t seen before, including an interesting one by Georg ForsterDr Elizabeth Haines and Dr Emily Hayes together helped me untangle a French source on Macintosh’s counter-revolutionary activities in Switzerland; and Dr Susan Pickford kindly offered to help out if my request to the Archives nationales did not materialise. Meanwhile, my PhD student, Ed Armston-Sheret, was able to ferret out a source through an Adam Matthew database to which he currently has access via a fantastic Royal Historical Society scheme.

One thing is clear: I’m going to need to set aside quite a bit of time to write the acknowledgements section of my eventual book.

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