October in review

Another month has flown by, seeming even more rapid than the first. In looking back at last month’s report, I am, however, relieved and somewhat surprised to see that I (largely) achieved the goals I had set for myself, namely to take stock of all the primary material on which the book will draw, and to put together a timetable to help structure the analysis and writing that is to follow.

The first of those tasks involved consolidating the archival reference photographs and transcriptions that I had accumulated during the past eight years and chasing up a number of leads that I had not previously been able to follow. In this endeavour I have been entirely dependant upon the support and kindness of a number of archivists and librarians who have tracked down and reproduced documents—often for free or for a nominal charge—that I have needed to consult. These new pieces of the puzzle have both confirmed things that I suspected and revealed totally unexpected aspects of Macintosh’s life, such as his time spent as a counterrevolutionary agitator in Bern during the French Revolution.

As things stand, I have identified primary “Macintosh material” in nineteen repositories in five countries. Ironically, while it has proved quite straightforward to obtain reproductions of material from distant locations, such as the US, accessing material closer to home has proved more difficult. I have tried without success, for example, to book a timeslot to consult material at the National Archives, and the British Library has currently stopped taking reproduction requests. On occasion, however, I have been able to draw on the kindness of academic colleagues to help fill in some of the blanks. This week, for example, Dr Tessa Murphy was good enough to share some of her archival reference photographs with me so that I could check a couple of sources from the Colonial Office files.

While taking stock of the primary material has helped me develop some sense of “control”—in that I know what I have and I know what I still need to consult—the sheer amount of primary material, particularly relating to Macintosh’s time in the Caribbean, is rather overwhelming (a single letterbook of Macintosh’s outgoing correspondence runs to almost a quarter of a million words, for example). It is here that I feel the pressure of time most acutely; I could easily spend my entire fellowship just reading the primary material. The challenging task is to develop criteria for determining the 1% of important sources and jettisoning the remaining 99% without feeling I have missed something vital.

The book’s chapter structure (columns) with supporting primary sources identified (in rows by repository).

To some extent these criteria have begun to emerge from my attempts to complete my second task: to structure the book and my writing timetable. After going round the houses on this one a number of times, I have developed a structure that I think works in respect to the themes I want to address in the book and the primary and secondary sources that support it overall. I have sketched a plan for a book with five empirical chapters, structured roughly chronologically-cum-geographically, dealing in turn with 1) Macintosh’s political apprenticeship in Granada; 2) his experiences in, and political examination of, British India; 3) the authorship, editorship, and publication of Travels; 4) the reception, piracy, translation, and reading of Travels in Britain, Continental Europe, and North America; and 5) Macintosh’s counterrevolutionary activities during the French Revolution and his subsequent exile to Germany.

While I have always known that I cannot hope to write the whole book during my fellowship, I am very keen, if at all possible, to complete a first draft of the five empirical chapters by the end of August 2021 and have drawn up a timetable with that goal in mind. Although I am very much on home ground when it comes to the two chapters on the publication and reception of the book—these are processes and themes I have dealt with in earlier work—the other three will really take me out of my comfort zone in terms of area specialism and scholarly expertise. That, of course, is part and parcel of research that is driven by curiosity; you have to follow it wherever it takes you.

My task for November is, then, to deal with as much of the primary material from the Caribbean as I can before beginning to write the book’s first empirical chapter. My current timetable gives me until the middle of December to complete that portion of the book, but I will not be too hard on myself if I overrun. No research or writing takes place in a vacuum and the twin concerns of pandemic and politics are always there to rob me of my focus and motivation*, but I know from previous experience that when it is possible to achieve a rhythm in writing it can be both sustaining and positive in its effects. Onward, onward!

* Here, I am fully in tune with Macintosh’s expressed desire to “drink the Waters of Lethi [sic] to forget Politics”.

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