You can read a lot about medieval manuscripts on the web, but I haven’t found much bluntly practical information about studying them. When I started consulting manuscripts, two years ago, I would have loved a prototypical packing list of things to take on a research trip. What follows is that list, as I would write it now. I’m posting it here partly in the hope that someone else might find it useful, but mostly to help me remember everything next time I’m preparing to travel…
If you’ve other useful ideas/tools which I haven’t mentioned, I’d be interested to know about them. (Anything to make my life easier!) And tell me, too, if there is more practical stuff out there on this topic that I haven’t found yet.
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Credentials. Most often these are just a letter of introduction from my supervisor and one form of ID, but some libraries have more complex requirements. I haven’t yet turned up somewhere without the right papers. I’m pretty sure I’ve had at least one nightmare on the theme, though.
Pencils, sharpener, rubber and paper. At first, I thought I wouldn’t need to take notes by hand. Turns out this is still the most convenient option for, for example, rough quiring diagrams, or for drawing watermarks. Also for scribbling down the list of five manuscripts that I’ve ordered up to give the staff who have to fetch them. When I was doing research in the US last May and couldn’t instantly check Google Maps on 3G internet, I would look up my destination libraries on hotel wifi the night before and draw myself a sketch map. And so on. These are also my final line of defence should my computer die on me!
Ruler/tape measure and magnifying glass. Some libraries provide plenty of these but I know from bitter experience that not all do. Are there advantages to having a tape measure over a ruler, or vice versa?
Camera. The cameras on most phones seem to take pictures which are tolerable for most transcription but don’t let you get into the details. But current digital cameras with even quite small sensors can do decent macro photography. I manage to take reasonable amateur manuscript photographs with a little camera called a Panasonic DMC-FS14 (whatever that means). It’s tiny for the quality of photograph it produces and since I bought it two years ago I’m sure there are now better things out there now.
Unless I’m really pressed for time I transfer photos from my camera to my netbook on site as I find it easier to tag them correctly while the manuscript is still in front of me. On longer trips I take the charger for my camera’s battery.
10″ laptop (‘netbook’). From very unscientifically asking a few people, it seems that opinions vary on the ideal computer for library visits. If you ask me, a tablet is too limited and doesn’t let you type fast enough, and a 15″ or 17″ laptop is too big and too heavy. A 10″ netbook is still (just) small enough to fit into a rucksack and light enough not to break my back. I’ve thrown the battery for mine away: I’ve yet to visit somewhere that didn’t have sockets.
3G-capable phone. For email access, Google Maps and so on. While travelling by train in the UK, I’ve discovered that the National Rail Enquiries site can usually tell you which platform a train will be leaving from before the station’s own information boards will. This is particularly handy when I have to change trains with little time to spare.
I carry a small USB-to-micro-USB cable for charging my phone from my netbook when there’s only one power socket available (on trains, for example), for transferring data and for USB tethering.
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And that is it. As I said, I’d be interested to hear what else others have found useful!