Time in the Archives

Thursday, 19 June 2014 14:00

I don’t know what to write about the time I spent in the University of Oregon’s Special Collections reading room in the beautiful Knight Library from May 26 to June 5. There’s not enough distance between the massive information download and today when I write this post. It was only yesterday when I realized that not even two weeks have passed since I returned home. It appears I’ve lost track of time. When I was researching, hours felt like minutes. I measured out time in folders of letters. The first few days back home, I threw myself into re-establishing my normal routine in order to avoid fully acknowledging that something integral in the direction of my life has changed. At the moment, my head is still full of other people’s lives and I only hold back telling their stories by force of will and mental exhaustion. Needless to say, I didn’t expect to come away from my archival research with such an overwhelming mix of intellectual excitement and emotional turmoil (but in a good way).

As the inaugural Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction fellow, over the course of ten days (from 10:00am to 4:30pm), I power read 1000s of letters in the archived collections of Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Suzette Haden Elgin, and Sally Miller Gearhart. The letters cover the time period from the late 1960s to the 2000s (I kept my search to the 60s to mid-80s). I was privy to the often intimate thoughts of these women, and also to those on the other side of the correspondence. Most significantly, for me, were the letters of James Tiptree, Jr. and Philip K. Dick. There are other notable science fiction writers on that list too, but as they are still living, I’m not quite ready to name them in any kind of public reflection. It’s enough to say that I’ve met many of the great luminaries of science fiction through their inspiring, well-crafted letters.

I returned home with scans of over 500+ letters (1,021 pages in total), and I am expecting scans of another entire series of an important correspondence (which was unintentionally missed during my stay) to be sent to me in the next few weeks. This is a lot of data to process. Now the real work starts. I must intently read each page and begin to make sense of what I’ve learned. I don’t know what any of it really means to my own scholarship yet. A few projects have taken shape in my mind, but I’m simply too close to the original research experience to see what’s in front of me (the whole “can’t see the forest for the trees” kind of deal). If you were hoping for some exciting research revelations in this post, sorry! I need more time to process everything. I need to return fully back to my own time, to the current moment. I am all starts and stops right now but I wanted to post something here to help ground me. This is a beginning.

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