The Wood for the Trees
And what, you may well ask, has been happening with my official research project in between watching Parade’s End and musical tributes to Richard III? Quite a lot as it happens, mainly involving list making.
The terrifying and exhilarating part of being at this early stage of a research project is the sheer number of potential sources and useful books that emerge as you start to delve into the subject. No one, and I really mean no one, has written about the RAMC Other Ranks. There is plenty of stuff about doctors and nurses but stretcher bearers and orderlies and ambulance drivers get a passing mention by academics or are completely subsumed in discussions of conscientious objectors. Which isn’t to say that they didn’t write about themselves. Many did, most notably Ernest Hemingway and Ward Muir, as well as many, many others whose letters and memoirs were never published but are now accessible in various archives. All of which leaves me with a book and sources list that is now running to seven single-spaced pages and counting.
Even more excitingly my list making has uncovered the pleasing fact that the Special Collections at the Brotherton Library now includes the recently donated Bamji Collection of medical books relating to the First World War. Having applied for my grant on the basis of the well-known Liddle Collection of First World War documents and artefacts, to suddenly have all this directly related material at my fingertips feels like serendipity. Part of me is aching to get into the archive to start uncovering what it there. Part of me is also scared. How much of this mass of material will actually be useful remains unknown and it will take a lot of very hard work to properly investigate, assimilate and understand it all. As I say, terrifying and exhilarating.
So I have been procrastinating on actually digging into the archive by making other lists: lists of speakers for a seminar I am helping to organise (although one of my co-organisers has proved to be list-maker extraordinary and put my efforts shame), lists of potential contributors to a special issue of a journal that I am trying to put together, lists of related projects and the bodies that might help fund them, lists of potential topics to be included in a call for papers for a conference I want to run. At some point I am going to have to start actually doing something about these lists – reading books, sending e-mails, writing articles and reviews. But that will have to wait for next week. In the meantime I am revelling in all the exciting possibilities that my lovely lists represent.