Sunday, 6 February 2011

The archive of secret scripts

The fun and satisfaction of my job is not only the day to day work focusing on the exam needs of Oxbridge students, we are also responsible for an archive.

Our college, dating back to the anti-establishment Dissenting Academies of the 17th and 18th centuries, is home to an archive of material collected by these very academies, on the subject of radical Protestant dissent.
Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751
And as such, attractive and rich pickings to historical researchers.

One search researcher visited us in the past couple of weeks and as part of my chartership goal to become more familiar with enquiry/archive work, I took care of the process to make the archive accessible to him.

Fortunately he was a very clued-up researcher, already selecting from information we had sent him which manuscripts he needed to see. This was largely the notebook of one Job Orton, a scholar at a Dissenting Academy, who had taken notes in shorthand of the lectures of one Philip Doddridge, a famous radical Protestant preacher of the day.

In addition to finding preparing the boxes of manuscripts, it struck me that the ancient shorthand used in the notebook would be a pitfall to the researcher. A little further research on my part -- reading up on Philip Doddridge and the fact that he used an adaptation of a form of shorthand of the time called Rich's shorthand -- I also found in the archive a selection of 'shorthand keys' which might provide clues to unlock the mystery of the secret script, including a textbook of the day about Rich's shorthand.

In this case, the researcher had already had some familiarity with this form of shorthand so didn't make use of the keys, but I think I learnt a valuable lesson in going slightly beyond and looking around the original remit of the researcher's request, to provide an value-added service.

And one which makes me engage more deeply with the material we are responsible for, leading to a sense of extra professional involvement and increased job satisfaction.

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