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- 245 Philip J. Anderson d Pilgrim Voices Puritans, Immigrants, and Historical Research One shouldn’t begin writing history until you can hear their voices. salman rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir I n the early spring of 1977, I visited an old high school classmate who was pursuing a PhD at an elite midwestern university . Late in the evening he told me that the next morning he had an appointment with a reference librarian with whom he had met earlier in the week to discuss his newly approved dissertation topic. The subject matter and key words had been duly noted; following a database search he would receive a computer printout of the sources he needed to consult for his research and writing. Aware that dissertation work would of course involve more than he described, I was nevertheless astonished by this technology, instinctively taken aback that such a simple and painless (and seemingly less intriguing and thorough) path to research was now available and perhaps deemed sufficient. Who if anyone was being cheated in the hunt, I wondered, in this changing world of technology? early research experiences I knew something of the hunt. My wife and I were living in England at the time, and I too was pursuing my doctoral degree, at Oxford, with its many vestiges and traditions of an ancient past. We were in the states for a family wedding, and I had spent a week in various research libraries out East, my subject being Puritanism during the Civil War and Interregnum period of English history (1640–62), as well as in colonial New England. At Yale’s impressive Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library I was restricted to blank sheets of paper and a pen- philip j. anderson - 246 cil in the reading room and bodily patted down on my exit. By contrast, at the Bodleian in Oxford I had become accustomed to a curt nod of greeting from the elderly porter manning the desk as I entered carrying a stuffed briefcase, only occasionally showing my reader’s ticket, which included, among other things, a promise “not to bring into the library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the library”— an oath I had taken in gown and white-tie sub fusc with raised right hand about the time of my matriculation (in Latin) at the Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Christopher Wren. Upon my departure, there was a similar acknowledgment, and sometimes even a quick glance inside the briefcase. I read that this genial sense of trust came to an end not long after, in part the consequence of an Italian research student involved in a bicycle accident in the City Centre where a number of old manuscripts spewed onto the pavement. A subsequent search of his flat revealed quite a stash of pilfered Renaissance treasures. I could not imagine then that the nature of my research could be managed by a computer search or without tactile and very human contact with sources and networks of real people and places. It seemed to me that the academic guild I aspired to enter was a community of learning impossible to encapsulate within a virtual medium. I certainly never mastered all the ways one located an item in the maze of millions of books and manuscripts at the Bodley. In the Upper Reading Room, one wrestled with folio-size volumes to search their handwritten or typed and pasted entries with call numbers that seemed to defy any rhyme or reason. Of course, there was no subject index, so if you did not know the author’s name or, if “anonymous,” the book’s title, digging was required even to know of its existence. Yet it all seemed so efficient and anything but antiquated. Scouring footnotes and bibliographies in printed material for primary and secondary sources, for example, made the scholarly trails of the conversation within the guild (often contentious) come alive. A career could be made or broken it seemed on whether one thought the gentry was rising or falling in post-Reformation England! One learned where to find the printed catalogs and subject bibliographies on the reference shelves; such valuable guides as Pollard & Redgrave’s Short-Title Catalogue (1475–1640) and Wing’s corresponding volume of early English books (1640–61) led not only to expanding the number of works one needed to know but to which libraries around the world puritans, immigrants, and historical research - 247 held copies. And, wonderfully, there are...


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