In an earlier draft of What the Oceans Remember, I made a comparison between Julie Andrews’ “brown paper packages tied up in string” and archival materials. These are a few of my favourite things…. I wrote.
“Fair enough,” Siobhan, the senior editor wrote back, “but you’re straying well away from the storyline.” I’m paraphrasing, but the point remains. She was right.
But you know what? Archival materials are a few of my favourite things!
I was reminded of this again this morning when Facebook’s memories offered me this photo.
It’s a photo I took while working at the National Archives in The Hague, exactly three years ago today. I’d captioned it: “when archival research becomes a game with layers and layers and layers of goodies to unpack.”
Just look at that series of treasures waiting to be opened! I’m salivating all over again. Working in the archives is like the night before Christmas, every single day. It’s all about anticipation, the thrill of the unknown, and the possibilities that might exist.
[for the record, the folders above held nineteenth-century maps and drawings of de Resolutie plantation in Suriname]
Sometimes—often, actually!—those early hopes are dashed, and you spend hours digging, only to learn that there’s nothing of interest in relation to your project. There’s often no buried treasure to be found. It can be frustrating. It can be disappointing. And it’s definitely exhausting.
Sometimes, too, the materials you find are dark. So dark that you have to pause, reflect, and gather yourself together again before you can even think of going on….
But opening new files? A shiver and a wonder, each and every time.
Here, then, are a few (more) of my favourite things…
PS. The Sound of Music? It’s also one of my favourite things.
© Sonja Boon, 2019