Finding a Direction in a New Place
I'm back from England and had a great time! I was really hoping to be able to blog while in England, but my Internet connection was pretty limited while I was there.
About my trip to England:
Pussy Cat Pussy Cat where have you been? I've been to London to visit the queen. Pussy Cat Pussy Cat what did you there? I frightened the little mouse under her chair!
I love that little nursery rhyme and there were many times when I was in London that the strains of that rhyme rang through my head. I had a very busy, but wonderful trip. My conference in Birmingham took up my second week, but I spent the first week in London working in the archives during the day and seeing the sights in the evenings. And there are many sights to see! The parks, the architecture, the museums, the galleries ... you name it; London is an historian's dream in terms of the sheer quantity of places and things to see. The British absolutely love to commemorate events and people so every time one turns around, there's another statue or memorial. As far as collections of historic artefacts go, one cannot beat the British Museum. I spent all day Sunday there (from 10:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.) and still did not get through all the exhibits. I must say that I was struck by the number of ancient non-British artefacts on display. They were fascinating, but I did think to myself that the collections of the British Museum say as much about the British as they do about the cultures being represented.
Most of my time in London was spent in the archives - in the British Library, but mostly in the Quaker collection at Friends House. The collection is enormous and there were more documents than I could ever hope to go through in a week. Historians have to read an awful lot of material in order to make connections and do analysis. It's not as simple as ordering up one collection of letters or one manuscript. We read thousands of pages sometimes to find just a few things that we can use. But we need to read that amount of material to have a good sense of the context in which things are written. Most of the materials I was reading were transatlantic letters from the 18th and 19th centuries. Since postage was costly and was based on the number of pages, writers wrote as small as they could and then after filling a page one way they turned the paper at a 90-degree angle and wrote across the paper the other way. This is called cross-thatching. It was probably very efficient for writers of the time; it is very difficult for historians reading it today. To read it one has to look through the top layer to decipher the bottom layer of writing and then, when reading the top layer, ignore that on the bottom. The whole thing is an exercise in concentration, especially if the ink has bled through and left blotches all over the page. It's tempting to pass over those really-hard-to-read letters, but I've found through experience that it's usually those letters that contain the really valuable material that I need.
Something I found really helpful when I was in London were the street signs - written on the road - that said "look left" or "look right." Since folks in the UK drive on the other side of the road than we do over here, I'm sure these signs saved me from numerous mishaps. When one is accustomed to looking a certain way for vehicles, it was quite confusing at times to look up and see a vehicle travelling on the other side of the road. More than once, I was extremely thankful for that little reminder - "look right" or "look left." It occurred to me that these signs for those unfamiliar with London traffic function much the same way your advisor and faculty members do at Trinity Western. University is a very different experience than high school. At times it can be quite disorienting, especially in the first few months. That's why TWU goes to such great lengths to make sure that you're connected to your peers through a connections group and to faculty through your advisors and professors. Sure, you've been to many classes in your school years up to this point and you've written papers and done a lot of assignments, but somehow at university it all seems just a bit different. We know what it's like; remember we've been there. And that's why we work hard to provide you with a little direction: look right, watch on your left, something's coming up. We really do want your time at TWU to be years of great learning and we value the relationships we form with students. I hope you'll all take full advantage of every opportunity there is to connect to your TWU community. When you arrive and things may be all a bit overwhelming, there will be many folks who will be thrilled to provide a bit of direction in order to help you navigate your years at TWU.