Research Update 3: Centre des archives diplomatiques de Nantes

Part I of my research year took me to Nantes, France (see my previous post for more general, non-research related thoughts on my time there). I worked for six weeks in the Centre des archives diplomatiques in Nantes (CADN), a branch of France’s national archives that deals with documents produced by the diplomatic office and holds materials for the French mandate in Syria and Lebanon between World War I and World War II.

Below is a rough daily schedule of my time in Nantes to give you an idea of what my six weeks working in the archive looked like:

Some time between 6:00 and 7:00 AM – Wake up and contemplate the day: Should I go for a jog first? What’s the temperature like? Do I want to have to shower after? (The usual conclusion) Naw, I can get some stuff done and enjoy a slow morning if I don’t.

6:00 – 9:00 AM – Eat breakfast, enjoy a leisurely coffee/tea, check Facebook (my main connection to home) and news, download pictures from previous day and update Excel spreadsheet if not done the night before.

9:00 – 9:30 AM – Head out the door to the archive. I lived a little ways away, so I had a 10-minute or so walk to the tram, 15-minute tram ride, and 15-minute walk to the archive. It was generally a nice time to catch some brisk fall air, a walk, and to organize my thoughts for the day ahead.

9:45 – 10:15 AM – Arrive at the archive and have awkward conversation with security using my limited French. Be nervous about the metal detector for no reason.

10:15 AM – Choose my seat and request the first box of materials, simultaneously hoping for a hidden treasure and for there to be nothing helpful; the former obviously necessary for furthering my research, the latter to reduce time spent taking and processing pictures.

10:15 AM – 1:00 PM – Work through boxes requested the previous day. In the first couple weeks, I’d go through about 3 boxes in the morning before lunch and 4 after. As time went on, the boxes I requested had fewer relevant materials (being no longer from the Public Instruction archive) and I sometimes would finish with all 7 (the daily limit) by 1:00.

1:00 – 1:30 PM – Request boxes for the next day and eat lunch (this I brought with me from home; it always included a baguette. So good). This was also an opportunity to sometimes chat with other researchers, which was always pleasant.

1:30 – some time in the afternoon – How much time I spent at the archive for the rest of the day was largely dependent on whether or not I found relevant materials. I noticed that  people had all kinds of techniques for working through the documents. I tried two main techniques: 1) Going quite methodically through materials, taking notes on relevant documents and taking pictures, filling out my spreadsheet as I went 2) Going methodically, but just taking pictures of relevant documents while at the archive and making my notes when I got home. The second technique seemed to work better for me, as it required less time in the archive, which helped me avoid the dreaded “archive fever” (related to cabin fever and referring to feelings of restlessness and boredom resulting from extended presence in an archive) and allowed me to process my work in the comfort of my own place with food and a tea, coffee, or glass of wine to aid me.

Afternoon – evening – This was generally my processing time (though this sometimes was moved to the morning, depending on how tired I was from the day’s work–translating and picture-taking are surprisingly mentally exhausting–or if there was a particularly good French crime drama or guardian angel show on). Processing entailed downloading the day’s pictures to my hard drive, backing them up to my external, and then uploading them to Google Photos. I’d also update my Excel spreadsheet with the relevant data (what that looks like to be shared later).

Obviously, very exciting stuff. Stay tuned for more research updates on data organization and management, daily schedules, my time doing research in Beirut, and my trip to the League of Nations archive in Geneva. For now, I’d love to hear in the comments about what others’ archival work days look like, how you avoid archive fever, etc.

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