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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Researching without a Library

On my mid-field study vacation to Scotland, my backpack was taken. And thus began part two of my UK adventures.

The most important items (regarding my field study) that were in my backpack when it was taken were my debit card and my British Library Card. I spent the first week back from Scotland at home everyday, because I didn't have enough money to use the Tube. Since then I've received a new debit card, but I haven't been able to get a British Library Card yet (still waiting on the post).

Although the first week (without the debit card) was torture, and I couldn't wait to get my debit card back, I've kind of enjoyed not having a British Library Card. I didn't realize it until now, but I was probably spending too much time in the Library. Without a card, my schedule is very free, and I've finally gone to see places like Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, and the British Museum. I don't think I could ever possibly explain how it feels to actually be standing in the same place where Elizabeth I spent her childhood, or where Mary I was crowned, or where Lady Jane Grey was buried. And since much has changed in the city of London since these women ruled England, stepping into these historical sites--which have been amazingly preserved and well-kept for hundreds of years--is probably as close as I'll ever get to experiencing the lives of England's Tudor queens.

I'm still a little new to the idea of doing research without a library, because for English majors, research always requires books or articles of some sort. But as much as I enjoyed reading about Tudor England, I also enjoy discovering these historical Tudor buildings for myself, without the commentary/opinion of an author. As helpful as other scholars' opinions can be, it's also vital to go and see an artifact/text/site for yourself, so you can be informed and original in your ideas, rather than just commenting on a conglomeration of others' opinions. And for my research in particular, in which I am trying to find the difference between factual history and mythical history, it helps to see the "real thing" and judge for myself whether a certain writer was trying to be honest or just being sensational. For instance, when I first read Thomas Heywood's If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody Part I, I was pretty sure he was being melodramatic with his portrayal of Elizabeth in the Tower of London. At one point she mourns having to enter the Tower through the gate where traitors usually enter, and at another point she dramatically asks a servant whether or not he can see gallows waiting for her. I thought this was all a bunch of foolish theatricality until I actually went to the Tower. It turns out that if a execution were to happen at the Tower, you would be able to see the gallows from where Elizabeth would have been stationed at the Tower of London. Furthermore, there's a gate at the Tower of London called Traitor's Gate, which is where the criminals usually entered. It provides much less privacy than the gate where royalty usually entered, which means Elizabeth probably received a lot of unwanted attention, gawking, and possibly even jeering or booing when she arrived. So Heywood wasn't being overly dramatic after all.

I still miss not having a Library card, and I'm way overdue for going back to the Library to study. But the good news is that I'll have more than enough places and things to see without it. Even if I wasn't able to get another card in my time here (knock on wood), I have a long list of Tudor historical sites to visit and research. In the next few days, I'll be going back to the Museum to visit the Coin Dept. and research Tudor coins and medallions, then returning to Westminster Abbey for a more in-depth tour, visiting inside the Houses of Parliament, and possibly even going to West Tilbury to see the fort and the field where Elizabeth made her Speech to the Troops at Tilbury. It's still a little weird not being at the Library three or four days a week, but I'm enjoying it as much as possible.

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