The archive has long functioned as a space of fantasy for academics. The romanticization of the archive dates at least as far back as the nineteenth century, when historians like Leopold Von Ranke (1795-1886) began to argue vigorously for primary source based history. In making the case for archival research, Ranke often characterized his methodology as a heroic quest. According to Ranke, primary source documents were like “so many princesses, possibly beautiful, all under a curse and needing to be saved.” Although more recent academic accounts usually eschew such problematically gendered language, the notion of the archive as a quasi-magical space has persisted.
While these fantasies can provide a potent motivation to pursue original research, they also risk obscuring the truth about archival research: the most important part of conducting archival research occurs months before you hit the road or board a plane. Carefully researching your research trip matters for two interrelated reasons: funding and timing. If I had not started researching my research trip to London nine months in advance I could not have afforded to travel to the U.K. However, I was able to fully fund my trip by securing four different dissertation research travel grants, the first of which was due eight months before my intended departure date. In order to secure a travel grant to conduct research, one must produce a proposal outlining the intended research and a provide a realistic timeline for the completion of that research.
To that end, I’d like to dedicate the remainder of this blog post to outlining some concrete tips for making your research trip dreams come true. They are as follows:
· Start early and stay organized from the start.
· Compile a list of travel grants, and keep track of deadlines. I know of at least four sources for dissertation research funding at IU: the College of Arts and Humanities Institute (CAHI), the University Graduate School (UGS), the Graduate and Professional Student Government, and the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Many national organizations (like ASECS) as well as individual libraries offer funding for graduate students to conduct archival research. If you are having trouble tracking down funding or want help writing grant proposals, make an appointment with GradGrants.
· Begin by identifying the archives most useful to your project. Start by making a list of libraries and special collections that likely house materials pertinent to your historical field, and then search their catalogues.
· When searching in an unfamiliar catalogue, actually read the directions on how to use the catalogue first. Many archives and libraries have separate catalogues for different collections (e.g., one catalogue for bound materials, another for manuscripts, and another for ephemera).
· Be aware that not everything in a special collection is catalogued online, so don’t be afraid to email a reference librarian for help early in your research.
· Focus on undigitized sources in your grant proposal. If a source is available digitally, your grant proposal will need to explain how the original version of that source differs from the digitized version as well as why that difference matters to your project.
· Once you’ve identified the collection(s) you want to visit take note of the archive’s hours. Many archives aren’t open all day and/or close for government holidays.
 Quoted in Bonnie G. Smith’s “Gender and the Practices of Scientific History: The Seminar and Archival Research in the Nineteenth Century” (1165) American Historical Review vol. 100, issue 4 (1995).
Tracey Hutchings-Goetz is a PhD candidate in Indiana University's Department of English and a dissertation year fellow of the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Her dissertation, Touchy Subjects: An Eighteenth-Century Anatomy of Haptic Sensation, makes the case for the importance of the sense of touch to eighteenth-century British literature and culture by attending to the experience and representation of touching and being touched during the period. Last spring, she traveled to London to conduct archival research at the British Library, Wellcome Collection, National Archive, Guildhall Library, and V&A Clothworkers' Center for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fabric.