So last week I spent some time up in Canberra conducting some research for my thesis. I split my time between the National Archives and the National Library, as I went through some documents that mainly dealt with Australian aid policy in the last 1940s and early 1950s.
I enjoy travelling to Canberra, as it is a very pretty city, and I generally stay at a hotel in Barton, which is really close to the archive and the Parliamentary Zone. It’s a lovely place to walk around, and the weather was absolutely perfect up there last week. Perfect conditions to sit inside an archive all day and look at 60-year-old documents.
I managed to find some good stuff during the week, and I took a ton of photos that I will now have to go through and read. At the archives I mainly focused on External Affairs papers that should help me to develop my ideas regarding Australian attitudes towards economic development and Southeast Asia during the early Cold War.
The National Library was also full of good stuff, and I worked through parts of the Percy Spender and Arthur Tange collections there. It was the first time I’d used the manuscript collections there, and I look forward to going back and seeing what else I can find.
It’s funny when I go on these quick research trips, as I spend most of the time photographing documents for later reference, which means I still have a lot of work to do with them. It reminds me of when I was an undergraduate and would photocopy all of my readings and feel as if I’d done some work. In fact the real work is still to come.
I’m still working on developing a routine for archival trips, as I haven’t been on many yet. It’s difficult to spend a full day in a reading room and then try to get some other work done.
One of the important things for me is to find a decent cup of coffee, which is not always easy. I found a good café in Manuka, which was 5 minutes drive from my hotel that did the trick, but I’ll keep looking on future visits.
Another issue with being alone on a research trip is finding things to do in the evening. Canberra is a pretty place, but I struggle to find ways to entertain myself after I’ve spent a day in the archive. I found myself kind of bored at nights, which is something I need to work on in the future.
I’m going back to Canberra for a couple of weeks in January for more archival work, so I’ll need to plan ahead to find ways to keep myself entertained. There are only so many movies a person can watch on a laptop before getting sick of it. I guess the more time I spend in Canberra the more things I will find to do.
At the end of the day I had a successful trip, and I still get that addictive feeling when looking at documents from the past that very few people have looked at. Every historian knows that the archive is the fun (and often frustrating) part of the job, with the search for that crucial document that can make your project.