The Bulstrode Newsletters

The man himself, Sir Richard Bulstrode. 18th c. engraving.1

I just don’t think I’ll ever get tired of talking about The Bulstrode Newsletters, although I’m sure everyone else will eventually get tired of hearing me talk about them.

I got word this week from Dr. Elon Lang, the project archivist for the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of English Manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Center, that my beloved Bulstrode Newsletters are now 100% digitized and uploaded to the Ransom Center’s Digital Collections. Almost 300 letters have transcriptions that were scanned, OCRed, and incorporated into their records from the catalogue produced by Alfred Morrison in the 1890s. Along with the metadata I created for the almost 1,500 letters, the transcriptions will greatly increase search-ability for the collection, and maybe some day the Ransom Center will enable users to add additional tags to capture even more metadata about the people, places, and events mentioned in the letters.

Now you too can read all about how the French were “mightily disappointed in their designs upon Sicily”, about the great surplus of news on 6 October 1677 (and the great shortfall of news just two days later), and the torture and execution of David Hackstone (which he apparently bore with great patience)! Among many, many other stories and exciting details (about which, more here in my original discussion of the project)!


You can also get up close and personal with all those lovely, lovely wax seals I went on about last year.

You can also relish the many stunningly gorgeous (and sometimes infuriatingly unreadable) scribal hands. Outside of medieval manuscripts written in Anglicana, I think the hands in these letters are some of the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever gotten to work with!

The usefulness of the Bulstrode Newsletters collection to researchers is in its completeness: the years between 1667 and 1688 were full of newsworthy events in London and across Europe during the reigns of Charles II and James II. These manuscript newsletters are an exceptional primary source for insightful commentary on events at the Stuart and other European monarchs’ courts, as well as on social, political, and military events and the activities of England’s commercial expansion and maritime explorations (there are several mentions within the letters of entities like the Dutch East Indies Company).


Image from the HRC’s Digital Collections. See this letter in wonderful high definition!

The collection amounts to a single, unified resource for events of this time period, as well as an indication of the workings of these proto-journalists and their relationships with their subscribers—far from being a one-way service in which news from London was transmitted to a client on the Continent, the letters also demonstrate that Bulstrode sent intelligence and even chocolate back to his correspondents in London. Included among the many weekly dispatches sent to Sir Richard Bulstrode are multiple letters from journalists regarding incidental affairs related to the newsletters service—for example, explaining breaks in dispatches or acknowledging receipts of payment. These provide an additional layer of historical interaction and culture for researchers to study. The digitization of the Bulstrode Newsletters adds another reference point for studies of the events of the 1670s and 1680s, and greatly increases evidence about the journalistic activities of Sir Joseph Williamson and other newsletter producers from this time period.

As you can probably tell, I have a lot of love for this collection and I’m still so thrilled I was able to take part in the project. I learned so much while working on it about digitization and Old Style dating and Restoration London, and I hope in the future I’ll get to read some of the scholarship that comes out of having access to these wonderful newsletters.

1- I took this picture of a copy of the engraving that was given to me as a thank-you gift by Joan Sibley at the Ransom Center. It now lives in a gorgeous frame in my office in Irvine.


Treatment Techniques for Bound Materials

Back in Feburary I posted a little bit about one of the classes I took this semester, Treatment Techniques for Bound Materials. Now that the semester is over, I thought I’d share a little bit more about what I created and learned in the class.

The original binding of the ‘Three Musketeers’ book, lovingly repaired with packing tape.

As I mentioned last time, the class started out with learning how to build books from scratch in an effort to understand how books are made so that we could better understand how to repair them. I made a couple of more books over the course of the semester, but I think the best skillset I learned in the class was how to recase paperback books whose covers had come apart. I certainly have a fair few of those on my shelves at home! For the purposes of learning and not mucking up something that has sentimental value or would be hard to replace, I started with a $2 copy of The Outlaw of Torn by Edgar Rice Burroughs that I bought in 2007 to take on a backpacking trip to England and Ireland (this was in the pre-iPad days when I was still hauling paperbacks around on holidays) and a standard Penguin paperback edition of The Three Musketeers that I bought when I was about 10 and which was definitely quite the worse for wear.

The new cover and fake bookplate of the ‘Three Musketeers’ rebind.

The method for rebinding a paperback is really quite simple: you pull off the covers, cut off the old spine on a purpose-built machine and then put the textblock in a vice, after which you fan the book out in both directions and slather PVA glue on it until the glue covers the spine and creates a new adhesive. Then you build a case and glue the text block in. Easy, right? ;)

It’s really not so bad, but my first attempt, on The Outlaw of Torn, was quite messy—I managed to get glue on the head and tail of the text block, which meant the pages stuck together when the glue dried. I also didn’t do a great job in creating the case: the binder’s boards warped, I ended up with more book cloth on the spine than I wanted (and it ended up crooked, to boot), and the paper that I’d chosen for the cover (a beautiful but delicate Japanese paper with gold vines) was so delicate that the glue dampened it to the point where it rubbed or was stained. The final product isn’t awful, and for a first attempt I think it was quite good, but my second attempt turned out much better.

The front cover of the rebound ‘Three Musketeers.’

My old and much loved copy of The Three Musketeers ended up rebound in paper that had a map of Paris in the late 1800s printed on it. I cut sections out of the paper that roughly lined up with places I knew featured in the book so that I’d have a map to hand on future re-readings and could follow d’Artagnan’s progress through the French capital. I also cut the coat of arms of the city out of the bottom corner to make a fake bookplate for the front pastedown.
The new case ended up being perfect, and it’s probably the best case and case-in that I did all semester. I managed to glue the text block into the case without ending up with anything crooked, and the whole thing just looks gorgeous. I’m really proud of it, and now I want to re-do all of my paperbacks!

One of our final projects for the semester was to collect a variety of technique descriptions into a treatment manual that would serve as our go-to resource in the future. I decided to collect web links to tutorials and videos in an account on, which I am very pleased to share with you all. I hope some of you find it interesting to browse through the different methods for fixing common book problems! And, as I mentioned last time, pictures of most of the repairs I made in this class are available on Flickr. Enjoy!

Capstone Side Projects: A Bit of Sphragistics

Last October I had the chance to go to Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 14 in Copenhagen. It was an amazing experience and full of exciting sessions and events, but one of my very favourites was given by Ilona Teplouhova of the National Archives of Latvia on the conservation of wax seals in Latvia. In addition to introducing me to the interesting field of sphragistics (or sigillography), it was an excellent overview of some of the conservation concerns regarding wax seals which I have found incredibly useful while I’ve been processing the Bulstrode Newsletters collection.

Sphragistics started out as an ancillary discipline to dipomatics, the scholarly study of historical documents. Because most wax seals depict a coat of arms, it has strong links to the study of heraldry and genealogy, art history, and social history. Because the seals were made of wax, they’re often quite brittle now that the wax has set and hardened. In the Bulstrode collection, all of the seals were used to securely close the newsletters and many of them, therefore, have either been broken or are attached to torn pieces of paper.


Edward Coleman’s seal

Going into processing the collection, I knew that there would be a variety of wax seals to examine: the Pforzheimer catalogue notes that Edward Coleman used a seal of “on a chevron between three cherubs heads winged, a crescent for difference” in either red or black wax. Whether this was Coleman’s personal coat of arms, I’m not sure—Coleman was employed by Mary of Modena, the Duchess of York, during his tenure as a newsletter-writer, and this seal doesn’t seem to correspond to anything connected with the Duchess. The seal of the three cherubs is ubiquitous across Coleman’s letters, appearing on a significant number of the newsletters he sent to Richard Bulstrode.

seal03Among the newsletters sent from Sir Joseph Williamson’s office, there are (at least) eleven different seals to be found including three roundels on a fess between three crosses; a ship; what I believe is a female peacock; on a chevron engrailed between three crosses clechée fitched; a sheaf of five arrows, tied; a compass rose of sixteen points; three roundels on a chevron between three birds; three lions heads on a bend; and the most common, a chevron between three water-bougets.

seal05Most of the seals in the Williamson letters only appear once or twice, and I haven’t been able to determine if any of the seals belong to any of the seven named newsletters writers who worked for Williamson. Robert Yard, Wiliamson’s right hand man and general manager of the newsletter office, has signed his name to letters with two different seals. I can’t find any indication that either Robert Yard or Edward Coleman were allowed to bear a coat of arms, but if the seals aren’t connected to the writers and employees of the newsletter offices, I’m not sure what they’re doing affixed to the newsletters at all. Given the abundance of different forms among the Williamson letters, I know they don’t all belong to him. But who?

seal04I can’t spend a whole lot of time cataloguing the seals or attempting to identify any of families they belong to, although I’m still keeping detailed notes and attempting to research the correct way to describe them for my own future reference. My supervisor gave me permission to include a note about whether a complete or partial seal appears on a letter in the database, and she’s made notes for the digitization team to be sure to capture an image of every seal and include it with the images of the letters. Some day I hope to go back and add descriptions, and possibly identifications as well if I can work with the College of Arms to try and identify coats of arms that go back so far. For now I’m most concerned with making sure that the seals aren’t in imminent danger of destruction.

Bookmaking: Part Two!

This blog started out with the story of how I made my own manuscript book because after studying medieval manuscript and book creation methods in a classroom for my first master’s degree, I thought that actually putting some of them into practice would help me get a better appreciation for how to talk about books from a codicological standpoint. And it did! My little copy of part of Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess really helped me understand the steps that books go through as they’re being made.

This semester I’m taking a course in the UT School of Information’s conservation department called “Treatment Techniques for Bound Materials,” and the first seven weeks of class have been devoted to making our own book from the ground up.

My bookbinder's toolkit.

My bookbinder’s toolkit.

It’s exciting work and I love every minute of it! I’ve uploaded pictures and information about the steps I’ve gone through to a Flickr album.

Our next portion of the class will be dedicated to rebinding books, particularly paperbacks that had especially cheap bindings. I’ve picked two of my favourite paperback books that are in serious need of a new binding: a copy of The Outlaw of Torn by Edgard Rice Burroughs that I bought for $2 and which is coming completely unglued from its current covering; and my first copy of Dumas’ Three Musketeers, which has been repaired with packing tape several times already. I’ve picked up some lovely papers for their news covers, and I’m excited to start working on them next week.

Wrapping Up My MSIS: My Capstone Project

As I’m closing in on my MSIS program at the UT School of Information (holy wow, has it really been two years already??), I’ve started working on the “capstone” professional experience project that is meant to bind up all the skills I’ve acquired over the past four semesters and bring them all together into one demonstrable project that I will complete over the course of this semester.

My project is to work with an archivist and medievalist in the Harry Ransom Center to catalogue and digitize part of the HRC’s Pforzheimer Manuscript Collection. The subset of the larger Pforzheimer collection that I’m working with is called the Bulstrode Newsletters. It is made up of a series of manuscript newsletters written between 1667 and 1688 from journalists in the London metropolitan area to several recipients. The newsletters represent the “correspondence journalism” of the time period: gentlemen living in the countryside or abroad could subscribe to a newsletter office for an annual fee and receive updates by letter from a journalist reporting current events in London as well as transcripts of speeches and presentations in Parliament.


The address of Sir Richard Bulstrode in Brussels and the wax seal from Edward Coleman’s office.

The collection that I’m working with is comprised of letters that were mostly sent to Sir Richard Bulstrode, an English diplomat and writer who fought in the English Civil War for the king and as part of the Prince of Wales’ horse. Bulstrode was implicated in two thefts in 1665 and fled to Bruges, where he was captured and imprisoned for two years. While in prison, Bulstrode converted to Roman Catholicism. In July 1674 he was appointed an agent for the English crown in Brussels and was knighted. Eventually he became James II’s ambassador to Brussels. After the Glorious Revolution in 1688 which resulted in the deposition of James II and the accession of William and Mary, Bulstrode remained in Brussels and continued to work as a loyal agent of James II.

IMG_1901Most of the letters in the collection were sent by a newsletter office run by Sir Joseph Williamson, the Secretary of State. Williamson’s newsletter office was highly regulated and almost acted as a propaganda outlet for the state, with a moderated system meant to keep certain aspects of government out of the eyes of the citizenry. However, part of the Bulstrode collection includes letter that were sent by Edward Coleman, the secretary of the Duchess of York. Coleman was convicted of being part of a Catholic plot to kill the king and the only evidence that exists that Coleman the traitor and Coleman the newsletter-writer were one and the same person is in our collection in the form of a note asking Bulstrode to send return letters via the Duchess of York’s house in London.

The letters as a whole deal with day-to-day events at the British court and in Parliament, but there are some other rich tidbits related to the activities of other countries (particularly France) and sensational or unusual trials. One of my favourite letters talks about how “disappointed” the French were after one of their warehouses of supplies for their war in Sicily was burned down.IMG_1470

My capstone project is going to involve a lot of the things I’ve learned at the UT iSchool: cataloguing, digitization, metadata standards, digital collection management, and good old research and reference work. I’ll produce a finding aid for the Bulstrode Newsletters, oversee the digitization of the letters by HRC digitization technicians, create rich descriptive metadata for the digital assets and encode transcriptions for the first 300 letters. It’s an exciting project and I’m really happy to have the opportunity to work with such a rich source of historic information.

I’ve already finished the first two steps of the project, which were to survey every letter and make sure that we had everything that we thought we had. The list of letters was based on a microfilm version that was produced about ten years ago, but it turned out we had almost 50 letters that weren’t part of the microfilm collection.


A “before” look at the way the letters were stored, leaving them to bend inside their boxes.

The collection was also horribly out of order—the letters are often dated in English Old Style dating, where new years start on March 26th instead of January 1st. Because of that, many of the letters were out of order and I had to sort through them all and make sure that they were presented chronologically. I also rehoused all of the letters into new archival folders and document boxes with stiff supports to try and reduce the amount of bending and curving stressors put on the manuscripts. Previously the letters were stored in 3-4 folders per document box—now there are 12-13 folders per box with 20-25 letters per folder. This is great from a conservation standpoint because it reduces the risk of tearing or other physical damages to the delicate paper pages. It was remarkably zen work.

Phase three of my project is to create the rich metadata for each letter before the records are imported from the current SQL database into ContentDM. Each letter needs a title, description, date, place, and other important descriptive information attached to its record before the digitization can commence. I’ve finished one box and most of a second, which puts me about one third of the way through the entire collection. It’s slow going and after about four hours of working on it I start to go a bit loopy, but it’s important work and I’ll feel satisfied to know that when everything goes into ContentDM later it will greatly improve the search-ability and discover-ability of the collection.

And after! All nice and tidy and securely supported.

The Folger Shakespeare Library also has a collection of newsletters written by Sir Joseph Williamson’s office called the Newdigate Letters. My supervisor at the Ransom Center and I are both hoping that I can find a grant and some time to make it to the Folger this summer and do a little extra work to compare their letters to ours. There’s many great opportunities for mining these letters for new insights for historians of the seventeenth century, and I hope to find a way to raise awareness of the collection and help researches navigate it.

Oppa Data Style: Using Data to Track the Popularity of PSY

Every once in a while I get the opportunity to write about something for class credit that I passionately love in my non-academic life.  Previously this has meant getting to write about the works of Alexandre Dumas for my senior seminar on Robin Hood literature or talking about how video games incorporate medievalisms in new and interesting ways, but sometimes this means getting to write about things that are really esoteric like the viral video sensation “Gangnam Style” by the South Korean pop artist PSY.  I got this weird and wonderful chance today when The Economist published an article examining the data behind “Gangnam Style”s viewer data on YouTube, which makes it prime material for a blog post for the Digital Curation class I mentioned in my last post.  And because I think this is one of the most fun things I’ve ever written (and I’m still stunned and delighted that I got to talk about “Gangnam Style” for class), I’m going to archive it here for posterity.

Soon there will be a blog post about the amazing experience I had at the International Seminar on the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts in Copenhagen last week, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around all the amazing things I saw and heard there, so in the mean time please enjoy:

On July 15, 2012, the South Korean pop singer PSY released his sixth studio album with the song “Gangnam Style” as its first single. By September, the official video released on Youtube was averaging almost 10 million views per day and the related Gangnam Style mania was being covered and analyzed by a variety of mainstream news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal (as previous linked) and The Guardian (“What’s so funny about Gangnam Style?”). The South Korean pop song spawned a huge number of parodies (as of writing, YouTube returned over 16,500 hits for the search phrase “gangnam style parody”) with parody topics ranging from “UMD Library Style” to “Klingon Style” to “Deadpool Style” (for even more Gangnam-related videos, check out The Week‘s “Gangnam Style: the 11 best parodies of the viral video” and The Wall Street Journal‘s “5 Must-See Gangnam Style Response Videos”).

Needless to say, the overwhelming response of the American public to a South Korean pop song about a district of Seoul very few Americans could probably find on a map has been unprecedented even in the era of YouTube-to-famous viral music videos (by contrast, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video had earned 144 million videos during its first initial storm of popularity while the official PSY music video on YouTube has over 531 million views at the time of writing). The sensational storm caused by the video has necessarily meant that a great deal of attention and thought has been directed to understanding the phenomenal popularity of the song and its singer, and that’s where the data comes in.

In “The data behind Gangnam Style: the rise and rise of PSY,” writers at The Economist take a look at the data surrounding the video’s popularity and discover that Gangnam Style isn’t “a flash in the pan.” The writers break down the video’s 531+ million views as “At roughly four minutes of video, that amounts to 36m hours of phantom horseback-riding dance moves, which equates to 4,100 continuous years.” This may make Gangnam Style the most popular and influential viral video yet.

But who’s watching it? The Economist‘s writers identify the “top demographic category of fans” as “girls aged 13 to 17, followed by boys of the same ages and then young men 18 to 24.” However, this raw data only tells part of the story since some of the most popular spin-off videos are produced by people outside these key demographics and since it would seem to indicate that enjoyment of Gangnam Style is restricted to the young and predominantly male—as the article points out, however, figures from outside these key demographics such as Ban Ki Moon are showing off their style moves.

Another article by SPIN (“How Did PSY’s Gangnam Style Become the No. 1 Rap Song in the Country?”) blame Billboard’s antiquated and “useless” chart methodology for not accounting for digital downloads and other metrics in the way they (previously, it has recently been changed) determine what songs are the most popular, which were previously only determined by radio airplay data.

In the end, however, I think that while the data collected by The Economist and others will be important to researchers hundreds of years from now who will chart the inexorable spread of Gangnam Style’s influence in world culture, I don’t think raw (or even analyzed) data is ever going to be able to tell the whole story of exactly why this weird and wonderful video has so effectively captured the hearts and imaginations of so many people around the world.

For more in-depth analysis of Gangnam Style and the culture and artist that created it, The Atlantic‘s “Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation” is an exceptionally interesting read.

In The News: British Library Science Manuscripts Online

Here’s an interesting piece of news from the British Library’s Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts blog:

Science Manuscripts Online Soon

The British Library’s Harley Science Project, generously funded by William and Judith Bollinger, has supported the digitisation of 150 manuscripts, spanning the period from the 9th to the 17th centuries, and embracing many branches of early scientific knowledge.

Ff. 158v-159r of BL Harley MS 3719: illustration combining the features of a bloodletting man with those of a zodiac man. (Image by the British Library.)

This is a project that combines two different professional interests of mine (manuscripts and the history of science/medicine) and absolutely delights my heart.  For those of you who wonder what it is I want to do when I grow up, this is pretty much exactly it!

Learning (With) New Technology

It is a bit of an understatement to say that technology has changed the way people study over the past decade. When I first started my university career, I had a Dell Inspiron 600M that I rarely took to class or used to take notes with. I can’t think of many people who did take notes on their computers — my classes were all filled with people toting pens and notepads around. I certainly did, and I still have all those notebooks. It wasn’t until the summer before my senior year, when I bought a MacBook that was easier to carry around than my Dell, that I made the conversion to electronic notes-taking, but even then I still used real books and printed out the journal articles I needed rather than using electronic resources on my computer, and for the most part I still took notes by hand (and typed them up later).  When I wrote my undergraduate honours dissertation, I typed notes out of my primary and secondary sources up in meticulous Word documents and then printed them out because I didn’t like having all the windows I needed open on my screen at the same time.

For my first master’s, I took my notes in class on paper (as did all of my coursemates), but tended to always take my MacBook to the Bodleian to take notes and write down quotes from the books I was studying.  I think I would have continued printing out my typed-up notes if it hadn’t been for Apple’s advent of the Spaces feature in OS X in early 2008.  For those who aren’t Mac users, Spaces allows you to create multiple desktop spaces and spread multiple windows across them.  For me, it allowed me to have each chapter of my dissertation and its attendant notes documents open in their own separate spaces.

Changing spaces: my desk in the Lower Radcliffe Camera reading room in June 2008...

With the advent of the Kindle and the iPad and tiny netbooks, things have changed noticeably and drastically since I left Oxford.  In my new courses, the majority of students seem to be taking their notes on MacBooks or netbooks or tablet PCs.  I’m sure there are a lot of advantages to using computers to take notes, and I’d love to hear some perspectives on this, but I find them distracting and I’m not alone.  Personally, I feel about it the same way I feel about people eating in cinemas: lots of unnecessary and distracting noise, but that’s probably because I am far too easily annoyed or distracted by noises.  Last week I went to lunch with a group of medievalists from around UT, and we were discussing the “wall” that a PC’s screen puts up in front of students that impede discussion.  One of the medievalists told me that she makes students who want to use their laptops sit at the back of the classroom and keeps her TA sitting behind them so that they can ask students playing games or being distracting to leave the class.  There have also been many recent articles we’ve all encountered who say that the use of computers in classrooms to take notes negatively affect a student’s ability to focus and retain knowledge.  I tend to agree — there is a lot more evidence that backs up the argument that handwriting notes makes it easier to retain classroom knowledge than typing, and for me that is certainly true.

But even I am treading a careful line between screen and paper: all my notes for my courses are meticulously handwritten in a notebook and colour-coded with pencils, but I have finally started to get real use out of my iPad for something other than Netflix and Fruit Ninja.

... and my workspace in the Perry-Castañeda Library at UT in September 2011.

I think there are a lot of advantages to using an iPad or similar tablet/eReader in class over using a laptop — aside from my tendency to Twitter in class, the iPad isn’t easy to surf idly or Facebook on like a laptop and so aside from scrolling through class readings or checking the syllabus, I tend not to use it very much and concentrate more on taking notes.  The iPad’s biggest advantage for me is that the reading materials for my classes are (blessedly) mostly articles that my professors are kindly providing through Blackboard, so I’ve started using my iPad to download them into iBooks so that I can easily access them in class or read them on the bus.  It’s a system that is really working out for me and allows me to “travel light” as I flit between campus libraries, work and class: instead of printing out reams of paper and carrying the physical articles or books around with me, I just need my iPad, notebooks, pen case and bus pass — the inside of my trusty Moop bag doesn’t change from day to day and I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything.

This is a very different brave new world from when I started out at UTSA carrying my pens, binders, notebooks, textbooks and sundries around with me in a giant backpack, and even a very different brave new world from when I was at Oxford and hauling a laptop case AND a carrier bag everywhere.  But in this case I think different is better — it’s certainly meaning fewer backaches!

Gone To Texas

This post is for and about my dad, my family and traditions, both those that are “mine” and what traditions mean to me in general.

Yesterday was the first day of classes here at the University of Texas at Austin. I worked in the morning at the PMA library and was… oddly disappointed. With a student body population of around 50,000, I expected there to be a lot more hustle and bustle, but the campus was quiet and peaceful in the early-morning heat.


The Tower.

When I wrote recently about why I chose to come to UT, I rather half-heartedly mentioned the fact that I am now the third generation in my family to come to UT. To me, that’s more than just an idle statement and it’s something that becomes more meaningful to me as I listened to the speakers at the annual Gone To Texas (GTT) ceremony.


Setting up for GTT.

I chose to go to Oxford because it was the best place to do what I wanted to do, and I still feel incredibly lucky that I got to live childhood!me’s dream of going to Oxford. When I went to Oxford, one of the things that constantly struck me was the thread of world history that now connected me to all the other Oxonians around the world and throughout that university’s history. I became part of a staggeringly amazing group of alumni — Wikipedia helpfully lists a number of the most famous. The traditions of the university became very dear to me and I relished wearing my sub fusc and reciting the Bodleian Library’s oath.


The University of Oxford crest adorns the base of the Tower.

Many of the Oxford traditions (for better or for worse) stretch back centuries and it still makes me smile to think that for a little while they were part of my daily life. Even at UT, respect and admiration for the world’s oldest universities is prominently acknowledged on the sides of the UT Tower where the crests of the Universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, Salmanca, Cambridge and Heidelberg have been placed. We may not dress in sub fusc or swear oaths to our libraries, but clearly the dons of UT’s past wanted our university to be part of the list of elite institutions of the world.


The Tower is lit up orange for sports victories and special occasions.

While the Oxford traditions connect me to the thread of the world’s history, the traditions at UT connect me to the thread of my own family. My father and grandfather were Longhorns, as were a number of my other relatives. My dad raised me to be a Longhorn, too, and I remember many walks along “The Drag” with him telling me about all the most interesting places on campus. One of my favourite memories is of going to see the UT college maces on display in the Student Union. Even though I may have taken some of his advice with a grain of salt (“you have to live within five blocks of campus!!”) and although I joke about his finally getting to use that “I’m a Longhorn Dad” bumper sticker, I am glad I’ve finally followed in his footsteps and given him an opportunity to give it. I’m not sure if my graduation from UT will mean as much to him as my graduation from Oxford, but it will mean as much to me.


The Longhorn Band plays the Fight Song.

If my fellow new iSchoolers are anything to go by, it’s very uncool to be patriotic about your graduate school. Perhaps this is a valid way of looking at things, especially since you can’t go just anywhere to study libraries and archives. But at the Gone To Texas evening, I couldn’t help but feel very emotional about the fact that when I walk around campus and hear the 56 great carillon bells playing, they are being rung by the same man who rang them when my dad was a student in the 1970s. Maybe it’s because my undergraduate university was so young and had so few traditions, but I’m thrilled to bits to show my school spirit and have the eyes of Texas upon me. I feel very lucky that the program that is best for me (and best in the country) happened to be at a university I’ve wanted to go to since I was little. Again.

I am proud to be a Longhorn. I’m proud to throw up the horns and say ‘Hook ‘Em.’ I’m proud to continue a family tradition.

Do open windows keep the rain away?


Empty shelves, like blank pages, always make me smile.

It’s been a week now since my big move to Austin.  For the most part I’m settled in: my kitchen is unpacked and ready for all those gourmet meals I’m planning to cook (we’ll see how long that urge lasts!) and my clothes are (mostly) all sorted into the closet or chest of drawers.  I haven’t quite worked up the energy to put together the IKEA chairs for my table, but my couch is set up and my TV and AppleTV are ready to stream all the Star Trek: the Original Series (my current TV obsession) in the world.

Even my cat is settling in.  At the moment she’s stretched out full length across the back of my couch, but her favourite place is the small Edwardian “lady chair” I brought home with me from England and which sits now right next to my gorgeous, huge bedroom window.  From her perch there she can look down at the street outside and watch all the people, dogs, birds and squirrels and talk trash about them.

The only things that haven’t emerged from their boxes are my books.  All the shelves are set up and waiting, but the books are still lurking in acid-free boxes.  I really wasn’t kidding when I asked about what classification system I should use. ;)  Not really, I am just kidding.  I may be a complete OCD bibliophile but I’m not THAT bad.

No.  Really.  I’m not.

I’m not sure what I’m waiting for, really.  When I came home from England I threw them all up onto my shelves with no thought and I want to avoid that as much as I can.  My medieval studies and primary texts need to be put back together and my Dumas books need to be carefully dusted and arranged.  But that all requires time and thought and for the moment I’m kind of enjoying the unbridled thrill of potential that an empty shelf gives me.  I can reorganize my books any way I want.  I can put all the Christies together with the Crichtons and then follow that with the Blaylocks or I can alphabatise them.  It’s all so exciting to think about. :)