Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Next Project

Last March, as I reported here, I spent a few days in Bermuda for the Society of Early Americanists' conference down there. In my notes posted when I got back, I wrote "I'm already thinking about research projects that might enable me to get back there sooner rather than later," and those ideas have been percolating ever since. I'm happy to report that they've finally come to a boil, and I've embarked on what will probably be a fairly long-term project, to explore the history of books and book culture in Bermuda from the earliest English settlements through end of the eighteenth century or so (say roughly 1609-1800). I'm writing about it here to make it official for myself, and to explain why I've been tossing out tidbits about early Bermuda records on Twitter and acquiring so many books related to Bermuda's history recently (just in case you were wondering).

There's not a whole lot in the literature on the topic (most of the reason I decided to explore it) - while both mainland America and the Caribbean islands have been explored (at least to some extent), Bermuda's been largely ignored ... a fault which I hope I can take at least some modest efforts to correct. Mike Jarvis' new book on Bermuda's role in the Atlantic world should spur further studies of how the island fit into the economic and cultural atmosphere of the time, and his framework and exhaustive efforts will be immensely helpful in all those attempts.

Over the last several months I've begun amassing a pretty hefty pile of books and articles on early Bermuda and its people to begin the project, and I've finally been able to start making my way through them (and making lists of those that I need to hunt up elsewhere). Not surprisingly, there is much more in the primary records (particularly those for the early period) than has been put to previous use - just this morning, for example, I found was appears to be the first record instance of book theft in Bermuda, in 1640. There are many questions I look forward to exploring, and many, many, many stones left to turn - and at the end, who knows what will emerge. Whatever it is, I'm sure there will be many twists, turns, and surprises along the way (and don't be surprised if I can't help but share with you all now and again).

This project will require at least a couple trips to Bermuda to use the collections at their archives (including, among other archival sources, the wills and inventories, which contain records of many early private libraries). I'll be spending some time writing up grant applications so that I might be able to undertake those researches, and anticipate some serious time spent immersed in detailed reads of record books (mmm!), both here and there.

Of course I'll still be attempting to keep up as lively a posting schedule as I generally have around here, and will be continuing to plug away at the Libraries of Early America (though I have not yet decided who's library to work on next - any suggestions from The List?) - you all just may be hearing a little more about Bermuda in the coming months than you have to date; I hope you don't mind.Oh, and if you need pictures by way of enticement, don't worry, I've got lots!