The job of an archivist or rare book librarian when broken down to its basics really has two key elements to it. Firstly looking after the ‘stuff’ i.e. preservation. This means making sure that the storage rooms the books and archives are kept in have the right atmospheric environment to prevent mould growth and making sure everything is protected from dirt and damage whether by water, insect pests or careless handling. But secondly, and equally important, is making the ‘stuff’ available to everyone regardless of their age, background and level of interest. With some creative thinking it is possible to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to see some of the amazing treasures that the Cathedral is lucky to be the custodian of.
One group of people that have traditionally always had a keen and specialist interest in the collections are academics – people undertaking historical research whether they are an MA student, PHD student or university professor. We have a steady trickle of enquiries from academics all the time and we very much hope this will only grow in the future as access to information about our documents and books increases, enabled by the new database we are creating as part of the Beyond the Library Door Project. I thought I might share with you some of the varied areas of research that such people have consulted our collections for over the last six months or so.
A very exciting research project is just getting off the ground led by Swansea University in association with the University of Southampton focused on the evolution of the medieval city of Salisbury and Old Sarum 1100-1450. As part of this project a PhD student has been extensively using our collection of medieval deeds. Alongside such research into the surviving documentary evidence there is a further team looking at the archaeology at Old Sarum.
Another recent enquiry was from a Dutch student writing a book about the history of the board game draughts. One of the library's 15th century manuscripts called ‘Jacob’s Well’ contains an early mention of “Chekyr” ie checkers/draughts (see if you can spot the reference to cheffe (chess) and chekyr in the photo below). Jacob’s Well was also studied extensively over a number of days by a French MA student – having spent nearly three years studying this manuscript from afar using a scratched black and white microfilm when she arrived at the library actually seeing and touching the manuscript in person was quite a momentous and moving experience for her.
Further areas of interest to researchers have included: women’s piety in sixteenth century Salisbury, Izaak Walton’s private library and the impact of World War I upon the contemporary music and services within churches and cathedrals.
Just very recently a PhD student, Sally Wadsworth, has made a return visit to the archive looking for evidence among the 14th to 16th century communars’ accounts trying to track the presence of Waits at Cathedral processions and services. Waits were itinerate musicians employed to augment important service and processions playing instruments such as the sackbut, lute, bagpipes etc. Sally’s work is a great example of how researchers can not only use the collections for their own benefit and interests but that their work can help us learn more about what we have ourselves: if it wasn’t for Sally’s own research we would probably wouldn’t have known anything ourselves about the Waits!