I am a librarian and have represented Senate House Library on the Committee of London Research Libraries in History for the past three years. Recently I undertook a research project on London Quakers and this blog post is one small way to thank the librarians and archivists who were so helpful.
This piece is a thank you letter to many of the libraries and archives who participate in History Day. Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to stand on the other side of the reference desk as a researcher, and so many libraries and archives have made that experience a joy. Hence, the story of my research project is really a story of libraries and archives, so as I write about my research, the conversation inevitably turns to the repositories that made it possible.
When I began my project, my goal was to understand the place of London Quakers in the context of early modern London and in the Atlantic world. Books from the History and US Studies collections of Senate House Library, where collection development by clever librarians over the years has created deep and broad coverage of the trans-Atlantic world, helped me understand the world into which the Quakers fitted, what preceded it and what made it possible.
My next goal was to establish the role of the London Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in communicating the faith and protecting the faithful. I am very lucky that the Library of the Society of Friends had the records of all of the pertinent meetings, including years of epistles exchanged among Quaker communities throughout the Atlantic world. I am even luckier that the staff of the library is welcoming, as I spent many hours in the reading room there.
My next research step was examining the activities of London Quaker merchants and their roles in the Quaker Atlantic. For this, the Port Books of London at the The National Archives were essential. Port books are not small so I found myself in the Map and Large Document Reading Room, which has its own culture and a definite community feel. The friendly researchers there were helpful for identifying symbols, advice on taking photographs, and good lunch conversation. I found further information in Haverford College’s Quaker Collection and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, both in Philadelphia, where librarians and archivists introduced me to other collections.
The transatlantic book trade grabbed my attention next, and this research was made possible by both the Library of the Society of Friends and Senate House Library’s Book Studies collection. The materials in Book Studies allowed me to put into context the information gleaned from the collections at the Library of the Society of Friends, helping me to understand print culture, and especially Quaker print culture, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
London Quakers were involved in the movement of different peoples in the Atlantic world. The research on this topic took me to quite a few libraries and archives, from those mentioned above to the British Library, the Guildhall Library and the London Metropolitan Archives. Finally, my research brought me to the Institute of Historical Research Library, where the librarians have created wonderful collections of printed North American primary sources that provided me with evidence of how London Quakers saw the colonies and how Quaker colonists viewed London.
As my research on this particular topic has come to an end, I come away with a renewed appreciation of research repositories, from the contents of the collections to the communities they create among readers to (most importantly) the generosity and knowledge of their staffs. I hope this short note lets them know how grateful I am.
I have shared my experiences and we would love to hear about yours. If you use the hashtag #HistDay15, we can keep track of your feedback. We’ll see you at History Day on 27 November 2015 to introduce you to even more libraries and archives that can transform your research!