Back in 2015, when I was still employed as a visiting English professor and had a small travel budget, I went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and spent a few days in the special collections reading letters between Charles J. Finger and James Keddie. Finger wrote many books including several for children. (He’s best remember for this Newberry award-winner.) Keddie sold a home library called Journeys through Bookland. In 1931, Finger began to work for Keddie, writing newsletters and answering letters from concerned parents. As a researcher interested in how childhood reading was theorized and promoted, this correspondence was right up my alley.
I love archival research. I love the quiet, temperature-controlled environment, the strict instructions to use pencils or wear white gloves, and the assortment of carefully catalogued materials (boxes, accordian file folders, fragile books) that are delivered to tables. I also love being surrounded by other researchers embarked on their own idiosyncratic projects. Archival research can be frustrating, surprising, and tantalizing. You don’t necessarily find what you hoped to discover, but you always discover things you didn’t expect to find. I got lucky in Fayetteville. The correspondence between Finger and Keddie was rich, full of fascinating discussions and disagreements about childhood reading. But I also grew intrigued by the career of Helen Finger, Charles’s daughter, who illustrated books including some of her father’s.
I left Fayetteville excited. Still, as much as I enjoy doing the researching, the writing is a struggle. The materials have languished. Over the years, I have occasionally opened them up. I have started drafts and made notes. But then the project would get shelved again. But sometime this year, I recommitted to it. Having multiple unfinished projects is a burden, especially when you care about them and believe others might, too. Maybe not many, but at least a few.
So for the past few months, I have been working on it consistently. I have made good progress, and now a draft is nearly complete, ready to be sent off to an academic journal. My deadline is May 23rd, the kids’ last day of school. It might be accepted; it might get rejected, but while it’s under review, I can feel like it’s ‘done.’ And can move on to next unfinished project.