Residency Journal

I approach the record office without any particular idea of where to start other than to look at the archive itself. How does is aquire, accept, compile and contextualise information and how can I access and value information because of that? Without  specific research point, it’s like being dropped in the middle of an ocean with my eyes barely above water – a massive expanse of information and no reference points. I start by flicking through the index card system, reading the cards  by the hundreds, hoping for a pattern to emerge.

After two days I am getting a grip on certain themes that may be relevant for my work:

  • Archives are subject to fashions. Researchers’ demands will affect the archive itself, which delivers a service as well as trying to record history in an objective manner.
  • Index cards are the archivers’ best shot at summarising a document’s content. Invariably the artefacts themselves provide other information than the text content they may contain. The original can reveal both a lot more or a lot less than the index cards may suggest.
  • Over centuries it was educated and wealthy people who created the papers trails – and in the process documented a history of their own interests and lives. In contrast poorer people appear as objects of interest. They are written about- mostly in official documents, when they become a matter of public interest.
  • With every new artefact(document) relating to the same subject the mental image of events, characters and places changes. Research to me becomes a hybrid process of imaginative speculation and logical advance. Some of this experience I definitely want to bring to my work.

The politics of crime and punishment being of particular resonance with contemporary British society,  I find myself drawn to the crime and punishment records from the 18th and 19th centuries. I then focus on the 19th century, mostly because I find official documents from that period a lot more readable in terms of handwriting.

The diary of a prison chaplain 1842-1844 records the prisoner count for Sunday Mass and Wednesday/Friday prayers across three Exeter prisons. Creating a table for each service in meticulous handwriting the chaplains stubbornly documented  attendances. At the bottom of each table there is one short paragraph recording extraordinary events. Variations of one phrase keep appearing across six months:

„Visited Brimmacombe, a young female in solitary confinement.“

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Trying to meet Matilda Brimmacombe-screenprint/etching on shopping-bags, display table.