Today (1st October) is my last day at the Society. By the time I walk out of the door this evening, I will have been at the Society exactly 6 years. I started on 30 September 2014 and leave, today, 1 October 2020. Though the Society has had a Librarian throughout its history, starting with Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod in 1823, I became the Royal Asiatic Society’s first archivist – quite an historic appointment. So my thanks need to go to the Council, to the Director, Alison Ohta, and Librarian, Edward Weech, for, firstly, seeing the need to appoint an archivist and, secondly, in selecting me from the candidates – taking a punt on a newly-qualified middle-aged archivist with a lot of life experience but very little work experience, who’d taken herself off to get an archive qualification thinking it would be an interesting and stimulating way of entering the workplace after raising a family.
And it certainly has been! I arrived with only the scantiest knowledge of Asian history. So, thanks also need to go to the many of you who have contributed to my increased understanding. I still wouldn’t say I have an encyclopaedic knowledge but I certainly have a much more intimate acquaintance with many of the characters who helped to bring a greater understanding of Asia to Europe.
As with any job there are high and low points. I’ve no wish to dwell on the latter but the highs include the joy of opening boxes and discovering what is inside; getting my first catalogue on to Archives Hub – the Papers of John Drew Bate; and seeing how more catalogues have enabled researchers to find material they didn’t know existed. I remember one researcher who had been interested in the Lorimers since his own time in the Gilgit region 40 years before. He was overjoyed to find there was ‘new’ material to add to his research. And that is just one of many researchers who have contacted the Society after finding papers of use to their research. When somebody contacts you after finding material on the catalogue it is always an incentive to keep ploughing on with the next catalogue. There have also been the joys of accessioning new material that has come into the collections. Within my time here there have been several small donations but we have also acquired the larger collections of the Papers of Thomas Manning and Angus C. Graham. It has been so satisfying to organise and catalogue these collections and know that they are now available for future generations of researchers.
I would like to thank all the volunteers, interns and placement students who’ve made such a big impact both on the archives and the wider collections. Through them many collections have been listed and catalogued and the whole photographic collection is correctly packaged and catalogued. I want to say a big thankyou to them for being willing to tackle anything – from cleaning dirty documents to numbering hundreds of photographs, from trying to make sense of letters in a range of languages and varying degrees of legibility to identifying people and places so an accurate catalogue entry can be made.
I also wish to say thank you to those of you who have come to use the collections on a regular or occasional basis. It’s been a joy to get to know you a little and in some small way help with your research. Also thank you to those who take the time to read these blogposts and respond to our social media feeds. It all helps to build up the community of the Society.
And talking of community I want to thank the Council for being supportive of my role here, and particularly to Professor Tony Stockwell, our current President, who throughout my time here has been Head of Library Committee and has taken such an active interest in the Collections. And of course, I want to say a big thank you to my work colleagues for making this a good place to come and work – always a friendly smile to greet me when I come in, always somebody interested to see what new treasure I’ve discovered.
I would like to say a particular thank to Alison Ohta, for both trusting me to get on with my job but being there to provide support, encouragement, knowledge and wisdom. I would also like to thank her for arranging a leaving meal for all members of staff, and a virtual farewell drinks for Fellows and friends. Thank you also for my leaving gift – this lovely Japanese porcelain bowl made by a Japanese ceramicist living in Devon.
My biggest thanks must go to the new Dr Edward Weech, who has put up with me week in, week out. I have really enjoyed working alongside him, learning from him, being co-conspirators in caring for the collections. Our discussions and his work ethos have made working here are real pleasure.
I’m leaving the archives world for a while. Some of you will know that alongside this role, I am a published writer, of, mostly, poetry collections. There are some projects that have been germinating on which I want to focus for a while. So I am taking a ‘sabbatical’ period before I will seek out some other archival collection with which I can get to grips.
It only remains for me to say “Farewell” – not only good-bye, but also the wish that you may all fare well – finding joy, solace and inspiration in life, particularly in these strange and difficult times.