I have just returned from another winter venture that furthered my research on beekeeping history. This time I visited the Phillips Beekeeping Collection at Mann Library, one of the several fine libraries at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
It’s a lovely campus even in January. Here is an iPhone image of the university at dusk, after most of the snow had melted during the two preceding days:
My primary mission on this trip was to consult some of L. L. Langstroth’s writings, including the journal that he kept for a number of decades after his invention of the movable-frame hive in 1851. I had read a number of his published works previously, so I had a pretty good idea about what I might find. Still, in terms of research practice, it is important to look at original thoughts and writings in order to more fully comprehend an innovator’s identity and achievements. Reading them, however, is a chore. Here is one of the most neatly-written sets of pages in the Langstroth journal:
Many other pages were more like the script that he described as “a scrawl which only [my wife] and I could decipher.” In any case, it was a fruitful visit and the relevant chapter now feels more solidly written and evidenced. Library staff told me that future researchers should be able to view the journal online since it was recently scanned for the benefit of those who cannot make the trip and wish to consult the original. It just needs to be posted. Digitization of archives is exerting an extraordinary influence in modern historical practice–mostly for the better I think. Humanities-oriented projects tend not to have a large amount of funding, so cutting some of the travel expenses is extremely useful for people who need to visit many sites to conduct their work. On the other hand, travel and exploration of archives provide opportunities for valuable discoveries and other surprises in historical research, so there is a significant downside to over-reliance on digital archives.