It’s crumbly bits of books. I’ve been doing some of my first forays into something like archival research recently. It’s fun and it’s different from much of anything I’ve done or that I feel very confident doing. I’m looking at court cases from the first two decades of the 1900s, cases about injuries on the job. For the cases I’m looking at, I have local access to trial transcripts of most or all of the cases. The transcripts are bound copies of trial briefs, which were then bound into books. It’s a bit of a challenge to find the transcripts so far. For the cases I’m looking at I have the names of the people involved and the date the decision was made, but the cases are presented in the bound volumes in the order in which they appeared before the court and aren’t labeled by date, so I end up leafing through many of these volumes (I guesstimate where to start), which is where the crumbly bits come from. Some of the books are just falling apart. It’s crappy – my reading is physically damaging the books in an obvious ways – but it’s also pretty cool to get to look at this old stuff. Some of the bound volumes have other stuff stuck in them, like photos and blue prints and copies of wills and contracts, all stuff that was used as evidence in the trials. Fun times.

I’m finding the trials using searches etc, not by using physical stuff or paper indexes (though I have found a lot of other stuff it’d be fun to go back to eventually, not that I’m tracking it – sort of like when you find a good band or good book because it happens to be on the shelf next to something you set out to find) and some of the materials I can get and have already in e-form (the summary decisions). Even if the full text was available electronically, I’d be into the leafing part. I mean, it’s less efficient but the aesthetic is really enjoyable. Physically holding the photos introduced into court as evidence and stuff (I’m pretty sure they’re not reproductions but are the originals that were held by people in the courtrooms). I don’t think it means any kind of real connection, but there’s a feeling of connection there – touching something someone a long time ago touched. I had that same feeling in parts of the UK when I lived over there – seeing really really old stone steps that had been worn down from so many feet. I like that sense of connection, though I can’t quite put it into words and I don’t want to overemphasize it. The best I can think of is that it’s a sort of “me too” feeling – I act in the same world, sort of, as prior historical actors.