This summer I was lucky enough to receive Gateway funding that allowed me to travel to Richmond, Virginia, USA to undertake a week of archive research for my Part II History dissertation. I am writing about the 1812 Richmond Theatre fire and, more broadly, about religious attitudes to the theatre in the early 19th century American South. With my Gateway funding, alongside a Rosemary Murray Academic Award, I was able to visit the US for the first time. This was a really exciting thing for me, as this is where my father’s family is from.
I was also able to find an AirBnB – this turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip! It was a single room in Catherine’s house, a freelance architect who lived surrounded by art and discarded designer furniture with her dog, Jacob, and her cat, Sophie. The houses in Richmond are known for their porches – when I walked to the archives every morning I loved the sight of rows of white wooden porches filled with plants. Catherine had a porch with a swinging seat and I sat there reading in the evenings, petting Sophie. My room was full of little notes with information and recommendations, and there was fresh coffee out every morning. That AirBnB truly made my Richmond visit!
I really developed my research skills during that trip. I divided my week into two chunks to look at sources in two different archives – the Library of Virginia and the Richmond Historical Society. I contacted the librarians in advance to have access to sources that were not in publically accessible vaults and once there, I had to be disciplined in organising my time to sift through stacks of material and find the useful facts. These skills are useful in any discipline or career, and I’m thankful I was able to develop them while also researching something I find academically interesting.
Living independently and having to rely on myself when things didn’t go to plan taught me to rely on myself – for example, forgetting it was Labour Weekend and that would impact the availability of the libraries, and organising my research around that. Also, small things like going to restaurants on my own (Richmond has excellent Cuban food!) taught me a lot about enjoying travelling alone and building on my confidence.