Sunday, March 18, 2012

Archives III - Archives nationales, Fontainebleau

The Fontainebleau archives location is a little trickier than the Paris location(s). Most of that comes down to the first section,

Getting There
Fontainebleau is a 35 minute train ride from Paris, and within Zone 5 of the Paris mass transit system. As such, your options are an expensive ticket from Gare de Lyon station to Fontainebleau-Avon and back, or buying/upgrading a Navigo pass to include all 5 zones. Either way, you're going to pay for it. You could also stay in Fontainebleau, I guess, but that's a long way from Paris and it's hard to imagine not wanting to be a part of the city on your trip.
You'll want to take the 8:15am train towards Montargis, because there's a shuttle to the archives that departs pretty quickly after this particular train arrives at the Fontainebleau-Avon stop in the morning. Otherwise, you're in for a 1.5km (~20-30 minute) walk, or a bus plus a 5 minute walk. The same shuttle has a few other departure times through the day, or you can schedule a special one if you arrive at a different time, but it's a good incentive to get going early. Another shuttle will depart from the archives to the station at 4:45pm, which will get you there in time for the 5:20-5:30 train back to Paris.

Your First Visit
Actually getting in the gate at the archives is a little tricky - ignore the pedestrian-size gate and just walk towards the (also gated) car entrance, which open automatically. The pedestrian gate was locked when I tried it, and after buzzing various options for five minutes someone finally came and let me in. Much easier to just bypass that hassle.
The receptionist can show you around, but it's a basic sign-in system, throw your stuff in a number-combo locker, and off to the second floor. The registration for a reader pass takes place in the reading room itself, and requires a passport or other photo ID. Once you have that (and you probably should go ahead and preregister online to speed things along), you'll get no actual card, but rather a number that will let you make requests from the 'virtual reading room' online. You can request three items beforehand to get you going, otherwise you'll be in for a wait.

Requesting documents is a real hassle here, despite the virtual reading room being potentially very powerful and helpful. There's a limit of five boxes at a time, only three of which you can submit beforehand, and then any requests made on-site have to go in before [i]noon[/i], or they won't be handled that day. The delay between request and delivery is pretty substantial, too, so basically you're looking at one request in the morning, maybe another just before noon. You really have to play the system just right to avoid wasting hours (made worse by the expense of the ticket to get there).

Rules for Things:
Technically, there are the usual restrictions limiting you to computers, cameras, and pencils. In practice, this has seemed to be completely freeform. I've seen people using pens to take notes in their own notebooks, and people with camera bags and laptop cases. There are no security checks entering or leaving.

Bring you lunch with you, because pickings are slim otherwise. The closest food from the archives is at least a 7-10 minute walk away, and then only maybe one bakery and one bar. Better to just bring a sandwich and some water and eat outside before getting on with your business.

No wifi, no plugs for ethernet connections. There are four Internet-connected computers available for use in the reading room, so that's where you'll have to access the virtual reading room.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Archives II - UK National Archives in Kew

Continuing my series of Things to Know when diving into grad-level research in major archives I've visited, let's talk Kew. Kew is basically a small village in the further suburbs of London proper, about 45 minutes away by the underground, and also home to the British National Archives. The UK archives are pretty darned efficient and I appreciate that. There are some quirks, though.


Getting There
The archives are a 7-10 minute walk from the Kew Gardens tube station, which is near one of the ends of the District line. You'll just have to look at a map, but it's reasonably well marked too. You're on the wrong side of the station if you see the doors to the pub on your right as you exit. You're on the right side if you see a mediocre fish and chips place just to your left.
Basic London transport planning, if you're still in those stages:

Get an Oyster card, load it up, and off you go. Public transit is quite expensive, and like in Paris, the bike rental system requires a pin-and-chip credit card, which means not from the U.S. The Tube is not so quick either, so add 20-40% to the estimated times on the transport authority's website, especially if there's a transfer. Buses are cheaper and give you a view of the city rather than dark tunnels, but sometimes slower.

Where to Stay
There's a great site of local B&Bs here:
I stayed with Mrs Sheila Lyddon from there and found it welcoming and perfectly livable for the months I was there (I wasn't looking for anything but that, so that's not damning with faint praise), and the hosts extremely flexible, helpful and reasonable. Staying out in Kew means long trips to London for goings-on or British Library trips (~45 minutes each way and 5 pounds/day roundtrip by the Tube), which is a sacrifice for sure. Still, London mostly shuts down at night anyway, and there are night buses if you get stuck in the city (just be sure you have them planned out or god help you find wifi somewhere at night). I was also paying less for my room with free breakfast and no utilities than some actual Londoners I met were paying for a crappy shared apartments elsewhere, so there's that. It's pretty great walking 10 minutes to the archives in the morning, though.

Your First Visit
You can kind of skip the reception desk if you want, unlike some places. Just walk in to your left and you'll find signs to the lockers. Head up to level 3 for your reader's card, for which you'll need:
  • TWO photo IDs, at least one of which has the permanent address you're listing. (Guess they got sick of all the constant fraud when you only check one ID)
  • Probably some money, I forget
Back down to level 2, and there's a nice person who will help you straight ahead, the finding aids and archivists to your right, and the reading rooms off to your left. You reserve a seat the first time you request a document for the day, and if you reserve those documents overnight (also done on the computer before you leave), you're stuck with that seat again the next day. That means it's worth considering where you're sitting. Bad lighting makes for bad photos, and nothing is worse than a smelly or noisy neighbor. Remember this seat number you requested.
Once you've requested documents (and you've waited for them to process, go get a coffee downstairs and check the request's status from there), get thee to the reading rooms, where there's a cubby with the number of the seat you just reserved that holds your documents.

Rules for Things:
Computers, cameras, and the usual things are fine. No liquids, food, sharp stuff, pens, or books of your own, per usual. They don't check very closely, so fill your pockets with knives and anti-history if that's your thing. Or just USB mouse, camera stuff, good headphones, and other useful things.

There's a cafeteria in the archive, but it's really expensive, so bring your food or be prepared to spend 10+ pound on a small meal. In Kew, on the village side of the station opposite the path to the archives, there's a butcher shop with decent cheese or ham or chicken baguettes for 2 pounds (also a mini-Tesco for more options). Another sandwich shop (The Bread Loaf or something?) is on the street to your right as you exit the station, and it's a bit pricier but very good filled baguette options - plus if you catch then as you're leaving around 4:30-closing they sell the baguettes for 1.50, which is an amazing deal. The pub right at the station itself is also actually pretty good - I recommend the spicy bean burger even if you're not vegetarian.

For the adventurous or those living in Kew during your trip, I strongly recommend the take-out fish and chips place down Sandycombe Rd. at the intersection with (I think) North Ave. Much better than the one right by Kew station. Speaking of the archives side of Kew station, there's also a breakfast and lunch place there that seemed really Britishly mediocre when I ate there. Give it a pass unless you're really eager for a hot British breakfast, which you'll get, I guess.

There's wifi in the archives, but it's terrible. If you're having a hard time connecting, find one of the plastic information sheets they have scattered around the reading room tables. Once you succeed, you can access Gmail and Gchat, but basically nothing else you'd want to because of the incredibly stringent net filtering. Forget ordering your docs at the British Library, that's a little too dangerous for old Kew to let people spend their time there. Still, at least there is what there is, and being able to google things (even if not usually follow the resulting links) is helpful.

Archives I - Archives Nationales, Paris

The first time you do anything is always the most difficult just because of the mental hurdle of the unknown, and of course this applies to working in new archives as much as anything else. There's rarely that much information on the Internet from a grad student researcher perspective, either, regarding getting around particular archives. As such, I'm going to start writing out a series of posts of what to expect from the major archives I've used in the past - all the things I wish I'd known beforehand, not necessarily because they're super important, but just so I could mentally prepare and avoid delays before diving in.

First stop, the Paris location for the Archives nationales.
If you're planning a research project related to French history, you'll probably end up in the Archives nationales for obvious reasons. Less obvious is where that means you'll go. The main Paris location is for state records that aren't military (see the beautifully acronymed SHAT archives for that), aren't foreign affairs (see Archives des Affaires etrangers), and took place before 1957 or so (after that are in Fontainebleau, a 45-min train ride from Paris, and possibly this gets shaken up more once the new Pierrefitte-sur-Seinne site gets up and running roughly in the 2012-2013 range).


Getting There
The location isn't terribly near any particular Metro, but it's a fairly short walk from several, especially Saint-Sebatien-Froissart and Rambuteau. There's also always the option of the Velib (city-run bike share program), which is a great deal but requires either jumping through some hoops or having a pin-and-chip credit card that isn't used in the US (apparently American Express works if you're either of the people who have one of those).
Basic Paris transport planning, if you're still in those stages:
Like London, Paris uses a zone system for the metro, meaning you pay based on which zone you start in and which you end in (zone 1-2, 1-1, 5-2, etc.). Also like London, it can get you almost anywhere, is reasonably efficient, and costs a lot. Unlike London, Zone 1 is really big and covers everything you'll need unless you're living way out in the suburbs.
If you want peace of mind, get a Navigo Decouverte card, which is like a BART, Metro, or Oyster card in operation but only loads up in week, month, or year payments (and in a fit of stupidity, it's a calendar week/month/year, so a week bought on Friday lasts two days and a month bought on the 15th gets you about 15 days, so be careful when you buy). With this payment, you get unlimited rides in the zones you pay for, which is great if you get lost or want to quickly drop off to see something and get back on.
The other option, usually a little cheaper depending on how often you ride (especially since you can use the Velib, which is not included on the Navigo pass, which is also poor urban planning), is to buy a pack (or 'carnet') of 10 tickets. Kind of a pain to haul around, probably slightly more economical, a little more stress if you make a bonehead move and get off at the wrong stop like I might. Your call. Tripadvisor Paris forums are a good place for further details.

Where to Stay
As I just said, public transit is pretty good, if a little pricey. If you can find a rental apartment within walking distance, you'll save a lot of money and enjoy your trip more, but obviously that really limits your options in what's already a frustratingly narrow pool of options.,, and some others will let you rent directly from people who have a spare room or apartment to let, and is basically the same for free in principle (I've never done couchsurfing, I have used the others). Airbnb has the advantage of an escrow system that keeps away the scammers you'll find all over craigslist Paris and other obvious places.
The best tip I got was to look at H-France listserv's housing section. H-France's website even updates the listings frequently enough. This is how I found a place for two months of my 2.5 month trip. 

Your First Visit
Walking in the door to CARAN (the main building for researchers, well marked) there's a guard just inside who will want to search your bags in a perfunctory way. Someone at the desk a bit up to your right will welcome you, make sure you have a passport/ID you'll need for a reader's card, and then check that you have specific record groups you plan to investigate. My spoken French is pretty weak, but the receptionist was happy to switch to English when we hit a point of confusion, so don't stress if your language skills aren't great. So:
  1. Bring notes with the specific groups you want to access. Example: Section F 17 (Education), preferably with some extra information.
  2. Bring your passport. You'll need it for the reader's ticket
  3. Bring 20 Euros. That's the price for a non-student annual reader's card. You'll only pay 10 if you're a student and less for weekly passes, but better too much than too little money.
 The reception guy will point you to the office where you'll register for the card. Go through that process about as you'd expect, then she'll point you to the office near the reception desk where you have to actually pay for the card (can't just pay the card lady, for some reason). Having obtained a receipt from him, BACK to card lady to get your card. Hurrah! Now you can request documents online. She'll also point you to the lockers, where you can store your stuff.
Rules for Things:
Computers, cameras, and the usual things are fine. No liquids, food, sharp stuff, pens, or books of your own, per usual.

I arrived too late today to request files, so I've put off my first extended archivist consultation and actual file review. I'll update this section once I've spent more time here.

You can only request 5 things online in advance and have 5 in reserve, so mostly you're limited to 10 items at a time. That could be tricky! We'll see.

There doesn't appear to be any sort of cafeteria around, so bring your lunch and store it in your locker or just go out to one of the cafes in the neighborhood. I'll update this section if I find particularly good ones.

Doesn't appear to be any free wifi access as far as I've discovered. I'll update if I discover otherwise. There is a computer lab with seemingly minimal screening (someone had managed to install some malware on the one I was using already).