Friday, June 28, 2013

Take a Look, It's in a Book

Each time I have passed a second-hand bookstore on this trip, I have made an effort to stop in and peruse their wares. I usually start in the local section, knowing that the books in one store’s local section will probably be not replicated in the next city, but definitely will not across the country. My first second-hand purchase was a book that proved quite interesting, useful, and illuminating in my first week here.  It was A Popular Dictionary of Cornish Place-Names by O.J. Padel, and I spent many long car rides looking up the origins of the names of cities, rivers, and historic sites we passed. Using the book as a traveling aid has been one of many experiences in England that demonstrates the ways in which history overlays the present. The names of places reveal a long and winding past, combining the names of figures with literal depictions of geographical features in near-dead tongues, sometimes noting historic or cultural events in poetic ways. The ability to reference the book has made me wish for the ability to always have the names of places at hand, for they provide a rich and subtle look at a long-distant past not always accessible through the sources we have readily available.

Most of the other books I have purchased will not be discussed in this post, because they were purchased as gifts for my family, and I will not spoil it for them through this blog.  Through the wonder of second-hand bookstores, I have finally had the opportunity to discover Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I have always been overwhelmed by the sheer number of books that make up the series. At this point, there are over thirty books in the Discworld saga. I picked up the first, twentieth, and twenty-sixth book, reading them out of order within that disjointed grouping. In a sense, the way I have approached the Discworld series is similar to the way the England Field School course structured an introduction to the British approach to museums and historic sites. I have taken a varied and disparate grouping of visits and concepts and attempted to draw them together into a grand narrative of learning. The alien organizations of the National Trust and English Heritage as well as the constellation of private trusts and charities that preserve and protect individual sites, as well as laws and government programs such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund, have each been illuminated by brief, small windows by the many places we have visited. The tales of the city of Ankh-Morpork and its environs, all resting on a disc on a turtle’s back, may have seemed daunting at first, but the exposure I have gained through constant reading have made it almost legible. In a similar sense, English public history, as well as the tenets and practices of the discipline in general, have become much clearer to me through repeat exposure, as I have traveled around this country, building connections with classmates, professionals, and historic places.

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