what it was to be a musicologist in the good old days. I mean a time when there were no computers, no internet, no scanners. I can vaguely remember my student days, when microfilms were as good as it got, and you had to use those peculiar photo-developer printers, dodging all the while the noxious, immediately stain-inducing substance that made your fingers stink, and then quickly transcribe the music before the printout faded. But in the end, it was actually cheaper to travel to Italy and stay in youth hostels, transcribing (in pencil) madly for as long as the library was open, than it was to get all the films together (although there was never any realistic prospect of going to Gdansk, if that’s where the book you needed was). That first trip I must have carted shedloads of manuscript paper over, ruling it up in the evenings before my next library visit (“Sono studentessa inglese. Sono qui a Verona/Parma/Bologna/Cremona per fare richerche… sto preparando mia tesi dottorale…” always ten times harder when you had to get into the library by intercom). And when I got home, there was the eighteen-month anxious wait for the Gdansk films, all the while wondering if the books I sent in lieu of payment – this was barely post-glasnost after all – ever made it through Polish customs.
Yesterday I went to the library in Southampton with my little box of films, and lo, what wonders I beheld. For now the microform reader scans into the computer attached to it, and you can save everything onto your memory stick. Take the scans home, print them out, and transcribe them into your WYSIWYG music notation software. This morning I logged onto OPACs all over Italy and found at least six reprints of a book that I thought had only been published in 1589. I don’t suppose I would have thought this possible twenty years ago.
But – and I find this somehow reassuring – I will still be thrown back into that uncertain, weird world of the European archive as I’m planning a trip in October to rustle around monastic/conventual records. I’m sure the Biblioteca del Monastero di Corpus Domini is about as far from the interweb as it is possible to be. And despite my swagger, I still feel deeply trepidacious about what I might find, and whether I will be able to cope with it. It’s a bit like being pregnant for the first (or actually, any) time. You know that something will happen, has to happen, you’re just not quite sure what….