Preparing for the Unknown

Participation in the Greggiati project represents, for me, a number of firsts.  For one, the project offers a first taste of archival work.  Living and working in the midwestern United States, I’m not exactly tripping over piles of interesting pre-20th century music manuscripts.  Thus, while I have had some exposure in the past to manuscript study and description, I have not had a great deal of hands-on experience.  As a scholar interested in music of the Reformation era in England, I hope that the experiences gained and issues confronted over the course of this project will be invaluable to my own future research, not because 19th-century Italian music manuscripts necessarily present the same problems as 16th-century English church inventories or municipal records, but because the process of solving the problems presented by an unknown manuscript is universal and transferable.

This will also be my first experience with library cataloguing.  I have to admit, the prospect of cataloguing, with its careful sorting and clean categorization, appeals to me on an almost primal level.  To tame the wild and bring order to chaos seems to fulfill some sort of innate human purpose.  (Wasn’t Adam’s first job taxonomical?)  But one mustn’t get carried away.  I have yet to face the task of cataloguing a hand-written manuscript—a very human object—with all its problems and peculiarities.  I expect there will be a marked difference between the ideal and the reality, for which I have tried to prepare myself.

Finally, this will be my first time in Italy, and though I come equipped with language skills and European travel experience, I feel strangely unprepared.  I have my bags packed, my important documents secured, and plans finalized, yet I know that one can never anticipate every eventuality.  Is it ever possible to approach such an extended trip without a certain degree of nervousness and uncertainty?

It is difficult to prepare for the unknown, to anticipate the unpredictable.  I don’t know how prepared I truly am for the experiences of the next four weeks, but I do know I am fully prepared for one thing: adventure—a term that, when applied to a four-week program of manuscript cataloguing and archival research, will probably amuse my friends and acquaintances outside of academia, but that remains appropriate nonetheless.



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