Posted by cathelyne

Being an English major, I’ve grown accustom to taking courses which require me to read many novels and write about them in a thought-provoking and critical way. That has been my life for a very long time; a wide array of literary discoveries within a very narrow space. It came as a great surprise to me when I discovered that this internship wasn’t like that at all.

Spending an entire month decoding someone’s diary did not appeal to me at the start. My initial thought was, “What kind of fun could someone from the 19th century possibly be having?” As a person who is generally skeptical about history (especially history that is written in a biographical way), I was pleasantly surprised to find myself completely engrossed in the life of what may be described as the most famous, non- famous actor of the 19th century, Mr. Harry Watkins. I was assigned passages that were written during the summer month of July and so he had a wonderful tendency of beginning his entries with a weather report of “Quite warm” or “Pleasant”, pleasant being his favorite term of description.

Imagine my happiness when I thought that all I had to do essentially was read then translate. That’s what I had been doing for so long; reading and writing my interpretations of texts. I hadn’t realized how comfortable I had gotten in doing this; I hadn’t deviated from this path for so long I didn’t realize it had become my niche. Harry Watkins’ diary opened up a long buried world to me. Palaeography has always been something I’ve been interested in and have practiced throughout my life. I love reading words, but so rarely do I get to read authentic handwritten text from early centuries. Harry Watkins reignited my passion with wondrously loopy l’s and confusing double s’s.

I was able to type up the first couple of pages with ease, but then came the real work. I consider myself pretty good with computers, but nothing could prepare me for coding. On the first day of the general overview, it was as if I was being introduced to an alien language filled with foreign codes that highlight, underline, and tag. Harry’s diary required extensive tagging. In one entry Watkins records a fishing expedition and not only did he get lost, but he hadn’t caught any fish, and got stuck in the rain. At the end of this entry, Watkins proclaims, “To add to our happiness, the clouds treated us to a heavy shower.” In this instance, this particular passage required no tagging, but he had many entries filled with sarcastic remarks of this sort where he would emphasize his point by underlining many words separately for extended passages within journal entries to express moments of disbelief, disdain, and doubt. My initial introduction to coding left me questioning why I would need to make note of things like every time he underlined words separately or spelled a word wrong; couldn’t I just make the necessary corrections myself without noting the original text? As time went on, what had at once seemed redundant became necessary. Harry wrote the way he did because he felt that it was important to do so and as I began getting into the project, I began to see why it was important to translate how he wrote his thoughts word for word, whether it was underlined, misspelled, deleted, capitalized or added on.

Every assumption I had made about this internship were shattered once I realized how much I gained during the process of working on this diary. This wasn’t something that was either strictly literary or strictly historical; it allowed me to step out of the space of analyzing context and appreciate the fascinating life that had been led by this interesting man. As an English major, I have oftentimes been caught up in the analytical aspect of working with literature; I haven’t really cared about what was in front of me. So much time has been spent playing editor that I haven’t allowed words to be themselves at times. The words have lost their meaning once you’ve been asked to assume what the life of another must have been like. With this internship, I got the opportunity to hear from an ordinary man, his words were a voice and not merely lines on paper. I shared his doubts about returning home, his happiness when living in the country, and his frustrations when faced problems in the theater. What does all of this mean for anyone who is interested in this class? Well, you’ll have to think no matter what, but your thoughts will be guided only by the fact that you want the best for Harry Watkins. You will want the world to see this man and all he did and the way he did it whether it was right, wrong, funny or sad.