When you work in archives, or with manuscripts of any kind (sometimes just with the manuscript catalogues!), you find things. Often they’re not the things you were looking for, but there they are. Now you know about them. And sometimes, nobody else does.
So what is your responsibility to these discoveries, and to the other work you have been doing, to other scholars, and to yourself? Do you put aside other work to do a proper job on the thing that you found, that no one else knows about? Do you put it on the “someday” list, and hope nobody else gets to it first? Do you publish a note drawing it to the attention of the people whose proper job it is, and let it go? Do you hand it off to someone you know, with your blessing? Do you give it to a graduate student? Do you find a way of approaching the topic so that it looks more like your other work, after all?
I came to my undisclosed location intending to deal briskly with a couple of short texts, then move on to another problem I’ve been working on for some time, which a few weeks in a major research library might be able to dent. But I got drawn into a manuscript, not in my usual period or topic (though it is a manuscript, and in a period I sometimes pinch-hit in); I spent a few weeks getting to know it well. Then I started to wonder what I was doing. I have several projects I need to finish. Having them sitting around in various stages of completion is driving me crazy. After I get them done, I have this list of ideas in my research journal. I don’t need another project. But this one fell into my lap. And it’s cool. I know something special!
I think it’s that (re)creation theme coming to get me. I have a history of (a) getting involved in too many things at once and not managing to finish any in a timely way; (b) working on projects that just turn up rather than sticking to a clear master plan. And so I thought this year I would re-create myself as someone who focuses on one thing at a time. I would have priorities, and a plan, and think about a larger research trajectory rather than working in little patchwork bits.
So my shiny thing looks like the temptation I should put behind me, so I can stick to my plan. On the other hand, about a decade ago, I found something else, and gave it away to someone who wrote a prize-winning essay about it. I regretted that, and decided in future I would keep the shiny objects for myself.
I need to focus, to concentrate on my work. But which . . . ?