Historians, their work, and their discoveries

Historians come in two models.  The first group rummage around tracking down old or long lost documents, artefacts and the like, ultimately drawing conclusions from what they have found.

The second group cut out the research bit and simply take existing commentaries and written work, and draw their own conclusions, without bothering with the getting dusty bit.  Thus they tend to avoid ploughing through the old archives.

Now I must admit that when I do take on any sort of research work (which is rare), I tend to be in the second camp, sitting at home or in my office, looking up what others have said, and then ultimately drawing my own conclusions – generally pointing out where everyone else has gone wrong, and where I alone am right.

But I do have great admiration for other people who really do spend time looking through old material seeking out information that has now been lost.

Last week I was privileged to see this happen in practice.  One of our customers decided to open up a box of ancient football programmes and start reading them.

Now football programmes are things that people can collect rather like stamps or sets of china cups, or old cars.  Each to their own, and I must admit that none of these things particularly appeal to me.  But it has always seemed a harmless type of hobby. 

As it happened I got talking to the fellow who was doing the research, and looked at the programme collection he had retrieved from our store room.  The programmes were of Arsenal FC and were 100 years old, relating, so he told me, to the first season Arsenal spent at their new ground of Highbury in north London.

It seems he wasn’t looking for anything in particular – just reading through the programmes one after the other. (Apparently they are now extremely rare and valuable and he was wearing the obligatory white gloves to handle the precious objects).

I had moved back to my everyday duties when I heard a shout. I walked across to him and found that he was shaking – not (I am glad to say) with fear or worry, but with delight.

For it seems that in a particular football programme he had found something of momentous importance.

Or perhaps I should say it was of momentous importance to him because I must admit I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about.

It seems that Arsenal FC, like almost all football clubs formed in the early days of organised sport in England, had adopted a Latin motto.  Unfortunately although the meaning of the motto is clear (Victory Through Harmony) the origins of the decision to make this Arsenal’s motto had been lost in the mists of time.

But now it seems all was revealed, for there in the programme for 20 September 1913 was an article by one of the club’s directors to the effect that as the move to the new ground had been such a success and as the club was now doing so well both on the pitch and financially in terms of attendances, the Directors had spent some time wondering at the origin of the success.

Their conclusion was that these developments were due entirely to the “concord” within the club.

They then went on to mention the Latin motto “Victoria Concordia Crescit” for the first time.  A little later the motto was taken up by the club and used as its official motto – and indeed it is still in use 100 years later.

It is interesting to contemplate the fact that this football programme had sat in our storage facility for many, many years, and indeed had undoubtedly been purchased on that day 100 years ago from a programme seller outside the ground.

The discovery of the origins of the clubs motto won’t mean anything to most people but to a group of football enthusiasts it certain is a major event.

Just one more reason to have old documents stored in a good storage facility.

Twenty years ago, publishers sometimes said yes

Twenty years ago if you wanted to have a book published you would probably write some or all of it, and then you would send it off to a publisher, or perhaps an agent. If your work was any good there was a fair old chance that you would achieve publication.

These days the world doesn’t work like that.  Send a book to a publisher and there is a 99% chance that all you will get back is a moderately polite note saying “no thanks”. There might also be a line saying that the publisher only takes books from agents.

Send the book to the agents and they will most likely tell you that they are not taking on any new writers.

It is the almost perfect catch 22.

Almost perfect because there is a way out for the technology that has put publishers into difficulty has also resulted in the solution for the would-be author. That technology is the advent of digital printing and it has made it far easier for you, me and everyone else to publish their own books. 

Indeed one can argue that the move by publishers and agents to restrict their intake of new books has itself helped speed up the arrival of self-publishing.

In fact we can all, in a very real sense, be publishers these days.

Of course being a publisher does require a certain amount of administration – although fortunately not much. You need to send off a copy of your book to the British Library, and up to five other universities should they request a copy.

And you have to do that with no income. You have to pay for the books and the postage.

But there is an upside from that, for by depositing the book in the British Library you will be listed in the British National Bibliography, which is a listing of all the books held in the Library. Others will be able to find your book there, if they search on the library’s web site.

There are a few other things you have to do too, such as get yourself an ISBN – which will cost a little, but is not hugely expensive. Having an ISBN (that’s the long number that every book has printed on one of its title pages) means you get the book onto other databases, so anyone looking for a copy will be able to find you as the publisher.

Which leaves two problems – the marketing of your book so would-be buyers know all about it and can buy it, and the storage of your books while you are waiting to sell them.

Marketing of books these days is done through web sites and blogs. You write a daily blog about your subject area and people will turn to it, reading your words of interest. Advertise your book on every page and at the foot of every article and you will start to get sales in.

Which leaves us with just one problem – storage. Which is where Admiral Document Storage comes in.  You can put your books in our storage facility. No one else can get at them, since you have your own space, and you can come and pick up any number that you like at any time.

And here’s one other thought. If you publish a book and you are going to sell it at say £12.99, you might print 100.  Sell the first 30 and you will probably get all your print and development costs back. Sell the rest slowly over time and you will make maybe £700. The fact that takes several years to achieve may suggest that this is not much of a business, but if you imagine having a dozen books all jogging along in this way, it begins to be a nice little spare time earner.

You can find out more about Admiral Document Storage on our website