As Dr. Gehrz mentioned a few posts ago, I have been spending my time of late at the Huntington. Located in San Marino, California, the Huntington boasts several gardens, terrific art galleries, and an incredible library. Daily I walk past lemon, orange, fig, and kumquat trees, and the abundant jasmine and lavender infuse the smog with a hint of perfume. Sir Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” resides here in what was once the Huntington mansion (but since 1924, a full-fledged art gallery). I definitely preferred the collection of American art at the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery, however, including John Sloane’s “McSorley’s Cats” (shown above). Given my research interests, let’s just say that scene is fitting. The library, too, is home to several masterpieces, including some from my neighborhood’s namesake, John J. Audubon–just one example from a collection of 420,000 rare books and 7 million manuscripts. So, if you’re still looking for summer travel ideas, the Huntington is worth a visit.
The Huntington is also a great place to research. Summer is peak research time here, and you can find folks like me in the Ahmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Center. I’ve spent most of the last week and a half poring over the collection of “Los Angeles area court records, 1850-1910” for my book, Gender and the Business of Prostitution in Los Angeles, 1850-1940. The research has been rewarding, but in surprising ways. The criminal records, for example, yielded a few nuggets of new information, but they mostly confirmed what I knew from extensive newspaper research. The records dealing with property–whether in the probate or superior court–were a different story. They painted an extraordinarily detailed picture of the everyday lives of individuals involved in the business of prostitution. When people fight over assets, they tend to list every one of them in the court documents they file, down to the “one petrified greyhound” in the “rooms off the parlor”–what? Digging through such inventories has made me feel like more of an archeologist than a historian, but such an experience speaks to the craft of our discipline. History requires not only the work of uncovering the artifacts, but the skill (and discipline) of interpretation and narration. I only hope that NE Minneapolis is as beneficial to the latter as the Huntington has been for the former.