Five months in and my PhD is in full swing. I am starting to collect data on apothecaries from archaeological excavations and from documentary sources.
I am very lucky, I have a fully funded PhD through the Midlands3Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. As part of this package I am encouraged, to apply to the Student Development Fund, which pays for research visits and data collection alongside professional development opportunities. My colleagues, and I, often plan on traveling all over the UK, and even abroad, to access materials, documents, and people, which are integral to our research.
In this rush to make the most of our funding however I think there is one resource that gets overlooked.
Your own university's Special Collections and Manuscripts collections!
At the University of Nottingham these collections are kept at a separate campus, and are catalogued in a separate system to the rest of the library, making the idea of accessing them even less likely to arise for most students. This is a shame.
Having spent a full day browsing all the manuscript sources that arose from a keyword search for 'apothecaries' in the University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections (UoNMSC) catalogue, I think that these collections are rich, varied, and surprising. It is likely that your university's collections will contain types of documents that you would not think to look at, that can add new perspectives to your research, and that can help you to more fully contextualise your study.
My research is looking at the social history and material culture of apothecaries in the early modern period, and looking through apothecaries' bills to the Dukes of Newcastle and Portland, whose papers are kept at the University of Nottingham, I was surprised to find that sometimes the containers in which medicines were dispensed were listed in the bills; in these cases as 'stoppered vials' and 'bottles' (for example in NL 21/1 and Pw C 666). Further there were several interesting letters, in these same collections, that included requests for personal apothecaries to be appointed to court (for example Pw F 2799), or to be sent to serve in the American Revolutionary War (for example Me C 29/30/1-2). One letter even provides insight into the state of pharmaceutical retail in the provincial County town of Hertford, which I would not have otherwise included in my research (Pw F 230/1-2).
My doctoral thesis will take me all over the country to Exeter, Winchester, London, Colchester, Leicester, and Birmingham this year alone. These travels will provide the structure and main data for my research. This could stand on its own without the documents I have found in the collections of the UoNMSC, but it would lack context, local interest and texture that enrich the content and value of the finished product considerably.
So why am I writing this?
I want to encourage you, my fellow doctoral researchers, to start your research at home. Run a keyword search, discover something surprising that you can find in your own backyard! It was worth the day or two for me, and it might be for you too.
Explore these lesser used collections - they might surprise you!
I want to thank the incredibly helpful reading room staff at UoNMSC.
Sources referred to:
University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections, Nottingham, UK (UoNMSC)
Me C 29/30/1-2 Letter from John McNamara Hayes, New York [America] to Charles Mellish, Papers of the Mellish Family of Hodsock, Nottinghamshire, c.1160-1991.
NL 21/1-3 Bundle of 3 bills from Stevenson and Leeds to the 3rd Duke of Newcastle under Lyne and members of his staff regarding apothecary treatments; Apr. to May 1795, Accounts and related papers of the executors of Thomas, 3rd Duke of Newcastle under Lyne, 1781-1809.
Pw C 666 George West the apothecary's bill; 5 Sep. 1766, Papers of John Achard, scholar, 1721-1770, in the Portland (Welbeck) Collection.
Pw F 230/1-2 Letter from William Baker, Bayfordbury, Hertfordshire, to [W.H.C. Cavendish-Bentinck] 3rd Duke of Portland; 8 Nov. 1792, Papers of William Henry C. Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809), statesman, in the Portland (Welbeck) Collection.
Pw F 2799 Letter from Elizabeth Chudleigh, 'Duchess of Kingston', Chudleigh House, London, to W.H.C. Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland; 13 Apr. 1766, Papers of William Henry C. Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809), statesman, in the Portland (Welbeck) Collection.