Friday, October 29, 2010

First Day in London

Decades ago, I attended a day-long workshop with Ursula Franklin, the renowned metallurgist, professor emeritus and Canadian peace activist. One of the concepts she talked about that day was what she called: “the domain of ignorance”. Initially I thought that she was talking about that place where I spend so much of my time but then, I realized that what she was talking about was a much more interesting “domain of ignorance”.

Just to be clear, my “domain of ignorance” is more like Winnie the Pooh’s. Lots of times, I think about fairly important stuff and then I immediately click into: Nobody knows, tiddly pum ... and so on. Then I end up wondering about where the next pot of honey might be. But even so, Ursula’s idea still stuck with me.

Simply put, imagine if a circle could be drawn around everything we know about a particular topic, in my case say, the story of Thomas Jackson and all the people around Creggan, South Armagh who ended up in Hong Kong in the late 1800s.

In Ursula’s picture, it is the circumference of this circle that is worthy of our exquisite attention, because it is the line between what we know and what we don’t know. It is here at this place which she calls “the domain of ignorance” that we find both the most remarkably fertile ground for new thought as well as the need to be humble.

But here is the tricky part. The more we learn, the bigger our circle becomes and hence the bigger its circumference aka our “domain of ignorance” gets. In my case, both of them are increasing exponentially. This is scary. When I talk like this, I start to feel as if I am channelling Donald Rumsfeld: “There are the known knowns and the unknown knowns” and blah blah blah blah. Like Rumsfeld, I too can end up sounding like a blithering idiot.

Last week, I was at the Vancouver Writers and Readers Festival – great good fun and a total tonic for the soul. At one of the panels, Myrna Kostach and Denise Chong both talked about the utter intoxication of research. They had both experienced times when the research itself was so much fun that they wanted to keep doing it forever. To hell with writing the damned book.

I am grateful to both of them for saying this with such fervour and believe me, I am taking this to heart as I head into another six weeks of immersing myself in the archives of England and Ireland..

Today, most of the day was spent setting up mobile phones, internet and such but I was also in the Kensington Library and lo and behold, they have the 2002 Canadian Whos Who. I have never seen it anywhere else, so natch I had to take a picture of an entry that amused me:

[Okay - for some reason I can't upload the image right now. I don't understand why but I will try another day. Needless to say, it is my own entry]

Enough for now. In another blog, I will share what I think are the most important things for me to focus on for my upcoming research during this trip – and why these questions matter. By putting them out there in full public view, I figure I will have to deliver. Yes?

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