Parisian Detective Work

in Holly Tucker, Libraries, Research and Writing


By Holly Tucker

Wonders and Marvels has been a little quiet this past week. But life has actually been not quiet at all!

I just returned from a whirlwind research trip to Paris. Mission: to delve into the mysteries of a stash of 400 year-old documents in the archives of the French Academy of Sciences. The picture above will you a sense of why I left the library with more than a little dust on me.

My archival sleuth work will figure prominently in the book that I’m finishing up. So stay tuned!

In the meantime, a few highlights:

Over the course of just of few days, I dug gently around in cartons and cartons of manuscripts and corrected page proofs from the 17th century.

I stood awkwardly in front of an equally old building in the busy Marais quarter, waiting for someone to let me in. I wanted desperately to have a chance to where one of my historical guys lived, and did some of the crazy experiments I describe in the book. I lucked out when a mail person showed up. And lost my pride once again as I begged and pleaded to have a look around. (It worked!)

I visited the Paris Observatory, which was built by another fascinating historical figure that I bring back to life in the book. And then, what the heck, I sat quietly in an anatomical amphitheatre in the heart of the Latin Quarter.

My French surgeons learned their craft in these two-storied dissection halls. I spent a good twenty minutes, sitting right in the very spot where the dissection table would have stood, soaking it all in.

I didn’t have to beg to get in, but I did get many odd looks from the workers of the Paris Human Resources department who inhabit this small historical building now.

Que la vie est belle!

  • Carrie K

    It’s a horrifying life you lead, but someone has to do it.

    Wow. Sounds like a fabulous and fruitful trip.

  • Teddy Rose

    Sounds like a wonderful trip! I’m glad begging paid off!

  • HT

    I know, it’s hard, but someone has to do it!! :)

  • Sandra Gulland

    I loved this post, Holly. I know that feeling of desperation so well! “Just let me IN!” And it’s so breathlessly glorious when one DOES get in. Bravo!

  • bookhling

    Love the post. Hunting down old forgotten documents and archives at grand libraries, sounds like something out of a book :)

    The history of science must be a fascinating subject. I wonder if everything back then was more or less the same as it is now, just based on different first principles.

  • Delia

    That sounds so wonderful! I swear, the minute I finish with my 20th century neurosurgeons, I will go back in time!

  • Catherine Delors

    Fascinating! I went to the Musee Fragonard last week and thought of you. All the monsters, and the ecorches, of course.

Previous post:

Next post: