So, finally, I sit down to publish this long overdue sequel, which has been sitting in my drafts folder for way too long. Well, here we go …
In most books about the Hypogeum in Malta, you are likely to read how unfortunate it is that the excavation was entrusted to Fr Emmanuel Magri, who decided to die without leaving us his notes. Magri died unexpectedly in Tunisia, in 1907, at the age of 56, while he was still working on the reports. So far, 106 years on, there is no trace of his notes yet.
Which brings us to our topic.
5. What are you looking for?
Previous research had generally focused their research on the hope of finding the notes of Magri’s work at the Hypogeum. In a sense, it was a matter of asking the wrong question and, therefore, looking in the wrong places. His notes have not been found, and maybe never will be, but his correspondence has, and has been published (Mallia 1985, 1986; Briffa 2005). The letters to the British Museum, in particular, allow us to glean precious information that was considered lost.
6. Where are you looking? (i.e. know you archives)
It is essential to understand the workings of particular archives. In my experience, once you know the nature of a particular archive, you may understand what may be found, and what not, and so be able to zero in on the material you seek.
The National Archives in Malta, for example, gives you access to government files, still in their original folders. Magri’s papers (Mallia 1985, 1986) form part of the fond relating to the correspondence received by the Lieutenant Governor, a sort of de-facto prime minister at the time, and ultimate chief of all government departments in Malta. Every single petition to the Government seems to have gone through his office, and thankfully that has preserved the correspondence and the related memos, informing us who wrote what, what advice was given on the matter, and also what actions where taken. Regarding Magri’s work, this also means that most of the information related to financing and government related decisions, rather than on archaeological questions as such.
In the case of the letters to E.A. Wallis Budge at the British Museum, his Department had the good practice of keep all incoming correspondence, and copies of all outgoing correspondence. The letters can be retrieved easily today, as they are bound by year and then alphabetically, in the case of incoming letters, and sequentially, in the case of outgoing correspondence. If you know who is writing, and in what year, you can find it with great ease. Since Magri was writing to Budge to receive advice, the letters are quite rich in archaeological detail, and help us glean the approach taken to such issues at the time. I was less lucky in the case of Charles Hercules Read, of the then Ethnological Department, who certainly wrote one letter that was forwarded to Magri. I am told that he was less systematic in keeping his correspondence. At times, it is a question of good fortune, or lack of it!
It may be more complicated with private archives, or smaller departments. So, it helps that Magri was corresponding with A.L. Delattre, a Missionary of Africa (the White Fathers), who was digging up Carthage at the time. Due to the stature and importance of his research, the archive of Delattre’s papers is well kept by his religious order at their Curia in Rome. Not all letters of religious, or other academics for that matter, are kept with the same care. As a general rule, it is more likely for correspondence within institutions to be kept, than that of individual persons.