College Life

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This photo was taken in my freshman dorm room, probably in late 85. The overexposed patch of whiteness I am holding is my very first college paper.

Proof that I did study!

At least during the first semester of my freshman year.

That paper was several pages long. It was typed on this typewriter/early model word processor thing my dad bought me when I asked for an electric typewriter.

(Back in the day they had these things called typewriters. The keyboard made the letters appear on PAPER instead of a screen. It had 0MBs of RAM, but an endless battery life. Then they made them electric, which typed a little faster & you didn’t have to reset the paper roll yourself at the end of a line. It did it for you. Word processors, that could save your typing & even let you edit it ON SCREEN, were just coming out. I would own one in 1991)

What I had looked like the keyboard half of a laptop. With a very narrow, one line wide, screen that ran half the length of the keyboard up at the top. You typed on it and the sentences marched by on the screen. But you could only see what was on the screen. You could add tabs & things but there was no carriage return like on a typewriter, just this tiny one line high screen. So you couldn’t edit easily and you had to pretty much write the whole paper out longhand first because you couldn’t see more than about 60 characters of what you had just written at a time and could not write free form & then go back and fix it later.

But everyone thought it was the greatest gadget ever.

I eventually typed it all up & printed it out,edited it, went back through it 60 characters at a time, corrected it, printed it, repeat. Took me about 4 tries to get right. (this would be a foreshadowing).

It was a paper on Margaret of Anjou, queen of England’s Henry VI and a major player in the Wars of the Roses. I would, over the course of 7 years and 2 degrees, rewrite and reform this paper 4 times. Even now, 20+ years later there is nothing I don’t know about Margaret of Anjou (excluding any source material that has come to light since 1992)

Had I realized that this paper would be the foundation for 4 more papers, each one more thoroughly researched & more heavily footnoted, I would have chosen a subject with more source material. I would have chosen Mary Tudor or Mary Queen of Scots. Possibly even Jane Gray.

Why didn’t I switch material for later papers?

The second time I wrote this paper was sophomore year and I was taking 2 English lit classes plus a journalism class. I did endless writing that semester & it seemed an easy out to just update the old one, make the changes the professor said detracted and change the slant to match the class theme. I still had all the footnote cards. It was a one night job.

The third time was my senior year taking a grad level course. We had a list of topics to choose from for an in depth project we had to present at various points during the semester. I was taking Intense French level 3 & 4. (4 hour class, 5 days a week as opposed to a 50 minute class 3 days a week). I was making my second attempt at passing algebra. There was another history class too. Margaret of Anjou was one of the topics. It felt like fate.

The fourth time I was in grad school. And pretty much it never occurred to me there was any other topic I could write about but Margaret of Anjou, especially for a women’s history class paper. That paper was the worst. I turned in it 3 times before getting final approval. The teacher kept wanting me to expand on various topics & there just wasn’t any info to expand with.

This was before the internet. We had cards in a card catalog that we had to thumb through to find the location of books that might give us information, while being in the actual library. Or we had to request the library get it from some other library for you.

Honestly? I barely remember how I used to get information.

Now I can just google her and cut and paste.

I envy people writing papers these days. Its all there! At your fingertips. The information! The sources! You can see everything you type on the screen! You can move large blocks of text around & add graphics! You have spell check!! You don’t have to make carbon copies or paint White Out over your errors and then retype the correction. There was only one size & style font – Times New Roman

One problem I had with every paper that wasn’t a biography was ending it. Biographies have a natural end – so & so died in insert year at insert place. They are buried at insert place and here is a fact about that. The end.

In case you haven’t noticed I suck at ending wordy posts.

The end.

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12 comments to College Life

  • Helena C

    of yes I remember the drawers of index cards in the library; searching for info; that electric typewriter that showed only the current line – thanks for prompting fond memories

  • I was late coming to technology ~ in 1985 I was very much still using pen and paper!

  • Oh, this brought back such wonderful memories for me – I have such a smile on my face right now thinking about it all. 1985 would have seen me posing in our Halls of Residence in a very similar way – quite possibly even holding a similarly titled paper!! I took English Lit, French and History and all my History essays were on Medieval Women. When I did my library post-grad I put together a huge bibliography on that very subject as part of my dissertation. And still it goes on – my son bought me a book on Eleanor of Aquitaine for Mothers Day. He knows me very well. So I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story today. A big thank you!

  • Hey – I had one of those fancy electronic typewriters for my college papers too. Was thrilled when we upgraded to a proper computer a few years later – and now my kids have their own and everything is done through Wiki and Google…

    Fun story and photo!

  • Yes, I too have a similarly posed photo in my room from my first year at Uni.
    I remember my final year project on the latest health reforms. I didn’t have a typewriter of any sort. I had to find a local typist and cycle over with my handwritten sheets, collect them, proof read and correct before she could retype and I could submit. All this on top of studying for my Engineering exams. I don’t think kids now know how easy they have things (OMG how old do I sound???)

  • It’s hard to imagine how much time we spent on typing up things in those days isn’t it? And whilst it is so easy to Google things now, there was a real achievement in finding things in a good old library! Unfortunately, kids today don’t realise that teachers can easily find out if they have just ‘copied and pasted’ things from the internet. Great story!

  • I remember typing papers and using carbon paper so I’d have a copy! I have always loved libraries (and still do)!
    ps great picture!

  • Very cool that you have that picture :) I remember many long, long hours researching and making notecards. Both of my boys are in college and although it has changed a great deal, the expectations are also very different. Even in high school they couldn’t cite more than 2 internet sources.

  • This is a very frequent discussion in our house – what did people do before the internet/Google??!!

  • Cheri

    I was a little earlier than you to college and my “toy” was an IBM Selectric. No display – it typed on paper. It’s major advantage? A pop in correction cartridge. It went like this… make a mistake, back space to the error, pop out the typing cartridge, pop in the correction cartridge, retype the mistake to “cover it”. pop out the correction cartridge, pop in the regular cartridge back space an type the correct letter or word. Our kids have no idea how easy they have it!

  • I had an electronic typewritter just like that! I would often have to print assignments 3 or 4 times before I had found every mistake. It did take ages to ‘edit’ it but it was definitely easier than the previous typewriters. I have to admit I secretly loved to watch it ‘print’ out my finished assignment … it was like magic!

  • Alison

    I didn’t even use a typewriter…it was all handwritten for me!
    Alison xx