I know I tend to be overly-paranoid, but sometimes reference questions are so unusual that I think they just have to be some "secret shopper" type test to see if I'll take them seriously. One such question came in via email last week:
Sent: Tuesday, June 09, 2015 5:11 PM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject: Chelmsford Library Reference Question
Comments: Do you have reference/source documents on trade of goods/ideas from Asia to Europe during the 18th Century? I am a French & Indian War re-enactor, and I am looking to doing some research on whether certain items, bamboo training sword and stuff like that, as well as knowledge of martial arts would have been traded during this time period.
Thank you for your assistance.
What the heck? It sounds both plausible and ridiculous at the same time. However, since that's the kind of criteria that interests me, I looked around to see what could be found.
My coworkers had already pulled the few books we had on the French and Indian War, but they weren't much help. And we didn't have any resources on Europe-Asia trade in the 18th Century, so I continued looking online. The best I could find were references to European colonization of Asia, but not much specifically about the trade of bamboo swords or martial arts training.
So, I replied to the patron with what I could find:
From: "Chelmsford Library Reference"
Sent: 6/10/2015 7:20:00 PM
Subject: RE: Chelmsford Library Reference Question
Unfortunately, we don't have very many resources on the French and Indian war, and for those we do we haven't been able to find any mention of bamboo or martial arts, or any trade with Asia.
I checked some of the history databases we subscribe to, as well as two books that seemed most relevant:
- The war that made America : a short history of the French and Indian War, by Fred Anderson (call number 973.26/Ande)
- Empires at war : the French and Indian War and the struggle for North America, 1754-1763, by William M. Fowler, Jr. (call number 973.26/Fowl)
Since we didn't have any luck with library resources, I tried to find other organizations with more expertise in the French and Indian War. Here are a few groups that might have the information you're looking for:
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has an extensive list of online resources:
Fort William Henry Museum in Lake George, NY, has an extensive exhibit and a Contact Us form for questions:
Fort Ligonier in Ligonier, PA, also has an extensive museum and a contact form:
Lastly, the website http://www.warforempire.org/visit/site_listing.aspx?state=massachusetts&c=visit lists sites in MA that might be of use, including the Boston National History Park which can be contacted at http://www.nps.gov/bost/contacts.htm
I did find a reference stating that the French and Indian War was the name of just the North American theater of the Seven Years War, which took place in other parts of the world simultaneously, including Asia. It looks like France, England, and Spain had various battles in Asia, mostly in India and the Philippines. Although fighting happened at the same time as the French and Indian War in North America, I wasn't able to find any cross-over between the two areas.
I'm sorry we can't provide more direct help, but we will keep looking at let you know if we find anything with the connection you're looking for. Thanks.
Head of Reference
Chelmsford Public Library
Very shortly the patron replied:
Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 2015 7:38 PM
To: Chelmsford Library Reference
Subject: Re: Chelmsford Library Reference Question
I thank you very much for your assistance, and I must especially thank you for going several steps beyond what I expected, it is greatly appreciated!
I always feel a little guilty when a patron thanks me even though I don't feel I helped very much, but perhaps one of the museums will provide the information he's seeking. And I've been mostly out of the library since this question came in, but now that I'm back I can continue looking - I still have the patron's email address, and who knows what further research might find.
Still, though - I will admit to looking this patron up in the catalog to make sure he was real before I started working on the question.