“A staggering 822 pages of index entries”

A professional indexer and book designer gives his appraisal of the detailed indexes to both sets of Mary Hardy volumes: Mary Hardy and her World 1773–1809  (2020) and The Diary of Mary Hardy 1773–1809  (2013).

The grand total

Together they constitute a considerable canon: “a grand total of 4,312 text pages (including thousands of black-and-white illustrations), plus 335 pages of appendices; there are also captions to 189 colour plates and a staggering 822 pages of index entries”.

Christopher Pipe casts his experienced eye over these 822 pages, of which 365 are found in the commentary Mary Hardy and her World. Based in Cromer, Norfolk, he is a freelance editor, proofreader, indexer and book designer as well as being a local historian with two books of his own published by Poppyland Publishing.

His analytical article on the Mary Hardy volumes appeared in the printed journal The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing, vol. 38, no. 3, September 2020, pages 319–24. Non-subscribers can download the issue for a fee from the journal’s website. After five years the issues are freely available for download.

Each volume has its own index

To set the scene before analysing the indexes Christopher Pipe compiles a table covering each of the eight hardback volumes. The ninth volume, a paperback entitled The Remaining Diary of Mary Hardy and containing the entries omitted from the main edition, is not indexed. Christopher gives the number of pages of text in each volume, in the appendices in each volume, and the number of index pages in each.

He explains that as the volumes were designed and written to be purchased individually a determined reader has to sift through eight indexes when researching a topic.

The author as indexer

After setting out clearly the many problems facing the compiler of a long, detailed index Christopher Pipe observes that the volumes’ author and editor, Margaret Bird, was also the book designer and indexer. This brought certain benefits.

He then goes on to quote Margaret in his interview of May 2020 in connection with Mary Hardy and her World. By her own admission Margaret had no professional background in either design or indexing.

Anyone who praises the indexes is my friend for life [says Margaret Bird]. They took ages. I devoted 10–16 hours a day almost with no holiday, seven days a week, for a year to the World volumes . . .

What slowed me was the moment of decision. Each sentence required perhaps 20 or 30 decisions: do I index this bit, and ought it not to be indexed under about five or six separate index entries or sub-entries?

The layout of the World indexes

Christopher Pipe explains that “the new Mary Hardy and her World volumes have headings set in bold type with subheadings run on alphabetically, but longer entries continue with additional subheadings grouped under intermediate-level group headings.”

This detail of the two-column layout illustrates his points:

MaryHardyWorld vol 1 index

Part of an index page from Volume 1 of Mary Hardy and her World, showing the use of sub-entries and frequent cross-referencing. ‘RH’ stands for Raven Hardy, the diarist’s son, who died of TB in 1787 aged 19

A different approach for the Diary volumes

The indexes to the World volumes are anchored to the page number for the text, marginal notes and picture captions, in the customary fashion. But this could not be done for the Diary volumes. Their indexes form databases in their own right as they are anchored to the date of the diary entry. The day’s date, not the page number, is the locator.

Christopher again quotes Margaret from her interview in 2020:

I indexed the Diary volumes as my transcription progressed, which is why they are anchored not by page number but by date. I had to find a way of accessing the vast material as I worked.

At the end of the project I thought that as I had found this anchoring extremely useful it was likely that others would as well. So I kept it. You can, for instance, find the dates that ploughing and sowing began and ended in a season, or the frequency of beer deliveries to an outlet, or the dates of fairs from one year to the next . . .

Also when looking up an index reference in the Diary volumes the reader has the convenience of searching not the full page but the shorter, more precise date of diary entry.

“A detailed picture emerges”

As well as examining the techniques used for the indexes and comparing them with other indexes Christopher Pipe, as a historian himself, gives more general comments. He finds a notable feature of the World volumes to be “their emphasis on transport, business and cultural links”.

Christopher regards the Diary volumes, with their laconic entries by Mary Hardy and Henry Raven, as also very revealing. The layout of the indexes enables the researcher “to analyse patterns of business, of farming, of brewing, of travel, of weather and of social interactions”. He continues:

A detailed picture emerges of the lives of moderately prosperous families; they do not live in the great houses, they do not spend a great deal of time in London, they do not direct national politics, but they are influenced by what is going on in the world; they vote in parliamentary elections, play their part in local affairs and religious movements and become active in Nonconformist religion in the area . . .

Even with oft-repeated events . . . the date order of the locators faithfully reflects the family’s daily life and concerns, and may suggest further lines of historical enquiry.

Such commitment to an index is a rarity

In her editorial on page 246 of the same issue of The Indexer Mary Coe, based in Wagga Wagga, Australia, also pays tribute to Margaret Bird and her “epic 32-year project”:

It is rare to see such commitment to an index, and I salute Margaret for her dedication to making this valuable document an accessible part of the historical record.

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Pre-publication article

Rowan Mantell highlights some intriguing features of Mary Hardy’s record:  250-year-old diary