Archive | April, 2008

This Has Nothing to Do With Any of this Blog’s Themes

22 Apr

But because I have a huge screaming web-crush on Michael Berubé, I’m going to go ahead and encourage you all to read his post on the candidates’ positions on disability.

My favorite part:

It’s as if we Americans have been talking about disability all our lives, as Molière’s M. Jourdain has been speaking in prose, without realizing it. Remember that debate about SCHIP? You know, the one we lost on Bush’s veto? What the hell was that about? It was about disability, folks – about children suffering catastrophic illnesses and traumatic injuries for which their parents couldn’t (and their parents’ dastardly, moustache-twirling health-insurance providers wouldn’t) provide. Vets returning from Iraq with PTSD or TBI (post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury) and being warehoused and/or underserved and/or neglected by VA hospitals? Uh, well, once again, here we’re talking about disability. Why in the world do we frame these things as matters of “health” or “employment” or “veterans’ benefits,” when doing so prevents us from realizing that we’re all touching different appendages of the 8000-pound elephant in the room? The subject is disability, people. It’s about our common frailty and vulnerability. Get used to it.

So, um, go vote.

Hedstrom on digital preservation in NYT today

9 Apr

My professor, Margaret Hedstrom, was interviewed in the New York Times today about digital preservation. These sorts of issues are very distant from anything I find remotely interesting, although it’s possible that there’s a cultural history to be written about under what circumstances we create records with preservation in mind — a history of the “permanent.”

Thinking about digitization for access and digitization for preservation for my paper on Northern collaborations with African archives, I like the degree to which the digitization process forces us to recognize that there is no such thing as permanent preservation. We’re just delaying the inevitable, dudes. We’re alllll gonna die. To what degree is the archival impulse is just us not dealing with forgetting and death?

historians, archivists, crybabies and archival pissing contests

7 Apr

I was noticing the cheap jabs the folks at Crooked Timber have been taking at gimmicky, over-modest (or, alternately, un-modest), irrelevant histories that forsake archival research for theory. Or whatever. The problem (as I read it) seems to be that young historians are “getting away with” empirically underwhelming work and padding their books with faddish theoretical trends. Or whatever. Oh, and their book titles are predictable. Or whatever.

It’s hard to argue with this sort of piece, considering that no one is naming names, but considering the realities of [and the epistemological PROBLEMS involved with] working in the archives, I think that theory is good for us as a profession.

I’ve been working on backing up this statement for a week now but it’s FINALS. So we’ll all have to wait. Anyway.

This post at Early Modern Notes discusses researchers’ tendencies to compare archival war stories. I’m reminded of Carolyn Steedman’s Dust, where she talks about “archive fever” as a pathogen, the process of being cramped and frustrated and surrounded by decaying old stuff. My favorite part is when she talks about how so often, there isn’t anything, really, in the archives. Manuscript repositories are a crapshoot; nineteenth-century archives are foreign and weird. Twentieth-century archives are filled with irrelevant records, built on models that mirror the structures of the corporate bodies that they document — bureaucratic, top-heavy. The thing that strikes me about twentieth-century archives is how difficult it can be to find the document that explains WHY any body made the decision it did — there is, rather, too much of the how and when and where.

So, if historians are interested in these why questions, we often have to resort to “theory,” that is, ways of thinking about how agency is encoded in larger patterns and trends, why decisions become inevitable and natural, and how to think about contingency when the archives don’t provide dissenting voices.

Short version: archives are boring, thinking is awesome.

Or! We complain about working in the archives because working in the archives often sucks.