Welcome to the discussion of the first book here on Archivists Reading Together, Carolyn Steedman’s Dust. The way I plan on structuring the discussion of this book is to start out today with some general questions and then over the next few weeks I’ll post narrower topics about specific sections or that follow up on issues brought up in the comments. We’ll see how it goes. I doubt it will be an issue, but I posted my comment policy on the “About” page. If you haven’t managed to read the book yet but want to participate, please feel free to jump in after you’ve read it. I’ll also post a poll soon so we can vote on the next book, so look for that as well. And so, with that out of the way –
Steedman’s book is a compilation of essays written for various journals, and in reviewing them for this collection she determined that the unifying theme was that of “the practice and writing of history, in the modern period.” (viii) The kind of practice Steedman describes is one based on working in archives, although she admits that it is a “particular kind of archive, instituted by state (or quasi-state) organisations since the lat eighteenth century, in England and France.” (ix) I’m not familiar with all the journals in which she originally published these essays, but her primary intended audience for them seems to have been historians. So we have a historian writing for other historians about the experience of working in archives and with archival sources. What are your general impressions about her characterization of archives and the way historians use them? Did anything surprise you? Is there anything in this characterization that should concern an archivist reader?