I love this book already. I may fall out of love with it as I read more, but right now it seems to be the perfect book for me to be reading. Let me explain, and then I hope to hear some of your reactions to Townsend’s observations and the task he set for himself.
I’ve been doing some thinking (and will have to do a great deal more very soon) about the relationship of the archival profession to related professions, including historians, as well as the evolution and professionalization of the field of archives in the United States, and so Townsend’s topic is ideal for me. I also very much appreciate his scoping of his field of interest as “the historical enterprise,” which encompasses a broad spectrum of players and activities. This seems a useful construct for archivists to consider as we also try to define our relationships with the many different kinds of people related to our own work. Do you think it’s accurate to equate “the historical enterprise” with “the archival enterprise” or do you see distinctions? Or would the archival enterprise be, as Townsend seems to be suggesting, a subset of the historical enterprise, similar to those who engage in research, teaching, and working with museum collections? Do you find value in this “big tent” approach?
I like the approach because it moves away from privileging or elevating the academic historian above the other players in the historical enterprise. As archivists, I think we are accustomed to seeing a broad range of people who have an investment in the study and promotion of “history,” including genealogists and family historians, amateurs and enthusiasts of all kinds. (As well as academics from departments other than History, educators of all kinds, and our museum colleagues.) (And ourselves, of course.) Although I don’t anticipate that this book will cast its net quite that wide, I look forward to seeing how the discussion of professionalization describes the marginalization of what was once the norm, “the gentleman historian.”
Please share your thoughts about the Introduction here, and next week we’ll begin discussion of the first three chapters (Part 1). Given how Townsend has organized his information, we will probably be spending most of our time talking about the second chapter (the “tools and materials” one) in each of the three parts, but I expect we will draw on the other two chapters in our discussions as well.
I hope you’re as excited as I am (well, maybe not quite that excited) about working our way through this book. I’m glad we choose it and I think it’s going to be very informative and relevant. What do you think so far?