Hopefully some of you will have read the first three chapters of the book which cover the period from 1880-1910. Otherwise it will just be me and Eira talking for a while!
While I may have been exposed to some of this historical information about the profession in the past, I found Townsend’s presentation of it within the context of the early days of the AHA to be very useful. And of course we see struggles and tensions in this time period that continue to echo in our own. The roots of the archival profession in the discipline of history have led and continue to lead, I think, to an expectation that there is or should be some kind of special relationship between archivists and historians. That is, that historians should have more influence on acquisition and processing of collections than other kinds of users, as described for example in Blouin and Rosenberg’s Processing the Past. This expectation is perhaps natural given the reliance historians have traditionally had on archival materials for their research, but it’s one that I think it is reasonable to question as many archives strive to meet the needs of a wide variety of users. I will be interested in see how the relationship between what become two separate professions evolves in the following parts of the book.
It’s also interesting to consider the past importance placed as publishing archival materials, as described by Townsend in Part 1, and how this echoes the current importance placed on digitizing materials. However much has changed, the comparative difficulty and expense of traveling to an archives to do research has apparently not. Townsend’s brief references to historians as collectors of original materials and copies is also reminiscent of the historian as “archivist” we see today, preserving copies of born-digital materials or assembling collections of digital copies. And there are hints of the same kind of disdain for genealogists and amateur historians here in the past as we sometimes see today.
One particular section of Chapter 2 certainly raised my interest and made me want to review some of the references cited. That is the discussion about the unfortunate results that were attributed to the creation of two separate commissions for archives and manuscripts. Townsend writes on pp 44-45:
Although the distinction between manuscripts and archives seems somewhat anachronistic now, historically the division followed the sequence in which the two commissions were established and the different interests they represented. Manuscripts were designated as private documents (such as personal papers), while archives were collections of materials produced by government officials and entities. The territories marked out by the two commissions provided conceptual distinctions that endured for generations (to the subsequent chagrin of some in the library and archival communities).  In addition to fostering divisions among those assigned to care for the source materials, this separation also neglected important classes of materials that are of considerable interest to historians today, particularly the records of nongovernmental entities such as businesses, labor unions, and churches. 
Does the distinction between manuscripts and archives seem somewhat anachronistic now? Certainly in everyday usage, as I’ve noted elsewhere, the word “archives” is used to describe any body of old material, but I think (or hope) within the archival profession the distinction is well understood. It is probably less well understood by historians, and perhaps from their point of view the distinction is meaningless. And of course the records of organizations other than government entities are understood to be “archives” as well, despite being left out of the purview of the commission on public archives.
Did any of these issues strike you as well, or did other aspects of this part catch your attention? Was this material new to you, and if so, does it help you understand the profession better?