New poll: What should we read next?

We’re half way through our current book, so it’s time to think about the next one. I’m not sure how many people are still following along, but for the hardy few, here are your options:

Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense

Francis X. Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg, Processing the Past: Contesting Authority in History and the Archives

Peter Wosh (ed.), Waldo Gifford Leland and the Origins of the American Archival Profession

I think after this next one we’ll pick something light for summer, like a Brad Meltzer. But for now, please vote for which serious book you’d like to read next.

Plus ça change? Part II of History’s Babel, 1911-1925

Sorry for the long gap. The funny part is I did actually finish reading Part II some time ago, I just hadn’t gotten around to writing about it. And in looking over my notes on these chapters, I will repeat something I said earlier on Twitter: it’s interesting to see how many of the issues at stake in this period are still being discussed today. Here are just a few examples from my notes:

Regarding the “New History,” as articulated at a 1910 AHA meeting: ““The earlier generation’s focus on political issues simplified the relationship between archivists and researchers, for instance, by limiting their work primarily to documents and correspondence by politicians and government officials. By introducing methods developed in disciplines that had broken away from history (including economics, political science, and sociology), as well as other disciplines (such as geography and psychology), historians gathered under the New History banner challenged this relationship by encouraging historians to start using other historical materials to get at their ‘social facts.’ This placed new pressure on archivists and documentary editors to gather a wider range of materials, and led to often heated discussions about allocating resources to gathering and disseminating source materials about ‘everyday life’ alongside traditional political and military subjects.” [p.80]

  • What I find interesting in this is that I’ve seen instances in which historians still think archivists need to be told this, as if most archives are still only documenting the lives of “great white men” and their institutions. I didn’t realize that this focus on social history started as early as 1910. Somehow I had the impression that this movement was a product of the ’60’s, but perhaps that’s just another wave of New History.

Speaking of the developing leadership of the archival profession:  “At the same time, … the leaders of the effort made it clear that their responsibilities encompassed a wider array of constituencies—requiring value judgments about what to keep and what to share that would not always be driven by the interests of historians.”  [p. 103]

  • Again, I theme I’ve seen repeated recently regarding appraisal.

We also see some discussion about the field of local history being left to “writers with more of an antiquarian or genealogical interest.” [p. 90], and much interesting –although tantalizingly, not enough for an archivist–information about the early development of archival practices and standards: “Waldo Leland’s survey of ‘fundamental principles in relation to archives’ and Victor Paltsits’s outline of a ‘Manual of Archival Economy’ for the use of American archivists,’  both published in the AHA’s report for 1912, provided a nascent sense of identify and professional coherence.” (p. 103) Another interest of mine in reading the book is to trace the development and identification of the historical profession as such. In Townsend’d discussion of these issues I see similarities with the current struggle to define (or not to define) the archival profession. For example: “As a check against the disruptions in the unity of what it meant to be a historian and conduct historical work, members of the discipline struggled to define specific characteristics and skills that could clearly mark someone as a historian.” [p. 88]

So for me it was interesting to see, in some ways, how little has changed. But what were your reactions to the developments of Part II?