It’s a spooky Halloween episode, about a strange and wonderful place that’s full of terrifying noises, strange smells, dark and cavernous rooms–yet also, for the historians and the historically minded, an episode full of treats and mind candy. Why? Because this week we’re going into the archives.
Sometimes an archives can be a scary place, full of the strange and unknown. There are lockers to put your stuff into; you have to sign in, maybe hand over your driver’s license or passport; you can’t use your favorite pen; a No. 2 pencil, which you haven’t touched since the SAT, is required. Archivists, who are trained preserve the past, themselves can be…intimidating, to historians, who are trained to examine it.
Some of them (very few of them, to be honest), don’t really like anyone touching the old stuff. They figure that they are there to protect the old stuff. But if you’re a historian, touching old stuff is your job, particularly if it has print on it. For someone showing up to research family history, the archival liturgy can be mystifying.
With us today to demystify the entire experience of the archives is Samantha Crisp, Special Collections Librarian at Thomas Tredway Library at Augustana College. She’s the nicest, friendliest archivist in the business (surely there can’t be anyone nicer or friendlier; it’s an impossibility). In our conversation today, a historian and an archivist talk through their approaches to the past and its evidence. It’s also chockfull of news you can use. For example, what can you do with all the old stuff in the attic? (HINT: Get it out of the attic!) Enjoy! And happy Halloween!
For Further Investigation
Special Collections at the Thomas Tredway Library, Augustana College
David W. Carmichael, Organizing Archival Records: A Practical Arrangement and Description for Small Archives
Lois Hamill, Archives for the Lay Person: A Guide to Managing Cultural Collections
Antoinette Burton and Helena Pohlandt-McCormick, Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History
Arlette Farge, The Lure of the Archives