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Hey, I could snoop

I've already forwarded this to a couple of people, but I thought it worth linking more broadly. Timothy Burke has a new entry describing archival work: Historian as Snoop: Experiencing the Archive. It occurred to me that this would be a nice introduction to archival work for either a history course or a methodology course in our own field:

Archives often take you to a juncture like this. You’re rarely without tools that help you decide what to make of a set of documents, but you often still find yourself having to make some basic choices about what happened, what it meant, and whether anyone should care. But even before you get to those choices, there is a kind of secret pleasure that precedes them: a historian in the archives is often a kind of combination of Miss Marple and Mary Worth, a detective, judge and gossip, learning about the complicated art of being human from the traces and fragments of writing that accidentally trail behind individuals and find their way into boxes and files all around the world.

I'm no historian, that's for sure, but then, 5 years ago, I would have laughed at the idea that I might spend some of my time doing empirical/statistical work. And yet, here I am. The older I get, the harder it is for me to dismiss any method--not that I dismissed them per se. But whereas at one time, I would have been interested in applying one framework across many phenomena, now I'm more intrigued by bringing multiple frameworks to bear on the same thing.

Hmm. Writing that out feels right, but it also feels a little more absolute than I intended. Ah well. Go read Tim's piece. That is all.


I'll definitely read this when my head stops spinning (vertigo, not blogoverindulgence). This is why I liked Byatt's Possession--really captured the mystery and fun of a search going well. Of discovery.

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