Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Romantic Archiving?

Following up on a snippet I included in a previous post, I'd thought I'd share another thought from Timothy Findley's The Wars.

Historians are a strange lot who understand history to be a living thing; it never dies out and is constantly growing. It's not simply that knowledge that the past affects the preset and the future but rather the innate feeling that historical objects can give us a personal connection to people who have come before us. Not always is it a personal connection but also a feeling that such objects give you a rare glance into an age that's beyond ones ability to fully partake in.

These objects, are powerful academic AND emotional conduits into past lives and past societies. I've found the emotional aspect is most powerful when such objects encounter our tactile sense. There is something strangely powerful about holding, for example, a soldiers letter.  Maybe this shouldn't be confined to historians alone, why do we treasure photos and belongings of loved ones who have passed away and fill our museums to artifacts rather than simply texts?

Historians often engage in these emotions in doing archival research. These thoughts go through our minds, and are exchanged between friends and colleagues, but rarely are they put to paper. These are quite obviously grounded in historical imagination but nonetheless often provide motivation while sitting in a quiet room with a depressing amount of old paper to wade through. Perhaps I'm being a touch too romantic but I think Findley expresses such thoughts well and these two passages struck me...

"You begin at the archives with photographs...All you have to do is sign them out and carry then across the room. Spread over table tops, a whole age lies in fragments underneath the lamps...You hold your breath . As the past moves under your fingertips, part of it crumbles. Other parts, you know you'll never find. This is what you have." pp. 3-4

"On Sunday, Robert sat on his bed in the old hotel at Bailleul and read what Rodwell had written.
'To my daughter, Laurine; Love your mother. Make your prayers against despair. I am alive in everything you touch. Touch these pages and you have me in your fingertips. We survive in one another. Everything lives forever. Believe it. Nothing dies." pp. 150-151

Findley, Timothy, The Wars. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1996.

Anyone have research stories to attest to this?

Also, I just remembered this from a few years ago for some reason and thought I'd include it. Not really related, but still funny.

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Jordan Kerr
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