Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Value of Archives for Students of History

                On our last day of class, we discussed our evaluation of this Archives and Manuscripts course. We unanimously agreed that records management was our least favorite thing to learn about, but as is the way with records management, it’s a dry, but necessary component of understanding archives.

                One of the questions that I had tinkered with throughout the semester was: Why aren’t all of the history graduate students required to take this course? And what about the undergraduate history majors? To me, it just seemed obvious. If historians-in-the-making aren’t aware of how records are created and placed in the archives, how can they more competently question the sources with which they’re working to construct their various arguments?

                That is not to say that no one has discussed archives in traditional history courses. My historical methods class delved into power and silences in the archive, but focused very little on these creations. The archives are one of the primary, if not the primary source, of information for historians. The provenance of documents is just as important as their contents. Historians, myself included, need to understand how records change hands and what this means for the information that they’re using to create their historical arguments.

                As I said in class, I think taking this course in a modified version for traditional-track history students would be beneficial to training historians more effectively. As evidenced in several comments in class, there is a working tension between the academy and those outside of it. But to more effectively practice history, there needs to be some sort of consensus in how public and office historians can work together. Taking a course in archival theory might be a step towards achieving that goal.  

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