AOTUS (Archivist of the United States) has recommended what will likely prove to be a wonderful book about doing research in archives. The Allure of the Archives was written by Arlette Farge, Director of Research in Modern History at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.
While combing through two-hundred-year-old judicial records from the Archives of the Bastille, historian Farge was inspired by the extremely intimate portrayal provided of the lives of the poor in pre-Revolutionary France, especially women. Farge was seduced by the sensuality of old manuscripts and by the revelatory power of voices that were otherwise lost. In The Allure of the Archives, she conveys the exhilaration of uncovering hidden secrets and the thrill of venturing into new dimensions of the past.
Here’s a quote: “Contact with the archives begins with simple tasks, one of which is handling the documents. Combing through the archives—a beautifully evocative term—requires a host of tasks, and no matter how complex the planned intellectual investigation will be, they cannot be bypassed. They are both familiar and simple, and they purify one’s thoughts, temper the spirit of sophistication, and sharpen one’s curiosity. These tasks are performed without haste, and necessarily so. One cannot overstate how slow work in the archives is, and how this slowness of hands and thought can be the source of creativity. But more than inspirational, it is inescapable. The consultation of these bundles, one after another, is never finished. No matter how carefully you prepare beforehand, sampling documents and putting together research guides in an effort to limit the number of texts you will have to consult, your patience will inevitably be tested.”
If you are interested in acquiring the book and learning more, it’s on sale at Yale University Press.
Click on The Allure of the Archives to access the site.