Comments on: Librarians, archivists, and access to archives History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Mon, 22 Sep 2014 04:23:22 +0000 hourly 1 By: spifffan Wed, 17 Jun 2009 05:00:53 +0000 I just want to give a shout-out to the kind folks at the JFK Library. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I did my master’s thesis out here on the left coast. The JFK Library people were fabulous in helping me get documents, including a newly declassified document, for my thesis. All of this long before faxes and emails! I have been very lucky in my good fortune in encountering very pleasant helpful archivists and librarians!

By: Indyanna Tue, 16 Jun 2009 20:48:27 +0000 Smoking in the sense of ripping through the earmarks at the then unheard of pace of ten an hour, right? I think I have some earmarks recorded from communities in the Upper Delaware Valley in the mid l8th century, with some intrusive settlement by Yankees who claimed it was part of Connecticut, would you think of it? Deep in a box somewhere. We could maybe co author a definitive but subversive piece on the evolution of the practice. My other congressman is known as the earmark king, and he doth surely pass around the pork to a smoking degree.

By: Historiann Tue, 16 Jun 2009 13:28:28 +0000 And, p.s. to History Maven: You know, I think this conference came up Saturday afternoon in the plenary session in honor of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich at the Omohundro Institute Conference at the University of Utah. One of the speakers, Shirley Wajda, was specifically named and praised for her insights by Marla Miller in her discussion of Ulrich’s importance in material history. (I’ll have to check my notes on this–I’ll blog more on this session later this week.)

By: Historiann Tue, 16 Jun 2009 13:25:55 +0000 liz2–I’ve never experienced what you describe, but that’s probably because I’ve done research in only North American archives and libraries, where the more salient difference is scholars versus genealogists/buffs. I will say that it was perhaps more difficut for me earlier in my career to establish myself in the archivists’ eyes as a scholar, but once they saw that I had an affililation and got to know me, they pulled things for me for which they’d otherwise give people the 3rd degree.

What I wonder is, will you ever experience the kind of “breakthrough” that Notorious, Ph.D. did in the post that originally inspired my post here? It sounds to me like you don’t think so. How frustrating!

Indyanna–it was a noirish scene at the Guilford, Connecticut town archives. Hotshot Harry was there in his bow tie, and I actually was smoking as I recorded the ear marks of various families’ pigs in Guilford in 1647! Good times, all gone now though. (At least the smoking part, if not the ear-marking part.)

And, anon–I hear you on the skirt length. I thought the same thing after I left my earlier comment–and wondered if I even have a skirt suit with the correct skirt length myself!

By: historymaven Tue, 16 Jun 2009 02:07:27 +0000 I’ll take this opportunity in this discussion to tell you about last weekend’s “Women in the Archives,” a symposium in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Maine Women Writers Collection at the University of New England. See the symposium program at

This was a great conference, and that’s not only because I was invited to be a speaker. I learned MUCH more about how archivists think and what problems they face, even within their own institutions. I also learned how much great work is occurring in recovering women’s lives.

Literary critics, literary historians, cultural and social historians, writers and playwrights, librarians and archivists gathered together to discuss the following:

* What are the questions, issues, challenges, and conflicts inherent in locating, accessing, researching, recovering, editing, teaching, and theorizing archival materials?
* What is at stake in archiving and curating these traces of women’s lives?
* What do such practices allow? What do they obscure?
* How do scholars and archivists locate women of color, working women, lesbians, and others who might be misrepresented or elided altogether from the historical record?
* How is difference coded in and by the archive?
* What is the fate of native voices in such institutional settings?
* What are the practical and ethical concerns for those who archive, research, and seek to publish women’s private writing?
* How are archival spaces created, negotiated, or subverted?
* And what might the future hold for archives and archival materials in the digital age?

Libby Bischof (University of Southern Maine) twittered the papers:

By: liz2 Mon, 15 Jun 2009 22:03:19 +0000 I once requested photocopies of 19th c. documents and was denied. I accepted that, the female workers at the archives did not accept the ruling. They snuck the documents out of the archives and photocopied them in town. And then presented me with the copies.

The one point that I’ve noticed (and all other female researchers I know have faced this problem) is that in the archives I work in, it is ALL about gender. Women can’t get anything or anything done. Men, no problem. For women the cost of using a digital camera is 5x the cost of (this is not an exaggeration) one photocopy (which is usually done badly and is accompanied by much aggrevation to get it); for men, nothing, no cost, “do you need a tripod to take that picture?” I’ve worked in this archive in 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008 and every damn time, men can have anything and women cannot. And when all the men leave, the female employees do their best to help but can’t always help. I’m ready to switch research locations because it is so frustrating.

By: Little Midwestern College Mon, 15 Jun 2009 21:23:05 +0000 Sadly, I’ve had a similar experience to Tenured Radical, at two different State Historical Societies. A previous researcher (who was not an academic and did not have academic training) wrote a book about the daughter of my subject. In attempting to cross-check her footnotes, I found that many primary sources were not only ridiculously misrepresented, but some others were also missing! According to the archivists I’ve talked to about this, they speculate she removed some items that contradicted her thesis, or took items she wanted to keep. I was alerted to this at SHS #1, where the archivist was unable to prove the theft, so her only solution was to put the collection on lockdown and personally restrict access to it. SHS #2 is in denial, and when I brought this to their attention, they shrugged their shoulders, saying they couldn’t do anything about it. It’s pretty tough to prove these things, and many SHS’s are so severely understaffed that they can’t always keep tabs on researchers and/or collections without limiting access to everyone. My additional frustration is that at SHS #2, they routinely “loan” the collection to an instructor across the state for their personal use in the classroom–it is a moderately-sized but widely diverse collection with C19 personal journals, letters, photos, scrapbooks, and the like, and it’s routinely absent from the main SHS branch while it’s across state being pawed through by students who usually misfile the folders and get individual items out of order. Access is good (& so is learning), but I’d like to see that SHS balance access with protecting the collection.

By: Jeremy Young Mon, 15 Jun 2009 20:13:10 +0000 Knitting Clio, have you thought about sending a mole to that collection — a colleague from another university with different research questions who could go in and discreetly copy the material you need?

By: Hotshot Harry Mon, 15 Jun 2009 19:59:45 +0000 I’ll second Eduardo’s observations about attire. I’ve not gone so far as to wear a bow tie to the archives, but I hear it helps.

I’ve worked with several small-college archives over the years (looking at the colleges’ own historical materials). These places generally have great staff, and they have always been interested, maybe even flattered, that someone is looking at their own institution as a subject. I learned, though, that many of these smaller places face a particular dilemma. When Very Important Person graciously decides to deposit her papers in Small College Archives, the lion’s share of the staffing resources tend to go toward the proper organization, maintenance, and exposition of said person’s life and works. This comes at the expense of the maintenance and preservation of the institution’s own historical sources, which are often quite rich and deep. On more than one occasion I helped them (re)discover something in their own collections that they were unaware existed.

The larger, better funded, better known places are undeniably important, but I’ve come to appreciate the vital service that smaller archives and historical societies provide, particularly in providing access to people from the past whose stories would otherwise have been lost.

By: GayProf Mon, 15 Jun 2009 17:41:48 +0000 I am shocked — SHOCKED!! — by TR’s story.

My experience with archives has been 99 percent positive. There was only once that I wrote ahead to the archivist about my pending visit, was told all was a-okay, and then arrived to find a snippy desk-clerk who told me that I wasn’t welcome as the archives were closed for refiling. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with the archivist who I had previously e-mailed who opened the archive for me.

Regions seems important. Many of my friends in grad school had huge problems getting into Catholic archives in the East. My experiences with the Catholic archives in the Southwest, though, could not have been easier (even if their files were totally out of order). But I was also not investigating anything particularly salacious, either.