Personal archives and collections

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in over a week, but I’m sure you’ll understand when I explain (there is archival content at the end, I promise!). I have a major non-archives event coming up in October–I’m getting married, actually. Although this is not a very large or fancy event, it does involve the usual rush of logistics in the last few weeks. We also decided to host a brunch at our house, and you can understand that this stimulated a desire to fix up “a few things” which involves being available for the people we hired to do the fixing for us. We also decided to re-arrange the furniture in some of the rooms, including the room where I have my home office. Which meant that all my files came out of the filing cabinet before it was moved. Naturally enough, this kicked off some consideration of what material really needed to be kept or at least kept in the filing cabinet. I am not a good record keeper. I have an unfortunate tendency to keep things because they might be useful later. I have a lot of ideas and projects and many piles of paper relating to them. I think I need to take some time and do some re-appraisal of my personal archives. I also need to wrap up some work I need to do prior to the various October deadlines for SAA and MARAC. My usual habit of waiting until the last minute will simply not work this year. So, for all these reasons, my postings here will be less frequent until early November. My apologies, but I’m sure you’ll understand.

There are two articles I read in the past few days that interested me and I thought some people might not have seen. The first was in the New York Times, “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (Part One)” by Errol Morris. Morris is a documentary filmmaker who ends up making a trek to the Crimea to try to uncover the truth about a controversial sequence of historical photographs–but only after considering the evidence presented in documentary sources and the opinions of several historians of photography. I found it fascinating, and thought it might be useful as a case study of the hazards of trying to project motivations onto the creators of the items in our collections. I’m looking forward to Part 2.

More closely allied to my experience with my personal archives is a blog post from’s “Ask the Pilot” column. Normally Patrick Smith, an airline pilot, writes (as you would expect) about issues relating to the airline industry and the experiences we all face when we fly. In this post, he writes instead about his contribution to “Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects With Unexpected Significance.” The items from his personal collection that he writes about in the book are “a pair of ceramic insulator pegs that I appropriated from the grounds of the former Birkenau concentration camp, in southern Poland, during a visit there in 1995.” His post discusses how he acquired them and their possible significance in his personal collection; he also discusses the item he had selected as his back-up submission for the book: a human jawbone. I won’t attempt to summarize how he ended up with that.

It’s articles like these that end up getting printed, and filed (or not filed) and which I must now attempt to get under some semblance of physical and intellectual control. Does anyone have any pointers about organizing your own personal papers? If not, just wish me luck!

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