Processing the Past explores the dramatic changes taking place in historical understanding and archival management, and hence the relations between historians and archivists. Written by an archivist and a historian, it shows how these changes have ...
been brought on by new historical thinking, new conceptions of archives, changing notions of historical authority, modifications in archival practices, and new information technologies. The book takes an "archival turn" by situating archives as subjects rather than places of study, and examining the increasingly problematic relationships between historical and archival work. The book sets the background to these changes by showing how nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians and archivists in Europe and North American came to occupy the same conceptual and methodological space. For both, authoritative history was based on authoritative archives and mutual understandings of scientific research. The authors then show how these connections changed as historians began to ask questions not easily answered by traditional documentation, and archivists began to confront an unmanageable increase in the amount of material they processed and the challenges of new electronic technologies. The book situates these changes in a review of contemporary historical concepts and archival practices. The authors contend that historians and archivists have divided into two entirely separate professions with distinct conceptual frameworks, training, and purposes, as well as different understandings of the authorities that govern their work. Processing the Past moves toward bridging this divide by speaking in one voice to these very different audiences as well as to general readers. The book concludes by raising the worrisome question of what future historical archives might be like if historical scholars and archivists no longer understand each other, and indeed, whether their now different notions of what is archival and historical will ever again be joined.
Number of pages: 272
Date of publication: 10/03/2011
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