Archivists and historians sometimes seem to be operating across an “archival divide”, with differing understandings of documentary collections and highly divergent agendas for those collections. Historians who have worked in archives in foreign nations will be acutely aware of the “culture shock” of working in archives with state officials, nationalist historiographies, and patrimonial agendas. The presumed divisions between archivists and historians can seem all too real to history graduate students struggling with language and bureaucratic barriers while working in distant archival collections.
The American Historical Association (AHA) Annual Meeting in Chicago, which just concluded, included a session entitled Archivists, Historians, and the Future of
Authority in the Archives, that dealt precisely with the “archival divide” issue. I was unfortunately unable to attend the panel due to my other commitments at the conference.
Luckily, Kate Theimer, one of the participants, posted her written comments on her Archives Next blog.
Archivists’ perspectives are important for graduate students to consider as they train to work in historical archives and as they consider avenues of professional development in the broader discipline of history. I would encourage my graduate students in History at Northern Illinois University to read some studies written by archivists in their own research subfields to gain an appreciation of archivists’ goals and approaches to documentary collections and archival studies.