Frank Boles: Selecting & Appraising Archives & Manuscripts

This was quite the readable text. Surprisingly so, for something billed as a manual and dealing with process rather than the stuff itself. I am vaguely curious if the moments of corniness are common throughout Boles’s writings or if they were inserted especially for this book.

I appreciate the overview of archival thought. The focus is primarily twentieth-century (dipping back to Jenkinson), primarily U.S. (with several Canadian and Australian examples). That makes it eminently practical, from a professional perspective, and sketches out some lively theoretical debates. (My impression of earlier periods in much hazier: it’s a long way from the Library of Alexandria to the French Revolution, to say nothing of divergences within a formerly well-lit empire. I am curious, and may end up doing my paper on an earlier period. But my sense remains that while it would be interesting and perhaps informative of the nature of available older information, it probably wouldn’t relate very strongly to professional thinking.) I now have a better sense of where to plug writers in, and now I have some context for readings in the Jimerson volume.

One semi-divergence from class lectures is the matter of selling weeds: disposing of material for pay rather than consigning it to the dumpster. Boles allows for the possibility of this being an ethical practice; Levitt has thusfar taken a harder line.

Boles also seems to be using a subtly different definition of “archives,” with “institutional archives” and various other types of repositories as subcategories. In class discussion, those “institutional archives” are “archives” and other things (e.g. manuscript repositories) are other things…with the acknowledgement that the lines between such institutions blur and overlap, and similar techniques may be used to manage them; but the dividing line is the manner in which they grow (organic accretion for archives or a proactive collection policy for manuscript repositories). This distinction seems to make no pragmatic difference, but I am curious if it’s just a matter of preference, background, or simplification. Boles’s choice of umbrella term may also be a means of accommodating American exceptionalism (in the matter of archival practices, the term seems warranted): the National Archives came along a century and a half after independence, and public opinion of the meaning of archives (both the word and the broader concept of collections of stuff) doesn’t line up with the stricter professional definition.

On the reference front, the layout of the book is very clear, with extensive use of subheadings within chapters. I suppose that’s to be expected in a book by and about a profession deeply concerned with taxonomy and organization, but it’s still nice to see. Class lectures map pretty directly onto this book (also unsurprising: we’ve had the nitty-gritty overview, for the most part).

I’d originally been planning to transcribe some of my notes (admittedly in much the same way I intended to transcribe my notes from the class I took last year), but now I think that’s probably unnecessary. Thank you, Frank Boles, for providing a concrete example of the value of summary information and, incidentally, enabling my laziness.