Gazebo!*

I really dug From Polders to Postmodernism, which is indeed concise (and, frankly, the Conclusion does such a nice job of boiling everything down that it alone is well worth reading for those in a hurry). The entire book can be read as a literature survey…which sounds modest, but is very useful, and I am pleased that this library school thesis, at least, exists. Cook’s introduction prepares the reader for an appraisal-centric argument, which is a perfectly cromulent approach to the material. By opening with the Dutch Manual (as opposed to the French Revolution), Ridener kept the focus on modern professional practices.

My exposure to archival theory comes largely from classes. The first one focused more on the practical end of things, though there was some theory; the current class is more traditionally academic, but in addition to theory-heavy writings the syllabus is populated with a fair bit of outsider literature. Which is to qualify my impressions of writing within the field based upon limited exposure in terms of material read, as well as time spent thinking about this stuff.

That said, my impression is one of a cage match between Jenkinson and Schellenberg. This can lead to a sense of pointlessness in theoretical writings, either because there isn’t that much daylight between the two (it’s a question of emphasis, not overall practice) or because they are so diametrically opposed (Keepers! Thrower-outers! Englishmen! Americans!) Ridener roots Jenkinson and Schellenberg not only in their times (overlapping, just to further complicate things) but in their institutions and job descriptions.

He specifically categorizes more recent theory as the “Questioning Period”: dominated not by a single manual-writer, but a set of theorists reacting to social change (as opposed to wartime needs), self-conscious in their professional practice and theorizing. This was the most useful aspect of the book, from my perspective. Instead of a hand-wavy acknowledgment that post-Schellenberg theory exists, Ridener described it and gave it equal weight.

On a vocabulary and structural note, I was not aware of the definition of “polder” when I began reading. It’s not terribly relevant, but it is a nice grace note: beginning by building something up out of nothing, ending with the postmodern deconstruction. (The next paradigm is predicted in general outline—the most hand-wavy portion of the book, but that’s appropriate for something purely speculative, and it emphasizes the continuing progression† of theory. Sadly, from an aesthetic point of view, whatever comes next is unlikely to fit into as neat a structure as construction-to-deconstruction.)


* It’s a D&D vocabulary joke.

† Progression’s a slippery thing, through a historiographical lens…but leaving all that aside, the temporal progression of “what comes next” is an interesting and important thing to contemplate.

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