By: Matt Carlton, Cultural Studies Student
In a semester of immediate information overload and systemic ties to academic neatness, an internship at the archives disguised an opportunity to start thinking about a process (archiving) so refined and polished at the edges that I wish I could hang it in my living room. The process of archiving information is eerily similar to human memory; this may make one uneasy if they are especially predisposed to being sentimental or nostalgic, but yes, even your memories, while being considered by someone else, can become filed material packed away, organized, in condensed in chemically balanced friendly boxes, protected from any atmospheric harm. This may sound kind of scary and I guess a part of it should be, but it is not supposed to be scary. Just as much yes, in archival organization or research one is dealing with literally personal items, documents, or even attire, but the goal is not directly journalistic here where the intention is to tell a story about an individual, but rather in archives it is much more about the access and process of storing information. So it goes above the point of story-telling to value what the story is at its essence, information. This brings up another point though and what I said about going “above” a story is true.
The compelling aspect about archival work is that the material does not become reduced to cold information, but rather there is a humanist or an instinctual attachment to information and its potential. I hope this does not sound elementary or naive, but in recognizing an adoration for information it is also easy to draw the line to representation and accessibility of information that manifest into historical truth. I feel that either “truth” or “assumption” can be used here because it is no secret that historical knowledge is far from transparent in terms of appropriate or accurate information. The same goes for memory; it is the bad ones we find ourselves alone with most of the time however the good memories seem to be there just as much, I know I do not need to explain the importance of balance or moderation, but what if the materials you are finding in your collection paint a slightly more grotesque picture of your subject, the question becomes should it be remembered?
There is a lot to be said about someone who can take their bad memories and grow into something positive, usually those are the ones who end up okay. I am not trying to say that the archival process is a cathartic release for the archivist, but rather I am trying to emphasize the real significance of keeping the good with the bad. The urgency for a complete transparent equilibrium in archival work requires a dedication to process, love and passion for the historically mundane (which we both know is just as important as the exciting, nerdy I know) and an understanding of information and the people that put it there. Archival work seems to be a direct impulse to keeping the good with the bad or even first, finding the good, finding the bad and putting it together, coming undone and making it whole.