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Archives and the American Historical Profession

Archives and the American Historical Profession
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  Archives and the American HistoricalProfession Kevin S. Zayed Contents Introduction ....................................................................................... 2Historical Scholarship in the United States Prior to the Advent of Archives:The  “ Amateur  ”  Ideal, c. 1700 to the 1870s ...................................................... 3Historical Scholarship in the United States After the Advent of Archives: The  “ Professional ” Ideal, c. 1870 to 1920 ............................................................................ 6Questioning the Messy Reality of the Archives, the 1920s to the Present ...................... 10The Paradoxical Future of Archival Research ................................................... 12References ........................................................................................ 13 Abstract In historical studies, archives are most commonly de 󿬁 ned as repositories where primary sources are kept. Archives are often held in libraries, historical societies,universities, and even in digital formats. Yet, numerous scholars across thedisciplines have complicated our understanding in recent decades by seeking toexpand and challenge the traditional conception of the historical archive. Somequestion whether archives must be a physical space. Others wonder about therelationship between individuals, society, and the space itself. While unable toengage every debate, this chapter seeks to provide insight on historical archives by elucidating their importance in shifting historical study in the United Statesfrom an  “ amateur  ”  to a more  “  professional, ”  though certainly not fully objective,ideal. The entry begins by exploring the  “ amateur  ”  ideal of historical scholarshipin the United States prior to the advent of archives, before turning to the movetoward professionalization. It then examines the role of archives once the concept of objectivity was complicated and ultimately debunked. Finally, it discussesa paradox regarding the future of archives. K. S. Zayed ( * )Connecticut College, New London, CT, USAe-mail:© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019T. Fitzgerald (ed.),  Handbook of Historical Studies in Education , Springer InternationalHandbooks of Education, 1  Keywords Archives · Primary sources · Amateur historian · Professional historian ·Objectivity Introduction In 1976, historian O.L. Davis, Jr., invited all interested parties to the task of producing nuanced history about the American curriculum. Key to his invitationwas the implication that nuanced history could not be constructed in the absence of  primary sources, or   󿬁 rsthand accounts of events.  “ The  󿬁 eld needs to collect theabundant sources available for study, ”  he proclaimed;  “ What kind of sources areneeded? Everything. A few examples. We need the artifacts of curriculum  . . .  Weneed the photographs of curriculum making and curriculum confronted  . . .  We needthe personal accounts of the actors in curriculum. We need the tales of progress andthe anecdotes of frustration  . . .  We need the accounts, in writing or recorded, of and by teachers, consultants, experts, everyone who has participated ”  (pp. 257  –  258).This proclamation raises further questions about primary sources. Who woulddecidewhat artifacts were worthy of preservation? Who would organizethose photographs?And where would those personal accounts be held while waiting for historians tocome and make meaning of them?The simple answer is historical archives and their curators, better known asarchivists. Historical archives may be de 󿬁 ned as repositories where primary sourcesare kept. They are often held in libraries, historical societies, universities, and even indigital formats. This somewhat reductive de 󿬁 nition has been complicated in recent decades by numerous scholars across the disciplines who have sought to expand andchallenge the traditional conception of what a historical archive is (Manoff  2004;Yale 2015; Friedrich 2018). Some question whether archives must be a physical space or what may constitute a primary source. Others wonder about the relationship between individuals, society, and the space itself. Still others have written on therelationship of archives to historical objectivity, or the concept that historians canremove their own values and simply present the past without biased interpretation(Novick  1988).While unable to engage every debate, this chapter seeks to provide insight onhistorical archives by elucidating their importance in shifting historical study in theUnited States from an  “ amateur  ”  to a more  “  professional, ”  though certainly not fullyobjective, ideal. To develop this argument, I explore the  “ amateur  ”  ideal of historicalscholarship in the United States prior to the advent of archives before turningmy attention to the proliferation of archives and the move toward professionaliza-tion. I then examine the role of archives once the concept of objectivity wascomplicated and ultimately debunked. Finally, I discuss a paradox regarding thefuture of archives. 2 K. S. Zayed  Historical Scholarship in the United States Prior to the Advent of Archives: The  “ Amateur ”  Ideal, c. 1700 to the 1870s The history of American historical scholarship is intertwined with the global historyof knowledge, social relations, universities, and the many other cultural ideals andinstitutions that facilitate historical research and its dissemination. Signi 󿬁 cant intel-lectual debates connected to the Enlightenment, technologies that facilitated mass printing and travel, and early (American) nationalism were instrumental in increas-ing the sheer numbers of archives and normalizing their use (Black  2014).To understand archives and their importance to the American historical profession,it is necessary to provide an overview of the social context and state of knowledge production that not only shaped the historical profession but also served to promotethe creation and importance of historical archives.Historian Robert H. Wiebe (1967) has argued that the United States was, until the1870s,  “ a society of island communities. ” “ Weak communication, ”  he contended, “ severely restricted the interaction among these islands and dispersed the power to form opinion and enact public policy. Education, both formal and informal,inhibited specialization and discouraged the accumulation of knowledge ”  (p. xiii;see also Brown 1989; Tyrrell 2018). This type of landscape proved inhospitable to the formation of historical archives. Knowledge relies on dissemination to foster its proliferation and evolution. With rudimentary communication, it was not likelythat the primary sources so crucial to specialized historical knowledge would becollected and archived.Beyond the issue of communication, there were few institutions that could provide adequate  󿬁 nancial and moral support of archives.  “ In 1860, ”  historianJohn Higham (1979) explains,  “ there was no American university fully worthy of the name. The United States had no libraries of national or international renown,no industrial laboratories or great private foundations, no widely based learnedsocieties devoted exclusively to the advancement of knowledge within a singlelimited  󿬁 eld ”  (p. 3). This led to a reality where  “ the learned world in the UnitedStates was rather inchoate ”  and was marked by  “ an amorphous agglomerationof institutions and activities that were scant in number and widely dispersed territo-rially  . . .  [and] the connections between them were infrequent and of marginalimportance ”  (Shils 1979, p. 21).Despite the dif  󿬁 culties of communication and the absence of fully developed and,in some sense, standardized institutions, Americans were still eager to tell storiesabout their past. However, they would be telling these stories largely without the bene 󿬁 t of archival sources. There can be no doubt that scholars from various  󿬁 eldswere interested in using primary sources and sought the creation of historicalarchives. However, this proved to be more of an exception than a general rule for the broader public who engaged in what we might today recognize as historicalscholarship (Cheng 2008; Geiger  2015). Until the late 1870s, American historians, particularly those who worked outsideof institutions of higher learning, were largely  amateurs . We may de 󿬁 ne this termas people with a love of the topic, working often without monetary compensation, Archives and the American Historical Profession 3  a professional identity, or broadly accepted protocols. However, there are limitationsto this de 󿬁 nition that should be acknowledged. Historian Nathan Reingold (1976) points to the term amateur as having  “  pejorative connotations ”  but argues that the “ etymological implication of the word, that is,  ‘ lover of, ’  . . .  says somethingimportant. ”  Ultimately, he suggests that   “ amateurs ”  should be split into groupsof   “ cultivators, ” “  practitioners, ”  and  “ researchers, ”  to introduce nuance and accuracy(pp. 38  –  39). However, much of his evidence draws from those with  “ scienti 󿬁 c ” interests and not historical ones. Therefore, we may employ the term amateurs in thecase of American scholars focused on telling stories about the past. These amateursincluded  “ men of letters, ”  women seeking to perform their national duty and tosatisfy the principles of   “ Republican Motherhood, ”  African Americans and NativeAmericans expressing  “ oral, vernacular, and commemorative ”  forms of historicalknowledge, in addition to early scholars who contributed to the writing and tellingof history in the colonial period and early republic (Hall 2009, p. 3; Baym 1995; Conn 2004).Although amateur historians inhabited a world with limited historical methodol-ogy, they also inhabited a world in which the very foundations and purposes of knowledge were being challenged. Ultimately, this would shape not only the content of what amateur historians wrote but also the methods by which they wrote.Ideological concerns seemed to take precedence over more methodological ones.One result was that archives were not used in abundance. Two events of particular importance to early American historians were the Enlightenment and the founding of the Republic (Calcott  1970). In a simple sense, the Enlightenment had disrupted theold order and introduced a new form of   “ reason ”  to combat what were seen asdogmatic conceptions of the world. The battle between the ancient and the modernworld was, in some sense, a battle between religion and science as the dominant ways of understanding how the world operated and would change over time (Proctor 1991). The United States seemed to many to be a key battle 󿬁 eld, due particularly tothe  “ widespread belief that the New World was a place where a corrupt Old Worldmight be reborn ”  (Messer  2005, p. 30). Amateur historians saw history as a crucialweapon, as it allowed its practitioners the ability to de 󿬁 ne the world ’ s genesis,evolution, and shifting perception(s) of culture(s).For amateur American historians, it was particularly crucial to imbue their writingwith clear conceptions about religion and science. The ways in which Americansde 󿬁 ned the relationship between these concepts, and particularly how they de 󿬁 nedthe terms  “  providence ”  and  “  progress, ”  would have key rami 󿬁 cations for the de 󿬁 -nition of the relatively new nation ’ s identity (Messer  2005). This process involvedworking out the perceived tension between providence  –   or the concept that God ’ s plan is being executed according to His wishes and timetables  –   and progress, or the more scienti 󿬁 c concept that the world is evolving and can be steered byhumankind. And although providence and progress were often seen as dichotomous,it is clear that there is a more symbiotic relationship between the two. Any author de 󿬁 ning providence was, in turn, de 󿬁 ning progress, and vice versa (Kelley 1991;Himmelfarb 2004). 4 K. S. Zayed  Indeed, the ways in which progress and providence were understood woulddetermine the very identity of the republic and social relations among its inhabitants. “ What links Americans together is not the ethnic, religious, or cultural originsof it citizenry, ”  historian Ian Tyrrell (2005) argues,  “  but a shared civic culture.Those ideas require a particular reading of history  —  a collective memory ”  (p. 11).Therefore, American history would also be written on assumptions related to  American  progress and  American  providence. Amateur historians were seekingto create not simply a history or a national memory but rather a  sense of history that, according to historian David Glassberg (2001), tends to produce a  “ sense of locatedness and belonging ”  (p. 7). American history was meant to make  Americans  belong to  America .It might have been more logical for the young nation to establish state archives for its historians to gain an understanding of the state ’ s formation and growth as someEuropean nations had done early in their histories (Berger  2013; Walsham 2016). However, this did not happen on a widespread scale. While the Library of Congresswas founded in 1800, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)would not be founded until 1934 (Thomas 2015). The founding of the latter wouldend more than a century in which numerous public records were held in disarray andoccasionally destroyed by  󿬁 res (Schellenberg 2003). The NARAwould standardize presidential libraries, records from federal of  󿬁 ces, and various archives across thenation. Therefore, there was a tangible reason for not using archives on a large scale:Few archives existed.In addition to writing from an ideological sense, amateur historians saw their writing more as a  “ highly literary form of composition ”  rather than a scienti 󿬁 cendeavor (Burrow 2008, p. 414). The methodology of history had more in commonwith other   󿬁 elds in which instructive forms of composition were produced (e.g., political theory, philosophy, and even  󿬁 ction) than with scienti 󿬁 c enterprises.Historian Donald Kelley (1991) suggests that history did not even achieve  “ meth-odological independence ”  from literature and other related  󿬁 elds until the latter  portion of the nineteenth century (p. 497). Historians and other literary authorsused similar tools of inspiration, including lived experiences, imagination, andoral traditions. Primary sources were merely one of many kinds of sources available.And of those primary sources, few were housed in archives.The ideology and methodology of doing history trickled down to the varioussub 󿬁 elds of the historical enterprise (one might hesitate to call it a  “ discipline ”  at this point). One example is the history of American education. Though some would later claim that the history of American education grew in  “ isolation ”  from history writ large, others have found much more evidence that the history of American educationwas almost always written in a manner similar to histories of other topics (Gaither 2003). Indeed, historian J.J. Chambliss (1979) studied available American histories of education from 1842 to the publication of Thomas Davidson ’ s  A History of   Education  in 1901 and concluded that   “ exploration of the histories written beforeDavidson, while  󿬁 nding a diversity of emphases among their authors, has deter-mined two main tendencies. One is expressed in the belief that history reveals theworking of Providence, or of Progress; systematic and rationalistic accounts of  Archives and the American Historical Profession 5
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