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X-Processing the Past: Contesting Authority in History and the Archives

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Processing the Past: Contesting Authority in History and the Archives

Francis X. Blouin and William G. Rosenberg 


2012 SAA Waldo Gifford Leland Award Winner for writing of superior excellence!

Written by an archivist and a historian, this engaging book explores the dramatic changes taking place in historical understanding and archival management and, as a result, the relations between historians and archivists. The authors skillfully demonstrate how these changes have been brought on by new historical thinking, new conceptions of archives, changing notions of historical authority, modifications in archival practices, and new information technologies.

The book situates archives as subjects rather than places of study, and examines the increasingly problematic relationships between historical and archival work. By showing how nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century historians and archivists in Europe and North America came to occupy the same conceptual and methodological space, the book sets the background for these changes.

In the past, authoritative history was based on authoritative archives and mutual understanding of scientific research. These connections changed as historians began to ask questions not easily answered by traditional documentation, and archivists began to confront an unmanageable increase in the amount of material they processed and the challenges of new electronic technologies. The authors contend that historians and archivists have divided into two entirely separate professions with distinct conceptual frameworks, training, and purposes, as well as different understandings of the authorities that govern their work.

Processing the Past moves toward bridging this divide by speaking in one voice to these very different audiences. The authors conclude by raising the worrisome question of what future historical archives might be like if historical scholars and archivists no longer understand each other and, indeed, whether their now-different notions of what is archival and historical will ever again be joined.

An essential work for anyone interested in understanding how archives really work, and for archivists interested in understanding current dimensions of historical scholarship.


Oxford University Press (2011)
272 pp., hard cover,
Product Code: BOOKRES-0569
ISBN: 9780199740543
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