Processing the Past, I mean the very book itself, is a good example of historians (an historian and an archivist, rather) providing a service to those outside of their own field. It does more than attempt to explain the suggested divide it claims to exist between historians and archivists, or to lecture both groups of professionals on their intellectual differences; Processing offers several excellent ideas on how the two can work together to increase the benefit of archives to historians, archivists, and the general public.

It’s an exciting book because it suggests not only is there work to be done, but that in doing the work itself everyone will benefit. Allowing users to tag documents or retrieve works found by others based on metadata or other new methods are no threat to the archivist; by making the archive more accessible makes the expert archivist more indispensable in supporting and expanding on those methods even as he or she maintains traditional alternatives. Aside from increasing the potential of the time they put into their own research, historians can provide an historical perspective to archive organization that benefits anyone using them, including non-experts. Nearly anyone who makes the effort of searching an archive probably has a complex question, one that cannot be answered by a single document alone–even in corporate settings, of course, it’s less likely to be “how much revenue did this product generate for this financial year” and more likely to be “why did this product succeed/fail?” or “what where the contemporary decisions behind this product?”

A historical perspective would allow archives to meet complex questions at the door, decreasing some of the archivist’s petty workload when simple questions can answer themselves while increasing their usefulness as they focus their expertise on assisting more complex challenges and drive the organizational modifications that allow them to serve more people more efficiently. The archivists enjoy increased patronage, the historians produce more high quality content, the general public is empowered with access to information, and, if the organizational modifications are sufficient, all three groups get to participate in conversation with one another about intellectual and organizational issues alike. That kind of cooperative symbiosis is exactly what we all want, and more valuable than other particular gain that comes with doing digital history.


One thought on “

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s