Archives in the Misinformation Age

Archivists have discussed for decades how society values or should value them, their mission, and the materials they manage and preserve. For a long time this conversation focused on how knowledge of the past was perceived and, more practically, how historians, usually meaning academics, used archival sources and understood the work of archivists. This remains part of the continuing dialogue about the role of archives in society, but we see signs that historians and other scholars are working to understand better the nature of the archival record, what it represents, and how it survives. Some of this conversation is part of the whiny insecurity that plagues lots of professions, but it is never something that should be ignored. Self-reflection of this sort assists us to challenge ourselves to be better, more articulate advocates for what we do and even what we believe.

Does this mean that the value of archives in our society is improving or making it easier to make the case on their behalf? Quite the contrary. It seems that the recent political campaigns, both national and local, have demonstrated that the present cultural context of archives makes it harder than ever to articulate a coherent, rational argument for supporting archivists and archives. Records, and the evidence and information they contain, seem to be something they want to ignore, if at all possible. It is hard to discover any interest by any party or candidate in the veracity of their statements. Moreover, it is rare to hear or read about what candidates actually support; instead, we hear or read about the supposed flaws of their opponents and even their spouses in ways that are often distorted. Most outrageously we hear candidates and their supporters deny their own comments, even when presented with irrefutable evidence of what they have said or done. There has always been some aspect of such fantasy in our society. The recent film about the Deborah Lipstadt Holocaust denier libel case, Denial, ought to remind us of this. In an interview the historian candidly states, “There are not two sides to every story. Certain things happened. It goes against deconstructionism taken to its ridiculous end. There are those people who will say everything is changeable, interpretable. There is something for interpretation of documents. But if you carry that to its illogical conclusion, and then you add an overlay of prejudice, you end up in the world of denial. You open the doors to 9/11 conspiracy theories, to vaccines cause autism, to the claim that Sandy Hook was made up by the anti-gun people to get more anti-gun legislation. Sometimes, if your mind is too open – someone said this – your brains fall out” (Marc Parry, “A Holocaust Historian’s Trial Hits the Big Screen,” The Chronicle Review, October 14, 2016, p. B10.

How can we promote the role of archives in what seems to be an age of misinformation (not the Information Age we often lay claim to), when our brains have fallen out? Archives are strongly connected to evidence and truth, even if the meanings of such terms have shifted in seismic ways, both within and outside the profession. For an extended period, most archival scholars and commentators wrote from a perspective heavily influenced by postmodernism, enriching our perception of the nature and purposes of records, but also eroding how we viewed the evidence they contained. It seems impossible to seek support for archives and archivists when we don’t seem to believe that truth or even the perception of truth are particularly relevant. While squabbles about access to tax returns, demands to see emails, and other such issues draw attention to records, does any of it really matter? Of course the problem goes much deeper than debates about esoteric philosophical or theoretical perspectives. Records and their managers have long been associated with red tape, bureaucratic inertia, and obstacles to efficiency and economy. It is hard to mount an effective argument about anything if our work and profession is seen as an obstacle. It is also difficult to try to be an informed citizen while listening to the media argue with the political pundits, with hardly anyone ever answering a question, confirming a fact, or listening to each other.

The current political climate brings more substantial challenges to the work of it turns out both presidential candidates are records (and ethically) challenged. Trump refuses to release his tax returns, long a custom for candidates for this office. He also will not allow access to outtakes and other materials from his reality television show “The Apprentice.” He blithely refutes every criticism, denying everything he has said or done even if presented proof about such matters. Should he win the election one wonders just what he would plan for his presidential library, already, in my opinion a troubled institution. Trump is the easy target given his thin-skinned personality that leads him to reverse regularly his comments or to characterize some as humor or locker room banter (which they are not). But we should not be any more assured with Hillary Clinton. Clinton, an experienced politician and statesperson, has long established the fact that she is no ally of archivists. Her well-publicized troubles with the State Department emails are not an aberration, nor the slippage of someone unfamiliar with the technology. In a 1992 New Yorker essay, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh quoted Clinton referring to the National Archives as a backwater, no consequence federal agency. Who needs to be concerned with it? Her continuing behavior suggests that she has not changed her mind about the value of records. Of course, she does not represent anything particularly new from the ranks of politicians. President Obama promised transparency in government, but his administration has been more secretive than most, including that of his Republican predecessor. None of this adheres to the kind of democracy envisioned by the Founders or captured in documents such as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

A natural response would be for archivists to throw up their hands in despair and except their lot in life, to be engaged in interesting but less than crucial work. I don’t think any of us want us to accept such a posture. We need to commit to a professional mission that challenges our society to recognize that government and other records are essential to holding individuals and institutions accountable to the citizens and that encompasses the capturing and preserving of every form of document, digital and analog, revealing miscreant politicians, business people, and others who we have entrusted ourselves. In the past couple of decades archivists have made great strides in expanding their mission – adding accountability, transparency, community, indigenous peoples’ concepts of evidence, memory, and ethics (and we can add many other concepts) to the mix of purposes. But we need to be more committed to this more complex mission and more vocal and articulate about it. As I begin to contemplate leaving my professional community of nearly forty-five years, I personally feel like it took me too long to arrive at this point of understanding my own vocation. But it is by no means too late for my students and many others to be better archival citizens. We just need to reject the soft, warm feel of being intimate with history through our records and embrace the more complicated role of documenting our present society, warts and all, risking ourselves and our programs to be more relevant.

More in the future on this topic. . . .






A Missing JFK Assassination Film

Everyone knows about the Zapruder film of President Kennedy’s assassination, and the controversy surrounding it and its ownership. Ine Gayle Nix Jackson, The Missing JFK Assassination Film: The Mystery Surrounding the Orville Nix Movie of November 22, 1963 (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014) describes another, lesser-known film of the event. This chatty memoir, the author is Nix’s granddaughter, describes the nature of a film that has been missing for forty years (there are copies available) and raises questions about how federal agencies handled evidence about this murder. The book avoids wallowing in conspiracy theories, and it will be of interest to archivists and others interested in home movies and other film.

The Wildly Growing Literature on Archives and Record

It used to be the case that keeping current with the professional and scholarly literature on archives, records, and related issues meant keeping track of a few journals, the publishing programs of professional associations, and a modest array of professional and scholarly publishers. That is no longer the case, as can be seen by book advertisements in the recent issue (September/October/November 2016) of BookForum. Below is a brief assessment of some interesting publications featured in this issue, mindful of the fact that I have not actually read any of these books.

English publisher Prestel is releasing in October (in the United States, November) John Z. Komurki, ed., Stationery Fever: From Paperclips to Pencils and Everything in Between, another homage to our love with paper and our increasing interest in collecting the artifacts from earlier information ages. The publisher’s website states, “Stationery Fever showcases the plethora of retro and fine office goods being produced and sold around the world. Organized like your favorite stationery store—pencils, pens, notebooks, erasers, greeting cards, school supplies, etc.—it features exquisitely photographed objects that transcend the decades since laptops took over most of our office needs. Each chapter highlights distinct objects and features a store that specializes in that category. Along the way, readers will learn the history of the lined notebook, the proper way to sharpen a pencil, and the story of how postcards came to be.”

Book burning, the deliberate destruction of texts, has had a long and infamous history. The University of Chicago Press recently published Kenneth Baker’s On the Burning of Books: How Flames Fail to Destroy the Written Word. It is a testament to the resilience of texts, even in an age when we persistently predict the end of the print book. The publisher’s description provides a glimpse into the rich history of such activities: “In On the Burning of Books, Baker explores famous moments throughout history when books have been burnt for political, religious, or personal reasons. Included among his investigations are stories from ancient China to the Nazis, from George Orwell’s Animal Farm to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, from Chairman Mao to the Spanish destruction of the Aztec civilization. Baker describes Samuel Pepys burning an erotic novel, and the personal fires of Lord Byron’s memoirs, Dickens’s letters, Hardy’s poems, and Philip Larkin’s diaries. Alongside these many examples are chapters on accidental book burning—and even lucky escapes.”

MIT Press, long a publisher of important books on information science and technology, recently released a volume on the symbolism of libraries edited by Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin. According to the publisher, “Fantasies of the Library lets readers experience the library anew. The book imagines, and enacts, the library as both keeper of books and curator of ideas–as a platform of the future.” “The book includes an essay on the institutional ordering principles of book collections; a conversation with the proprietors of the Prelinger Library in San Francisco; reflections on the role of cultural memory and the archive; and a dialogue with a new media theorist about experiments at the intersection of curatorial practice and open source ebooks. The reader emerges from this book-as-exhibition with the growing conviction that the library is not only a curatorial space but a bibliological imaginary, ripe for the exploration of consequential paginated affairs.” This is a reminder that the library, along with the printed book, is not dead or useless even in the digital era.

The pervasiveness and significance of writing is the subject of a new book from the University of Toronto Press. Laurence de Looze, The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World examines “how the alphabet has served as a lens through which we conceptualize the world and how the world, and sometimes the whole cosmos, has been perceived as a kind of alphabet itself. Beginning with the ancient Greeks, he traces the use of alphabetic letters and their significance from Plato to postmodernism, offering a fascinating tour through Western history.”

So, the historical perspective and the sense of the value of texts and documents remains vibrant, at least in terms of scholarship, even if in many iSchools and library and information science programs it seems otherwise.

Transparency and the Archivist

Transparency and the Archivist

Most archivists support broad access to government and other records. It is a principle embedded in their ethical code. It is a principle closely associated with their commitment to preserving documentation as a means of understanding the past and servicing historical and other researchers. Of course, there is a considerable range of opinion as to whether this is a commitment to a radical transparency, one supporting whistleblowers and others like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, or a fuzzier notion of broad access to documents vetted through a deliberate, conservative review and declassification process.

Archivists will find another opportunity in a week when Oliver Stone’s Snowden hits movie theaters. Stone, the controversial filmmaker who has dealt with records in the past and who is drawn to events susceptible to conspiracy theorizing, considers himself a historian but he is, in fact, a good storyteller (if one doesn’t mind the twisting of facts). Indeed, Stone has raised the ire of historians before, as is ably depicted in Robert Brent Toplin, ed., Oliver Stone’s USA: Film, History, and Controversy (University Press of Kansas, 2000). Whatever the challenges are in watching Stone’s movies, they generate lots of conversation, the kind that archivists ought to participate in as well as follow. The debates surrounding his films often reveal how the public, media, and policymakers perceive records and archives issues.

Stone’s new film on Snowden surely won’t disappoint, at least in terms of elevating the conversation about government secrecy and access to its information. We get a glimpse into the forthcoming film in Irina Aleksander’s lengthy essay in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine, “The Snowden Plot,” September 4, 2016. Focusing on the efforts to create the film and interview Snowden, Aleksander’s report features a rich array of secret agents, politicians, and other intriguing characters – all of which deserve a documentary of their own. As she tells it, “The Snowden story had all the ingredients of an epic Stone picture: politics, government conspiracy and, at the center of it all, an American patriot who had lost faith” (p. 28). So, yes, I approach this movie with caution but curiosity as to how it can be used to draw attention to the significance of archival work in our society.

Yet, I know many archivists will shy away from the kinds of controversies such a film spawns. I remember all too well the very divided reaction to Tim Ericson’s presidential address to the Society of American Archivists in 2004 when he urged a stronger activist role in combating government secrecy. If nothing else, a passive silence to the likely debates about the film suggests a missed opportunity. And there should be little question that archives and archivists won’t emerge in some way. Julian Assange, in his introduction to The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire (New York: Verso, 2015), states, “While national archives have produced impressive collections of internal state communications, their material is intentionally withheld or made difficult to access for decades, until it is stripped of potency” (p. 5). This is hardly, in my view, how we want archives and archivists to be seen.

Besides, given the work that archivists do and the materials they handle, sooner or later one of us may find ourselves contemplating the path blazed by Snowden. I know that stating this in this way will anger some within our ranks, but inherent in this quagmire of political beliefs, professional ethics, and personal convictions is what makes records and archival work so important.

The Post Office and the Making of America


Winifred Gallagher is a good storyteller, a scholar who selects interesting topics and writes excellent narratives of value both to academics and the public. She has written books about purses, houses, and the meaning of place. Her latest book, How the Post Office Created America: A History (New York: Penguin Press, 2016), helps us understand another dimension of what we deem to be the information age, one we often take for granted.

Most of us have firm opinions about the postal system. I love mail, even the worse junk that arrives with it. It provides a window into our culture and, every once in a while, an interesting personal letter or other personal communication comes with it. The postal system also drives me crazy, occasionally losing mail or damaging it or just not delivering it. Whatever our feelings about it, the post office has been critically important to our country. Gallagher argues, “with astonishing speed, it established the United States as the world’s information and communications superpower” (p. 1). Gallagher’s book “tells the nation’s story from the perspective of its communications network” (p. 5).

Gallagher weaves the story of the development and role of the post office including, among other things, railroads, stamp collecting, greeting cards, newspapers, personal correspondence, economics, politics and patronage, law and legislation, technology, and significant personalities. It is a good read. Gallagher discusses the construction of the great post offices, symbols of America’s might, and she deftly charts the debate about whether the postal service is a business or a public service. Gallagher concludes that the post office is the institution that “did the most to create America’s expansive, forward-looking, information- and communications-oriented culture” (p. 287).

The book could have been better. A stronger bibliography would help the reader to delve more into this topic. The set of illustrations do not support Gallagher’s own text about the symbolic and cultural significance of the post office; it looks like an add-on when it could have been a much better addition to her thesis.

The Human Impulse to Collect and Preserve

We see evidence all around us of the human impulse to collect; there are libraries, archives, museums, flea markets, and antiques shops, just for starters. These re not equal in their importance, of course, serving a wide range of purposes. The differences in collecting can be seen in two recent books.

Eric Spitznagel, Old Records Never Die: One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past (New York: Plume, 2016), describes the author’s efforts to re-acquire the LPs he long ago dispersed. The number of people growing up with vinyl as the primary means of listening to music is declining; I was one of those people. I remember their weight and bulk and, growing weary of carrying them around, getting rid of them (some thing I still regret a bit).

Spitznagel, a journalist, commences his book this way: “Think about the first song that meant something to you” (p. 3). He pulled me in right away. Then he connects music listening to the physical objects enabling this activity: “Records are something different. They’re physical objects: Big, bulky, inconvenient, easily damaged objects. Vinyl is the skin that changes in good and bad ways, over a lifetime” (p. 5). Some of them even have a “distinct smell” (p. 5).

Spitznagel is interested in the characteristics of vinyl records that might enable you to recognize the precise record that once belonged to you. As a result, Old Records Never Die is a meditation on technology and memory, a personal testimony rather than a scholarly study. He writes about love, happiness, sadness, success, failure, life and death – all marked by the acquisition and ownership of certain records. For example, in hearing one particular recording, Spitznagel muses, “Hearing it again in this fresh context, blaring from an old record player, the hisses and pops were a reminder that this song existed before Julia Roberts movies, before chain restaurants put it on constant repeat” (p. 109).

Sometimes there is more system to personal collecting than we realize. For our journalist, his grandmother served as a kind of repository: “Over the past half century my grandmother’s house had evolved into a sort of walk-in safe-deposit box. It’s where we left everything we didn’t want anymore but weren’t ready to throw away, because what if we needed it” (p. 117). Spitzbagel’s book will stimulate some self-reflection about your own collecting.

We recognize how and why communities and other groups labor to preserve something of their past and identity, beyond families and individuals. Joshua Hammer, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016) is a case study of the former. Despite the hip title and exaggerated claim, these are not the most important manuscripts – significant, yes.

Hammer, a journalist, provides us a story about the remarkable efforts to assemble, protect, and smuggle away thousands of medieval Islamic and secular tomes long safeguarded by individuals and families in Mali. He describes their initial collecting, focusing on the activities of Abdel Kader Hardara, and the subsequent cultural renaissance with the founding of government and private libraries and archives. Most of the book considers the danger posed to the manuscripts by the rise of Al Qaeda in the region. Hadara, calling on contacts around the world and assembling a wild array of archivists, librarians, family members, and volunteers, manages to get the vast majority of the textual heritage to safety into various safe houses. Hammer reminds us that while there are strong sentiments for preserving such materials that their symbolic and other values make them tempting targets as well.

Perceiving the Value of Archives


Archivists have come up with many different ways to describe the value of archival sources: legal, fiscal, administrative values; evidence and accountability; various research uses; memory; community building; and social justice. And the list goes on. The nature of potential value has expanded exponentially since the days of archival pioneers such as Jenkinson and Schellenberg. Some of these values can seem contradictory at times, but all of them have merit for why the archival enterprise is essential.

There is a more traditional way of perceiving the value of archives, via their use by storytellers, when they choose to take on this function, such as historians, journalists, and other scholars. While on my vacation in Maine, when not eating lobster or painting, I read two books reminding me of this. William Carlsen, Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya (New York: William Morrow, 2016) is a detailed account of the early nineteenth century explorers and their accumulation of documentation about their efforts (revealing how much more we have yet to know about this civilization). Carlsen, a journalist, draws on this rich textual and visual documentation to tell their story pitting them against harsh conditions, political and civil unrest, and other challenges. Darrin Lunde, The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History (New York: Crown, 2016), is a contribution to the history of the field of natural history. Lunde, based on his long career in this field, builds on Roosevelt’s many writings and archival remains to provide an engaging portrait of this President’s scientific interests in the context of his own era (and what a contrast he is to those currently seeking higher office; there was a time when ideas were important).

It should be obvious that I selected these two books as entertaining diversions while I rested from other tasks. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, by the many references to letters, diaries, photographs and drawings, and many other sources. In addition to the usual acknowledgements to editors, friends, and family, there are thanks to librarians and archivists. The power of archives is, perhaps, best expressed through volumes such as these, rather than in what archivists assert about their work and holdings. Anyone reading about historical events, politics, and society should be remind of the significance of archives and that their description as “dusty” (as one of the authors references) is only appropriate when we ignore them.

Arguing, Arguing, and Arguing

The endless political debates, arguments, accusations, and rants filling up our airwaves have worn down many of us. Personally, as I am on the eve of my annual Maine vacation, I look forward to a break from all of it. Even as I admit this, I also know that we have had earlier times when politics seemed mired in such murky depths. More importantly, every day every one of us are engaged in arguing about everything from politics to sports to religion, and the list continues.

Arguing can be exhausting and often seem pointless. However, there are other ways of looking at this. Stanley Fish, Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn’t Work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom (New York: Harper, 2016), is a thought-provoking discourse on the nature of argument, and a timely one at that. Fish, the prolific legal scholar and humanist, gives us an assessment of the value of argument and how we should view it. No matter what practical insight one might draw from this book, we are reminded that our world is one of arguing, about everything and at all times. Fish suggests that we not try to avoid such discussion, but that we embrace it in ways that might produce positive ends.

The strength of Fish’s book, indeed of most of his books, is his clear writing, supplemented by numerous examples from a wide range of scholarship, current events, and popular culture. While presidential politics were not far from my mind, I was most interested in how Fish examines academic arguments, my daily environment Fish notes that the “basic economy of the academy” is as follows: “you advance and prosper to the extent that the solutions you offer to intellectual puzzles are found persuasive and are subsequently credited to as their originator. Promotions, honors, and influence follow” (p. 162). That’s a pretty good description of life in the academy, except that it’s missing the focus on generating revenue that seems to be a necessary part of the modern corporate university. Fish also handles, delicately, the issues the academy will not debate, such as Holocaust deniers, and grapples with the broader question of whether academic arguments matter all that much (I’ll let you decide what he concludes).

Preparing for a Full Archival Career: Research, Teaching, Mentoring, and Administration; Comments Made at the AERI Meeting, Kent State University, July 10, 2016


Academic life can be a great career, but only if you are truly prepared for it; if you are not prepared, it can be miserable, disappointing, and frustrating. My field, archival studies, is relatively young in its placement and role in the academy, having emerged (barely) in the 1930s, expanded in the 1960s, and established in the early 1990s (some might argue about the details of this chronology, but my personal experience and observation suggest that this is a good working outline of what has happened).

What I am writing here is based on notes prepared for the Archival Education and Research Institute (AERI) held at Kent State University in July 2016 (explaining why my focus is on faculty in archival studies). AERI, now in its eighth year, is important evidence of the maturing of graduate archival education in both the United States and worldwide (AERI has become an international conference and meets next year in Toronto). While AERI was formed to strengthen the field’s research, and this literature has both broadened and deepened, we still face many other issues and challenges.

In my own career I have striven to be a balanced academic, but can we claim that AERI is providing a balanced perspective for doctoral students and faculty? AERI has enabled us to have some substantial success in certain areas, such as strengthening research and publication, creating a distinct community (one that is international), and making archival studies a distinct field within the archival profession (including establishing it as a discipline within the academy). Some may quibble about some aspects of this, but I believe all will agree we have come a long and that AERI has played a significant role in the most recent decade. But we can still ask whether we have developed a sense of what faculty do or ought to be doing?

The matter of what faculty do is, of course, something that has been a topic of debate for a long time as well as an issue that some contend has been under siege in the modern university.  Here is a general assessment of faculty responsibility. They build and contribute to a record of scholarship, establishing their own expertise and adding to their disciplinary knowledge (and that of a repository of knowledge for society). Faculty conveys their knowledge via publishing, conference attendance, and teaching. They are advocates for their disciplines and programs. They mentor students and junior colleagues. Faculty collaborates with each other and works within their professional communities. And, finally, some take on administrative responsibilities.

However, it is in the realm of administration that we seem to have been the weakest. At AERI I have commented in the past on the ethics of teaching, expanding the nature of publishing to include public scholarship, and preparing doctoral students for faculty positions that are defined in well-rounded ways. Now, I am most concerned for how well we are preparing the next generation of administrators. The original motivating factor for AERI was strengthening research, and we have accomplished much in this. However, if we do not develop the next generation of administrators, we will not have the venues needed for graduate archival studies.

We often forget that there is a synergy between teaching, research, and other such basic functions. Teaching is, after all, a form of publishing. Being an active scholar, meaning reading and engaging in research, is essential for teaching courses that are current and forward looking. Teaching can also be used to target new potential areas for research and to enlist students in assisting in such work, with the added benefit of improving their research skills. But where does management fit into all this? There is little debate that students need help with learning about how to be administrators; they need a good working knowledge of this as they enter the workplace.

Preparing doctoral students to be administrators is the missing part of the AERI conferences. This is not surprising, of course, since the primary purpose of this group was to nurture research and publishing. But the circumstances have begun to change. The faculty who first banded together to create AERI is beginning to retire, affecting both AERI’s future and the future of graduate archival education in general. It seems that many doctoral students or early career faculty is focused nearly exclusively on their research and scholarly work, perhaps reflecting a general trend in academe. It raises the interesting question about how sustain or build graduate archival education programs. We need succession planning for the benefit of the future, but how do we do that if there is few interested in taking over such administrative posts? If this attitude had been prevalent a decade or two ago, we would not have the graduate programs we now have or, for that matter, AERI.

This is made more complicated by various trends in higher education. The declining number of tenured and tenure-stream faculty positions and the declining number of graduate students in some disciplinary areas are challenges complicating the future development of graduate archival studies, requiring a new corps of academic archival leaders. The positive growth in recent years of graduate archival education programs also has had another other consequence, increased competition for new students. This has been especially noticeable among the programs offering their programs via distance education; such programs tend to attract students (although not exclusively so) who are focused on credentials and who shop around for the best deals financially. There are many other variables affecting all this, such as increasing tuition costs for students and the present corporate mentality of many universities, creating many challenges for the future. This suggests all the more reasons for preparing future faculty to be prepared for administrative responsibilities, requiring that we help them to understand how the university works.

What do we do to prepare doctoral students for the reality of higher education that they will face in the future? We need to make them understand that the academic life is not just about research and publishing, as important as this may be. We need to get them into classrooms as instructors. In the archives field we need to encourage them to interact with practitioners; some of the emphasis on various theoretical approaches raises the question of the relevance of such perspectives on basic practice. We should introduce them to the growing literature on higher education, although, unfortunately, many faculty themselves neglect this area of scholarship. For example, Jonathan R. Cole, Toward A More Perfect University (New York: Public Affairs, 2016) evaluates, in quite some detail, matters concerning online education, funding, undergraduate and graduate education, higher education’s relationship with industry, and the role of faculty. Given that many doctoral students and faculty engaged in research about archives are concerned with matters of social justice, accountability, community, and so forth, Cole’s assessment of higher education is particularly relevant. Cole connects the state of higher education to his hopes for the future of the United States, stating that “over the next several generations I trust that our society will move closer to a true meritocracy for minorities, for women, for people with different sexual orientations. I trust that we will begin to appreciate difference more than we do today. We will have greater appreciation for cultural artifacts, for humanistic and creative thinking. Simultaneously, we will renew our belief in the ‘common,’ and that those who have been most fortunate in our society need to help those whose lives have been less so. I expect that we will reduce our level of anti-intellectualism and that we will value products of imagination, especially those that are embodied in the arts and sciences” (pp.322-323). There is no question, in my mind, that many archival faculty members are committed to fostering such a societal transformation (as well as documenting it).

Academics are not born; they are made. They learn to discern how to impose order on chaos, to be able to provide and receive criticism, how to develop regimens of research, to become experts in certain subjects, and how to be a colleague and develop relationships. None of this is particularly easy, but it is important. Preparing doctoral students to be competent researchers is only part of what they need to learn. AERI, as it continues to develop, needs to expand what it offers, especially if it wants to have a future.


The Slow Professor

The literature, scholarly and popular, about the nature of the modern American university, especially critiquing its recent corporatization, has grown at a steady rate over the past two decades. As a university professor, I am drawn to these books as a moth to a flame, part of an effort to understand the history and nature of higher education. Usually these volumes provide little in the way of realistic practical advice, but occasionally there are exceptions. A recent example is Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), a brief book focusing on how academics should view and manage themselves. Berg and Seeber, both English professors, consider issues such as time management, teaching, research, collegiality and community, and collaboration. There are no surprises in the range of topics they comment on, but the book is likely to provoke lots of discussion, discussion that will appear quite different depending on whether you are a professor, administrator, trustee, or parent of a student.

The authors define what they mean by slow culture as constituting a culture that “values balance and that dares to be skeptical of the professions of productivity” (p. 21). In other words, they question the university’s use of productivity measures for everything that a professor does (citation counts, numbers of publications, teaching evaluations, etc.) in favor of building space for reflection and understanding. Some of what they are contending with has to with the nature of the corporate university. For example, in considering research, they note, “The increasingly managerial model of research shifts the focus away from those doing the scholarship and creates faculty compliance with institutional imperatives” (p. 54). Berg and Seeber emphasize the need for faculty to recapture their mission to focus on understanding their own areas (and helping others to understand as well). And they elevate the need to recast how faculty view themselves by stating, “Slowing down is a matter of ethical import” (p. 58).

One of their most interesting observations concerns faculty collegiality. They contend that the present nature of demands on university faculty work against any semblance of collegiality. Faculty members stay huddled in their offices or rarely come to their offices, busy with demands on their time for research or just filling out forms and surveys intended to keep them compliant. Visitors to departments often find that they are “ghost places” (p. 75). This needs to change. If faculty members are to develop creative and innovative programs and conduct research of use to their fields and society they need to be available to work with each other. If they are to mentor students, they also need to be available to them.