Archives and Time

I have long imagined that an interesting research topic would be to investigate how the development of archival repositories related to the growing awareness of time and its measurement. Pursuing this interest, I enjoy reading new publications on the topic of time.

I recently read James Gleick, Time Travel: A History (New York: Pantheon Books, 2016), a wonderfully typical Gleick monograph, drawing on fiction, cinema, television, science, philosophy, the humanities, and so forth to provide an engaging exploration of how we have seen time. It is interesting to me that Gleick does not discuss archives; the closest he gets to it is time capsules.

Yet, some of his discourse gets close to how we view archives: “Why do we need time travel, when we already travel through space so far and fast? For history. For mystery. For nostalgia. For hope. To examine our potential and explore our memories. To counter regret for the life we lived, the only life, one dimension, beginning to end” (p. 295). This sounds very much like the kind of activities we associate with archives. Certainly archivists who read this book will think of other ways that time travel connects to the use of archives and their purposes. After all, anyone coming into an archives to do research is engaged in a form of time travel.

By the way, I doubt I ever will get to writing about archives and time due, you guessed it, to a lack of time.


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