Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Academic Recordkeeping and the Evolution of the University

Many in the modern university, myself at times, complain about the increasing volume of paperwork required for us to do our work. Some of this is due to the increasing attention to accountability, some of it is merely the result of the growing bureaucratization of the corporate university. As William Clark, in his lengthy Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), ISBN 0-226-10921-6, argues, the development of the modern university brought with it the need to regularize its practices. Examining every facet of university life, from the medieval period into the nineteenth century, Clark considers how grading, examinations, seminars, dissertations, publishing, the library, and a variety of other academic features supported the new institution, one shaped by both market forces and governmental regulation. Clark describes how “rituals and other old-fashioned practices had to give way to new, rationalized notions of production” (p. 48), and many of these new approaches included documentary forms – reports, schedules, catalogues, grade reports, and library catalogues.

Clark’s Academic Charisma includes many allusions to records and records systems. He often uses prints and drawings as documentary sources, and, as well, the book is full of reproductions of documents illustrating his main points. For example, in his consideration of the invention and use of the faculty dossier, Clark demonstrates how records reflected the growing bureaucratization of the university. At one point, he compares our modern notion of the faculty member with earlier versions: “Moderns tend to think an applicant should show ability for a position. That is, however, a mostly modern and rational prejudice. Conception of the academic as a specialist came as an heroic feat of the Enlightenment” (p. 257). And the dossier played a crucial role in this shift. Examining these documents also leads Clark to comment on the use of archives: “I love the smell of archives in the morning. After getting a whiff of a piping hot cup of fresh-brewed coffee and the morning paper. . . , nothing is quite so satisfying as nosing through a big, fat Bavarian dossier” (p. 289).

Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University is a long complicated work, but the intrepid archivist examining it will find some ideas of how creatively their holdings can be used in revealing the emergence of one of the most significant institutions in our society.


At 4:07 AM, Blogger Ernesto said...

I'm a research student at the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies at University College London. I came across your blog and found it very interesting! I have sent the link to a couple of colleagues.


Post a Comment

<< Home