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.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Keeping Score

I spent seven days roaming the grounds of Oakmont Country Club, just eight miles from my home, observing the U.S. Open. It was a wonderful experience. It is a sporting event very different from so many others. For example, you won’t find many people with scorecards. Scores are posted on old-fashioned leader boards strategically located needed grandstands. Pairings traipse through with a individual carrying a board with the score of each player, and you see scores often shunned on television. Occasionally you might find someone making notes. On Saturday I spent seven hours in one grandstand overlooking a perilous par-three. One person near me kept notes on how much the hole was playing over par (of course, they were all playing over par at Oakmont), as we witnessed just three birdies and a lot of bogeys and a few double-bogeys.

One has a different experience attending baseball games, where you might see hundreds of people scratching notes into scorecards. Paul Dickson, The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced and Enhanced the History of Baseball (New York: Walker and Co., 2007) provides an interesting description of the history and peculiarities of the use of scorecards in baseball, a history extending back to 1845. Dickson describes, with ample illustrations of old scorecards and different varieties of scorekeeping, the use of baseball scorecards as a “nineteenth-century system that was at once idiosyncratic, creative, useful, and without flaw” (p. 5). Even though every scorecard producer seems to use a different approach, these old scorecards can be used to provide an exact recreation of every play.

This is a book intended for a popular audience, but it is full of interesting historical information about various changes in baseball recordkeeping. The archivist might wish for a more conventional narrative on the evolution of recordkeeping in a sport fixated with statistics and tradition, but I suspect this will be overlooked because of the rich use of historic photographs and reproductions of old scorecards. Everyone needs to take a break every once in a while. This little book is the perfect thing to browse while watching a game on television (and considering how poorly the Pirates have been playing – for fifteen years – one needs to have some sort of diversion).