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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

National Treasure

The second National Treasure movie was a disappointment, especially with its fine cast, stringing together one historical cliché after another. Yes, we get to see people chasing each other through the Library of Congress, the staging of lectures and exhibitions about historical documents, the use of historical documents as clues, and a variety of other archival images. It is great mindless entertainment, although I found myself bored at a number of places, checking my watch, and looking for one great scene where archives and archivists are portrayed in some astounding insightful fashion. It was too much to ask.

However, I don’t think archivists should write off the entire enterprise. There is now a series of children’s books, written for middle schoolers, accompanying the movies. The first book – Catherine Hapka, Changing Tides: A Gates Family Mystery (New York: Disney Press, 2007) – introduces us to the Gates family in early seventeenth century and takes us to the Virginia colony. The second book, National Treasure: Book of Secrets (New York: Disney Press, 2007), is based on the script of the present movie. A third book, apparently based on the first movie, is scheduled to appear in March 2008. Reading the first two books make you realize that the real theme of these movies is not history, archives, old documents, but treasure hunting. Still, I wonder if the movies and books might not get kids curious about archives; after all, there is not much else out there for piquing the interest of youngsters about archives and archivists.