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.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Internships have always been a part of graduate archival education, from its beginnings in the 1930s to the present. Jeannette Bastian and Donna Webber, Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008) provides an excellent instruction manual to the nature of these internships. As Bastian and Webber note, while internships have been long recognized as important, there has been little advice or critical analysis of this aspect of educating archivists.

These authors provide a history of archival internships, the nature and role of these internships, and the respective responsibilities of faculty, site supervisors, and students. There is little that Bastian and Webber do not cover in this very practical publication. Most interesting to me is the tension between a more theoretical education and the practical internship or, as the authors state, “Too great an emphasis on internships may reduce archival education to mere training, but with no practical learning at all, students are ill-equipped to enter a workplace that places a high value on experience” (p. 15). This is an issue generating some debate in the profession since its beginning, and while Archival Internships is not intended to resolve the debate, I am hoping that it will finally lead to some substantial research about how effective various kinds of internships are in educating new archivists.

We are moving towards a completely new kind of archival education, and it is difficult to know how the historic synergy between fieldwork and classroom work will be affected. It is obvious that a large portion, if not the majority, of archivists will be prepared by Web-based, online education, and this means that the internship also will have to adapt. In the meantime, the Bastian and Webber guide will be the place to start when considering the internship.