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, September 14, 2008

Scrapbook History

There is a new book coming out in early November on the history of American scrapbooks, authored by Jessica Helfand and published by Yale University Press. In today’s New York Times Magazine there is an essay by Rob Walker on the book and reflecting about the nature of scrapbooks. Walker, in “Shared Memories,” provides some interesting observations about the nature of scrapbooking.

Walker suggests that scrapbookers of 50 and 100 years ago were not probably thinking about future audiences. Now, however, “scrapbooking is a multibillion-dollar affair, with specialty publications and businesses serving a huge market of self-documentarians. By and large, their work has little aesthetic resemblance to what Helfand has compiled. And while contemporary ‘scrappers’ may not be thinking about future historians, a good number are thinking about an audience — and it isn’t just the grandkids.” Helfand apparently connects scrapbooks to the commonplace book tradition and sees their creators on “voyages of self-discovery” and working in privacy. While there were commercial suppliers for scrapbooks a century ago, now, with the advent of Web-based tools, the enterprise is far more public, or at least Walker makes the point that there has been a major transition from private or personal use to a public process.

Given how many scrapbooks reside in archives today, and how many digital versions may never come to an archives (unless new kinds of digital repositories are created and sustained), Helfand’s book will be one to add to the libraries of professional archivists. I look forward to reading it.