Laughter Road

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Archivists: The New Macho Heroes

I’m attending a conference in a suburb of Detroit at the moment. The events themselves are happening at this place, a GORGEOUS learning community where ever the lampposts are works of sculpture.

The symposium covers the collection and care of scrapbooks, and though I don’t fall into the geographical region of this archivists’ group, I came anyway because the topic is so closely related to my thesis topic. (As of this posting, 5 days left. Pray for me).

One of the presenters was talking about how we first started seeing a surge in casual photography in the 60’s and 70’s, particularly photography by and of middle-class people in their homes and doing everyday things. This happened because the equipment and processing materials became available, both in cost and equipment. Prior to this time, photography equipment was really only affordable to the rich…and instead of dropping a roll of film at the drugstore, whole cameras had to be sent away for expensive processing. Very wealthy families and the upper classes had photography as a hobby for quite some time.

In much the same way, wealthy families also created personal museums and archives to chronicle their family’s history. This was, understandably, an expensive undertaking.

Exploring one’s family history has had a huge resurgence in the past 10-20 years, and with the popularity of knowing whether or not your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was, say, the Duke of some small piece of Scotland, the practice had become less cost-prohibitive, just like photography. One doesn’t have to hire a genealogist or historian when the internet and an LDS Genealogy Center are available. Researchers can amass huge quantities of paperwork and photos about their ancestors. Wealthy families would have established archives for the storage of these materials, and now that has started to catch on with more of the middle-class.

After that entire introduction, I finally come to the point of that post, and an impromptu survey. You may have already figured it out. I’ve toyed with the idea of (one day) forming a small business as a personal archivist. (Bret thinks I should be called “The Mercenary Archivist.” I think he already has the URL reserved. Archiving For Hire ™!) A person (or family) would, ideally, hire me to organize their personal papers or collections, or write a family history, or do historical or genealogical research on their behalf. So, if you are reading this (and I know there aren’t many, but please play along) what do you think? Could this be a niche I could fill? To be sure, it is extremely specialized, this business of coming into someone’s home, making sense of their family history, putting them into some sort of order, and performing preservation and basic conservation in an attempt to make them last longer.

Feasible small business model OR asking for trouble and many hours spent listening to old ladies tell me about the time their great-grandmother left her husband to go to the big city and be a hand model. Discuss.

To change the subject, Michigan is beautiful, and it is actually fall here and I am wearing a LONG-SLEEVED SHIRT and a SWEATER. In Mississippi I wouldn’t need this combination until late November. Also I have a rental car with GPS, which I have used on every trip, even to the CVS I could see from my hotel window. The unit has a husky male voice and talks me soothingly through every u-turn and lane change. And tonight that GPS will be delivering me (I really do think of it this way, as though he’s the one in charge and I’m just the lowly servant) to Marshall, Michigan, where I will get to have dinner with MICHAEL LAWSON, rock star. I’m very excited because I haven’t gotten to see him since I left Wilmore.

(Addendum: I’m actually posting this two weeks after I wrote this, so I must add that Michael and I also used the GPS to get ourselves to Turkeyville. Unfortunately, all the turkeys had gone to bed. Which may have been a good thing.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


ok, sure grad students have a lot to read and all, but really, put the other stuff down and read leaper already, your high school teacher would appreciate it...


11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your idea of personal archivist, how about you organize the documents and photos and then hire me to do all the scanning and digital scrapbooking of their family history. Are you game?
P.S. Millsaps was actually on local news here in VA for letting Trinity College do 15 lateral passes to score a touchdown. I know you don't care about sports but I thought it was crazy that VA was showcasing a story about a small MS college.

8:11 PM  

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