The Arty Semite

What Archivists Are Worth

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

  • Print
  • Share Share

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Flickr / Ben McLeod

Like the making of history, the writing of history is a collaborative venture. It may look as if ideas are entirely the product of the individual imagination but, as any honest, straight-talking historian will tell you, they are the result of a group effort. The writer-cum-historian gets all the credit but were it not for the efforts of archivists, not much would get done. Keepers of the flame, of the historical record, they are the great unsung heroes of the scholarly enterprise.

They are also among the very first to be fired when the chips are down. When it comes to cutting institutional costs, archivists are widely thought to be the most dispensable. After all, goes the reasoning, they are merely stewards of the past — guardians of paper — rather than vital contributors to the present.

True, archivists do not generate money for their institutions. But what they do generate — and sustain and nourish — is a vibrant sense of history, without which the broader community is impoverished in ways that go well beyond the contours of a budget.

Hadassah, the Zionist Women’s Organization of America, is currently celebrating its 100th birthday. I can think of no better occasion for trumpeting the virtues of its splendid archives, which has been in existence for quite some time now, and for encouraging researchers to make use of its wealth of reports, scrapbooks, memos, letters and photographs.

But, alas, that’s not to be. Hadassah has dispensed with its smart, resourceful and profoundly committed archivist and all but foreclosed the possibility of discovery, of the artful collaboration between historian and archivist.

We are all the poorer for it.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: From Under the Fig Tree, Books, Jenna Weissman Joselit

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.