Ah, the archive!


Unlike most historians, I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time in The Archive (yes, it is the definitive article and capitals seem appropriate, but don’t ask me why).  My sources have tended to be more various: medical journals and textbooks; newspapers; popular literature; oral history; etc… and since so many sources are now online, there is even less need for me to go to a library, let alone a bonafide archive.

But, let me tell ya, when I get the chance to go to an archive – oh, sorry, The Archive – boy, what a rush!  Today, at the Wellcome Library, I requested a book on allergy that I probably could have ordered through Interlibrary Loans.  The difference was that the copy at the WT was annotated – someone had scribbled little legible comments through it, consisting of corrections, suggestions and criticisms that were often as interesting as the book itself.  One rather expressive comment corrected a quotation made by the author with no small amount of exclamatory indignation.  I probably chuckled audibly half a dozen times (yes, the book was about allergy).

Although it isn’t always the core of my historical research, I can certainly see why so many of my colleagues lust after archival research.  Something about sitting at a quiet table tapping into the unbridled thoughts of someone who died before WWII, it’s a kind of magic.  Maybe I’ll have to squeeze some more archival research into my next project…