Course Description

The Ben Hecht Papers before and after processing.

The goal of “The Archive: Theory, Form, Practice” is to engage students with the fundamentals of archival work while also encouraging them to think deeply about the “big questions” of the archive. The seminar will teach students how to make use of a finding aid; how to handle delicate, rare, and culturally sensitive materials; how to work through voluminous materials; what to ignore; when and how to photograph sources; and how to be a “good citizen” researcher by working with curators and archivists.  Further, students will recognize variations among archival institutions and how to negotiate different reading room policies, rights and reproductions, open access, and copyright.Our central focus on methodology will be buttressed by a deep engagement with conceptual issues raised through a discussion of readings from historians, literary scholars, and theorists, including  Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever (1995); Michelle Caswell, “’The Archive’ is Not An Archives” (2016); Brent Edwards, “The Taste of the Archive” (2012); Arlette Farge, The Allure of the Archives (1989); and Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (2002). These readings will help us to understand the history of institutional archives; how the word “archive” has entered our scholarly vocabulary meaning many things; the relationship between empirical documentation and writing narrative; and the “allure” of tactile engagement with the material past.

Students will be given the opportunity to do hands-on archival work in two ways: first, by being tasked to investigate a particular processed Newberry collection to identify its constructed and contingent nature (e.g. its provenance, year of processing, organizational approach); and second, by collaborating with archival staff to write a processing plan for an unprocessed collection at the Newberry. The Newberry houses numerous small, unprocessed collections, which would allow for such a project of devising a processing plan from start to finish over the course of eight weeks.

Students will work through boxes to assess how an unprocessed collection might arrive and then be arranged. In discussion with one another, they will decide which materials might be identified as important and highlighted; recommend which materials might be removed; indicate possible conservation challenges; and take note of possibly culturally sensitive materials. Students will coordinate their work with Newberry archivists and also consult key texts on best practices for processing, including Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner, “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing” (2005); “Protocols for Native American Archival Materials” (2007); and the Society of American Archivists’ Describing Archives: A Content Standard (2013). On the final day of the course, there will be a colloquium event where students will present their final plans to the seminar and Newberry staff.

It is expected that students will spend at least one other day per week at the Newberry pursuing their own research and hands-on archival projects. For students outside of the Chicago area, that extra day would ideally be a Thursday or a Saturday.

The seminar will be held on eight Fridays from February 11- April 8, 2022 (with no class on Feb. 25).  The class will meet from 9:30 am- noon, followed by a catered lunch from noon-1:00 pm. On the first and last seminar days (Feb. 11 and April 8), class will meet from 9:30 am-4:00 pm. Students will also be invited to participate and present in the symposium on May 5-6, 2022.

Spring 2022: Course Syllabus: Coming Soon

Fall 2019: Course Syllabus: The Archive: Theory, Form, Practice