May 29, 2004

Links of the Day

Posted by Ed

In case you need still more tiding over, here are some more links:

  • In The Washington Post, Ron Chernow describes the illicit joys of archival research.
  • Also in the Post, Brown's Omer Bartov reviews Richard Evans's new book on the rise of the Third Reich.
  • Scott McLemee discusses the growing world of Tolkien scholarship.
  • In The New York Times, D.D. Guttenplan describes the latest chapter in the Freud wars.
  • In another Times book review, Michael Wood looks at a volume that compares the work of Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael (one of my favorite movie critics.)
  • A Guardian review looks at the exciting world of ninteenth-century British body-snatching.
  • The biographer Ben Pimlott died in April. Now his final essay has been revealed, denouncing both salacious sex-obsessed biographies and condescending historians. But who was the target of Pimlott's ire?

I'd especially recommend Chernow's piece. Here's an excerpt:

This was the first time I had ever dipped into primary documents, better known in the trade as "manuscript collections." As a self-styled historian, an old English major with a queasy sense of being a highbrow fraud with a first book contract, I felt that I had touched history -- the real, perishable stuff. That night, still agog, I telephoned my wife from Boston and confessed to something deeper than a mere thrill. After years working as a journalist, hazarding educated guesses about the dumb show of business and politics, I had the odd sensation of having burgled Lamont's office, rifled his papers, violated his privacy and unmasked his secrets. To be sure, I had duly submitted call slips, sat at my appointed chair as boxes were retrieved and handled documents as gingerly as I would saintly relics. Yet I experienced the delicious, illicit frisson of being a second-story man, a literary thief, a scholarly voyeur. There was something furtive, lawless and absolutely irresistible about the whole enterprise.

I'm not sure I'd describe the thrill of archival research in exactly the way that Chernow does, but looking through old books and documents is far more exciting than you might guess. (It has its less pleasant side, of course, but still...) At the best of times, archival research combines the thrill of discovering material relevant to your research with the excitement of serendipitously finding fascinatingly random documents of little or no importance. I can remember spending an afternoon reading a boring file of papers on the bureaucratic reform of the Russian SFSR's education commissariat in 1938, only to discover a hand-written note by Lenin's wife in the midst of dull ministerial protocols. That discovery didn't help me to salvage the dissertation topic I was working on, but it still made my day!

Posted by Ed at May 29, 2004 12:49 PM


Yes now, that's the way aha aha we dooo itt aha OurDir aha, you remember that song?

Posted by: Our Dir at March 4, 2005 05:56 AM


Posted by: Joke at March 4, 2005 10:29 PM
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