List-making: a peculiar yet familiar inhabitant of so many archival collections. Umberto Eco loved list making. So did Susan Sontag. It is human nature — to create a list, to make a secret promise. An inevitable reminder. A curious piece of wisdom requiring documentation. I once processed the personal papers of a noted professor and pioneer in the field of cardio arrhythmia. In that particular collection, there was an impressive volume of lists all containing the same repeating reminder: don’t forget to pick up pants.
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The itinerant archivist moves from repository to repository, ushering documents of note from states of jetsam/flotsam – often brimming from cardboard boxes once holding bottles of Smirnoff – into a state of order and meaning. Papers are shepherded into acid-free folders and boxes, where even the most cursory “To Do” list, meandering thought, or errant postcard suddenly, and finally, becomes — an objet.
I am continually inspired by this process.
I am inspired both by the physicality of handling the material and providing insight into its contents, as well as, and perhaps in particular, the chance to have yet another conversation with a being who completed an extraordinary life’s work. There is always a curious backstory lurking there, beyond the apparent reason why an individual’s papers are being preserved in perpetuity. read more