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ART Book Club: Processing the Past

  • Wednesday, January 23, 2013
  • 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
  • Meeting location sent following RSVP

ART Book Club

a meeting in the ART Discussion Group series

Please join us for a gathering of the ART Book Club. The group will convene on January 23, 2013 at 6pm at a location to be determined for an informal discussion of Francis X. Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg’s book, Processing the Past: Contesting Authority in History and the Archives (Oxford, 2011).

We ask that all participants commit to reading the book and come prepared with one or two questions for group discussion.

The ART Discussion Group series is a periodic gathering of ART members to discuss issues of professional interest. All ART members are welcome. The Book Club grew out of a member's suggestion that books are a great way to initiate discussions around a theme.

Participants to the Book Club will be capped at 15. 

The group is kept small to encourage discussion among all attendees. 

If you are interested in attending, please email us to save a spot: discussions@nycarchivists.org

We will email separately regarding the meeting location upon RSVP.

Processing the Past has provoked significant debate amongst archivists and historians.

From Oxford University Press:


Processing the Past explores the dramatic changes taking place in historical understanding and archival management, and hence the relations between historians and archivists. Written by an archivist and a historian, it shows how these changes have been brought on by new historical thinking, new conceptions of archives, changing notions of historical authority, modifications in archival practices, and new information technologies. The book takes an "archival turn" by situating archives as subjects rather than places of study, and examining the increasingly problematic relationships between historical and archival work.

By showing how nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians and archivists in Europe and North America came to occupy the same conceptual and methodological space, the book sets the background to these changes. In the past, authoritative history was based on authoritative archives and mutual understandings of scientific research. These connections changed as historians began to ask questions not easily answered by traditional documentation, and archivists began to confront an unmanageable increase in the amount of material they processed and the challenges of new electronic technologies.

The authors contend that historians and archivists have divided into two entirely separate professions with distinct conceptual frameworks, training, and purposes, as well as different understandings of the authorities that govern their work. Processing the Past moves toward bridging this divide by speaking in one voice to these very different audiences. Blouin and Rosenberg conclude by raising the worrisome question of what future historical archives might be like if historical scholars and archivists no longer understand each other, and indeed, whether their now different notions of what is archival and historical will ever again be joined.


  • a unique approach to the relationships between archives and the formation of historical knowledge jointly conceptualized by an archivist and a historian

  • develops a new understanding of the "archival divide" separating contemporary historical scholars and their former colleagues in the archival community

  • an essential work for scholars interested in understanding how archives really work, and for archivists interested in understanding current dimensions of historical scholarship

  • addresses how the study of history has and will change with the development of new technology

  • explains problems of access to archives and why they are likely to continue for conceptual, political, and technological reasons


"Blouin and Rosenberg have once again joined forces to write what is very like a total history of the modern western archive. From lust to dust to techno-rust, they detail the convergences and divergences of historical authority and archival practice, providing a sweeping and deeply researched account of the impact of political and technological change on archives past, present and future. As indispensably, the authors narrate the tectonic shifts we in the last few generations of historians and archivists have lived through without, perhaps, fully realizing the revolution under our feet - and under our fingertips as well. Both genealogy and prophecy, this book is a must read for anyone who cares about what history is and what it will be beyond our lifetimes."-Antoinette Burton, editor, Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History

"Processing the Past provides a compelling and well-illustrated analysis of the growing divergence between archivists and historians. Blouin and Rosenberg will generate constructive reflection and discussion with this substantial work of scholarship. They will help the community take a step towards bridging the gap between humanists and those who would serve their needs." -Roger C. Schonfeld, Manager of Research, Ithaka S+R; author of JSTOR: A History

More about the book

A review of the book is available in the Journal of Archival Information, Volume 9, Issue 3-4, 2011:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15332748.2011.640886

For an interview with the authors, see the American Historical Association’s November 2011 issue ofPerspectives on Historyhttp://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2011/1111/1111con1.cfm

Kate Theimer has several related blog posts: http://www.archivesnext.com/?p=2448

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The ART Discussion Group series, in General

ART Discussion Groups take on topics that address the immediate needs and interests of working archivists. The meetings are intended to create a space where archivists may engage in focused, informal conversation around specific problems derived from archival work, exploring strategies from everyday practice. Participants come away with fresh approaches to practical challenges. The size of each group is kept small to encourage all attendees to participate. When noted, sessions are designed for archivists at similar levels of experience.

ART members themselves devise and lead the discussion groups. In order for the program to succeed, we need to hear from youPlease send in your ideas for future discussion topics. Or, even better, if you would like to lead a discussion, let us know. Send comments, questions and suggestions to Wendy Scheir and Maria LaCalle at discussions@nycarchivists.org.

We look forward to hearing from you!

questions? communications@nycarchivists.org

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