Very insightful piece into what archival research is like for academic historians. Often boring, but sometimes you turn up a real gem – usually quite unexpected.
I sometimes wonder what outsiders think archival research is like.
The message blasting from mass culture is not reassuring. From the ‘archaeologist’ Indiana Jones to Dan Brown’s ‘symbologist’ Robert Langdon, audiences are told that archive work is exciting, and dangerous, that it’s ok to lie and steal to get the information, and that men always do it with female sidekicks. If you want to see perhaps the most shockingly outdated embodiment of this, I dare you to look for the recent McDonald’s advert which features a caricatured elderly male professor along with his young female researcher having an eureka moment. Do not watch it unless you are prepared to be angry.
But – and here’s the kicker – archival research is fundamentally quite boring most of the time. In fact, that boredom is part of what makes it exciting. I wonder how many other historians were keen on fishing in their…
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