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The manuscript collection of YOU
Posted on August 12, 2010 by Deborah Kaplan

The rest of my department is off at the annual conference of the Society of American Archivists, and I’m sitting here watching the twitter hash tag #saa10 and getting all jealous. Which reminds me, we now have a twitter account: @dcatufts. I can’t promise we will be as entertaining or erudite as @FEMINISTHULK, but we’ll try.

I have a question for all of our earnest readers: do you ever worry about preserving any of your personal papers or ephemera? And if you do, what is the purpose? Is it just for your own happiness? Is it for your children? Is it because you need to retain the papers for legal or financial reasons? Do you think that you have items in your house that are of interest to scholars and historians?

I ask because I do, and I wonder how unusual this is. For example, I have a small set of family materials which tells something about the history of butchers in the Boston area, and I’m thinking of finding and archives to donate it to because I would rather the collection had utility for researchers than that it sat in a box in my house. So tell me, would you ever consider giving your papers to an archives if they had potential scholarly value?

(Incidentally, when I was looking for illustrations for this blog post, I came upon the fascinating Story of Nakohi-waa, Dance Drumming for Butchers. This transcript is part of Professor David Locke and Alhaji Abubakari Lunna’s in-progress project Dagomba Dance Drumming, which collects sound recordings, staff notation, and text materials on the dance drumming of the Dagomba people of northern Ghana.. The transcript I found came from Nakohiwa, the butcher’s dance.)

One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. 1

    As a writer of YA literature who writes and edits longhand, I would consider giving my writing papers to an archives — but I’d be selective about which papers and which archives, and when.
    The archives choice is easy. My Master’s is from Simmons College’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, and that’s where I would want my stuff to go, if they wanted it. If Simmons didn’t want it, I might reconsider giving it to anyone at all.
    Regarding which papers — that’s also pretty easy. I’m not a hoarder, and by the time a book comes out, pretty much the only things I have left are the notebooks I scribbled the first draft in. I don’t keep printouts and paper edits as ephemera — rather, I print on the back of them, then, when both sides are no longer in use, tear them up and recycle them. I’m currently printing the first draft of my third novel of the back of the official copyedit of my first novel. I find it satisfying to tear these things up and recycle them so that they no longer exist in the world. I suppose it must be partly that an intermediate draft feels personal, but that can’t be the whole reason, because a handwritten first-draft notebook with scrawls in the margin about how I’m feeling that day, or where I am, or who’s coming to visit, would be *more* personal, wouldn’t it? — and I talked above about giving those notebooks to Simmons someday. I think it’s just part of the process of writing for me for things to *disappear*, and I like the feeling of that. I like being done with things, and I like tearing my own things up when I’m done with them.
    I hope this concept doesn’t break the hearts of archivists :). I suppose if I had an arrangement *now* with an archive, I could just as happily send things now like official copyedits to them, rather than destroying them. Maybe I just want the papers to be where I’m not. Hmm. Maybe I should look into that.
    Or maybe it’s about protecting myself from what would feel like a personal invasion. This is a surprisingly emotional question you’re asking.
    Regarding when — when it comes to my notebooks, the answer is “some time way in the future when I no longer have a personal attachment to the items.” That might be when I’m older or it might be after I’m dead.
    I do keep personal correspondence — I don’t know that I’ve *ever* thrown a letter away — but I think of that as being for my family. They can do what they want with it, whether that be cherishing it in some way or recycling it.
    My wish to archive *anything* writing-related stems largely from my respect for the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and my hope that I could give the Center even a small part of what it’s given me, and maybe help its future students in some way. I’ve gotten requests in the mail from other archives for my stuff, and felt simultaneously flattered and invaded/offended. I understand the requests and have no logical objections to them, but my (less rational) emotions make very noisy objections. This stuff is my work, but it’s also very, very personal.
    Is my answer long enough? :) I think what’s surprised me as I’ve written it is that I’ve realized that for me, the concept of archiving my things needs to be partly about relationships — my relationship with the archive.