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REED-L  March 1996

REED-L March 1996

Subject:

Records Methodology

From:

"NAME \"Andrew Taylor\"" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

REED-L: Records of Early English Drama Discussion

Date:

Thu, 7 Mar 1996 11:13:01 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (52 lines)

James' query about literary and historical theories and their implications for
records research has raised a number of issues.  It might be useful to
look at analagous debates in other fields, such as British manuscript studies
or early-modern bibliography, debates which have often been as hot as the one
set of by Coletti's "Reading REED."
 
I found Gabrielle Spiegel's discussion of the "turn to language" among
historians (in her piece in the "New Philology" issue of Speculum in January,
1990) a fine place to begin thinking about some of these issues.  It offers a
lucid intro to poststructuralism and it's honest in admitting the difficulty of
following the new arguments.  The piece was given a hearty endorsement by L.
Stone in an issue of Past and Present and I found that debate useful because
Stone just hasn't grasped what poststructuralists are saying about the
construction of cultural identity in language.  He thinks the points are easy,
and as an old canoeist once told me, if you think you are trying to do the jay
stroke and finding it easy, then you are almost certainly doing the goon
stroke.
 
One place where one can see a postructuralist theorist duking it out with an
archivally-oriented historian is in Dominick LaCapra's review of Robert Darnton
in History and Criticism (Cornell UP, 1985).  LaCapra goes further than most in
raising questions of the subjective investment of the archival researcher,
which he associates with a fetishistic search for lost certainty:
        One difficulty is the way  Darnton's emphases lend themselves to an
        archival fetishism that does not critically relativize archival
        reserach to the nature of the question being asked, but rather
        evaluates the significance of all research in terms of whether it
        permits the discovery of hitherto unkowon and unpublished information.
        The stress on "grubbing in the archives" reinforces the idea that
        only the reporting and analysis of (preferably new facts satisfies
        the conditions of strictly historical knowledge. (p. 92)
Darnton goes on, however, to insist that "I am of course criticizing neither
social history nor archival research but the indiscriminate mystique of both
which is bound up with hegemonic pretensions" (note 17).
 
The note raises more questions than it solves.  Can archival research, which is
immensely laborious, flourish without a conviction that it yields data or facts
or information of enduring value (and how can that claim be articulated, or can
it be articulated, without "hegemonic pretensions"?
 
In that regard, William Ingram's comment that he would not want us to become
"mere shufflers of universally available data" struck me.  Surely that comment
reflects the fascination that, at one time or another, most of us have felt as
we pursue the quest for lost arcana in musty libraries; but that pleasure, and
the sense of being a privileged insider that it brings (to infilitrate the
local culture of an archive or manuscript library, to master the intricacies of
its indexing systems, to gain access to documents few have seen...), may be one
reason why we may have been less energetic than we might in making our work
as widely available as possible.
 
Andrew Taylor
Northern Kentucky University

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