“History teaches everything,
including the future.”
~ Alphonse de Lamartine
(Upper 2 photos- le Château de Cormatin, Burgundy - France:
the author Alphonse de Lamartine's retreat.)
At the intersection of living and livelihood, walking and working cross-pollinate. The logistics we experience daily that run our businesses and institutions can even affect our household routines. One day, after years in the photo business, I noticed how much my kitchen and my darkroom (on opposite sides of town) resembled each other. I fold my laundry in the same way I folded clothes in a factory I once worked in, and my efficiency as a prep cook resembles a food service job I had while in school. Academics, teaching, and archival work influence how I read. My favorite books are equipped with my own crafted indexes. I’ve rebound many of my books to make them sturdier. While awakening others to the study of history, I’m stoking my own studying fires, well aware of the value of historic research. And reflection, contemplation, along the voyage of faith. How does this continuum known as the pilgrimage of trust on earth appear through an archivist’s eyes? The ancient psalmist, in his searching of God’s vastness, prayed “search me and know my heart.” He inquired to be sought. In this sense, to research is to verify, to confirm, and to strengthen: Confirmet cor tuum. At this prospect, there is always energy to continue learning and preserving truths to heart.
Just this week, I’ve completed another round of teaching the conservation of books. Another class filled with animated learners. Now in my 12th year in preservation education, it interests me to consider how these topics continue to be so popular. The latter 19th century and early 20th saw an enormous proliferation of documentation and publication, albeit upon largely embrittling material. Thus, there is plenty to preserve- in their original, assuredly readable forms. These primary artifacts will continue to be sought after, as evidentiary records that can be authenticated. Archives are as informative as they are evidence- of lives lived, of commerce, of transit. Those of us that journal are creating an archival continuum. We want our testaments to last; we want what we love to be permanent and known. And we collect. One of my current projects involves processing an author’s archives. Unpacking his boxes, I saw that he saved his licence plates, and filed them along with his passports and military medals. Along with a belief that we naturally seek our origins, I think we are all collectors. Most everyone loves to collect, in various ways, and have others admire what they cherish. At the same time, I see how many reach the point at which they desire to give what is cherished, so it will be preserved- with the narrative context that gives significance to substance. For an archivist, it is the transferral of provenance; in more human terms, we become living witnesses for one another. Which tattered tomes are worth our resources to preserve?
(A retired history teacher gave me this beautiful typewriter which he used throughout his career.)
In some profound ways, the first day of my graduate education initiated the rest of my life. My road to a double-majored masters began with an after-work evening course. Dr. Cole looked at all of us and said, “Why study history?” Getting everyone’s attention, he continued with, “If anything, study history for personal development.” Of course, I wrote this down in my notebook. We were taught from the standpoint that , “there is no phenomenon without history,” and that by organizing facts and events, narratives emerge that meaningfully inform. Historiography explores the uses of the past, whether that means civilizations, battles, philosophical thought, or one’s very life. An awareness of history’s importance is one thing, but it’s quite another to elucidate why some elements of the past continue to matter. It interests me to consider why we relight lamps long languished in storage, and what treasures are sought in the search. What brings a soul to reflect upon that which no longer exists- or upon something that continues albeit in a barely recognizable form? Probing the past must not fall into the trap of dwelling upon it. Contemplative searching leads to an understanding of what is at one’s threshold.
With journaling as historic writing, it is possible to identify instances in which I’ve altered a course in light of past lessons learned. Any knowledge can be proven, as questions are posed of its findings. Consider past circumstances from which to steer clear. Think of the good habits and attributes to build upon. Weigh the worthwhile things that currently exist. Hoping not to repeat old mistakes, I equally hope not to be jaded by the lesser leftover impressions from affiliations, relationships, and expectations. How shall we live beyond our stories? How would we like today to be remembered? As the Holy Spirit breathes life and redeeming use into recollections, I become able to consider the good purpose in what I have so indelibly retained. But it is surely a discipline that demands exercise and care. As I prepare for future journeys, anticipating the merging of interior and exterior geographies, history compels me in a forward direction. What is past may be touched upon, though it is not to be gripped in favor of what tangibly and presently exists.