Historical natures and archival research: The production of historical space through content curation and clip files.

Authors: John-Henry Pitas*, University of Maryland - Baltimore County
Topics: Historical Geography, Geographic Thought, Qualitative Research
Keywords: historical geography, archival methods, historical nature, production of space, Baltimore
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Archives provide a window into the past: a way for geographers to understand historical natures, and past landscapes. For those of us interested in historical geography, archives are an invaluable way to obtain insight into the past in the face of sometimes overwhelming amounts of information, particularly in this “digital age.” But what sort of historical natures are we viewing through this window, and who has constructed these past landscapes? This presentation focuses on the ways in which archival research is inherently dependent upon the past labor, perspectives, and subjectivities of librarians, archivists, and others, and how we consequently see the past through their eyes. Focusing on clip files found at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, I discuss how what is contained (or not contained) in clip files has led me to construct particular historical natures and past landscapes. Clip files, also known as vertical files, are collections of newspaper clippings, documents, and other ephemera revolving around a thematic focus, which librarians and other archivists maintain over long periods time. These clip files are curated by archivists, yet their voice is veiled throughout; in letting the various artifacts speak for themselves, they leave other stories untold. In this way, archivists perform critical labor, both in the moment of clipping, and in terms of constructing historical natures and pasts which we as researchers uncover. Understanding past geography is contingent upon a variety of factors, including what has been preserved, or included in archives, and what has not.

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