Archive time

Archive time

This blog is about time and ‘extreme archiving’. This is a succession of focused days’ work in an archive repeated six days a week for two, three, sometimes six or seven weeks.

Something very strange happens to time when doing archival research like this. Each minute, each hour, is as it should be: A box is opened, a document is read, some notes are written, and the reading and writing occur in an intertwined way and are swift (say, a telegram of 12 words) or prolonged (say, a letter of 14 densely written pages, or a typed speech of 49 pages), depending. And research periods away are very precious, so we do this all day with just the shortest of breaks – one of 20 minutes for a drink and food, a couple to go to the toilet. The time goes in measured units, this document and that, this thought and that. Each is dealt with in a considered, thought-full, way. One, then another, then another, then… And it goes so slowly, in the moment.

But that’s not all there is to it! Each bit of activity and time is ordinary and familiar and takes considered time, but what happens overall is different. In the morning, we go in, collect boxes, sit down, ignore each other because locked into our own versions of archival working. We almost never speak – or rather whisper, for that is the rule – and don’t want to. We start at 9, finish at 6pm (the Weston Library doesn’t close till 7pm). ‘Good day?’, we politely inquire of each other when collecting our coats and bags, while feeling a major jolt. Surely we’ve just started! surely 9 hours can’t have passed! surely no time worth speaking of has intervened between arriving and now!

Last updated: 28 November 2015


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