I blame everything on archive fatigue…

7 December 2009

…well, that and a mild but irritating sinus infection that I picked up last week (definitely a sinus infection, and not archive crud, like I had a couple months ago).

I’m not sure whether to be in awe of, or worried by, the sorts of researchers who spend months on end in the archives. I’ve been at this just over three months now, and for the last month, I’ve only been going in three days a week (two if I’ve had visitors); I’m having a hard time being excited even about the exciting new stuff I’m finding (that is, when I’m not coming across copies of the same material over and over and over again). Two stories to illustrate the previous two points. On the former, I’ve established beyond any reasonable doubt just how involved the West German government was involved in funding research on refugees in the 1950s – now, this is essentially an open secret (one guy got himself elected general secretary of a scholarly society because he claimed at the annual meeting that he could bring in the government grants and balance the budget), but it’s the tightness of the network that’s really impressive, and I’m linking it to all sorts of other people. Now, that’s really exciting, and I’m glad that I’ve been going through countless binders full of the same files from different offices to get it.

I’m also learning a lot about individual (though, unfortunately, nameless) bureaucrats and their personal levels of organization. Now, these are the Germans we’re talking about here, but there’s still a pretty wide gap. Looking at three binders today on the same research group, from three different offices in the same ministry. Guy number one is the sort who just keeps tossing files into a box, no attempt at organization, but when I get to it, it’s in roughly reverse chronological order (most recent on top, oldest on the bottom), but with a few things out of order and a bunch of extra copies that sometimes get tossed in with notes on them.

Guy number two, no real sense of organization. Files from 1954, 1957, 1952, another copy of that file from ’57, unreadable handwritten notes, two copies of files from 1953, and so on. Someone clearly didn’t have the interests of this historian at heart.

Third guy, one copy of everything, in order front to back (which means he took the time to organize his files).

My only regret: that’s the order I read them in, so by the time I got to the third guy, I was totally burned out on “Research Group: Integration” files (and had seen everything at least two or three times). At least it helped to get my chronology straight.

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