The Executive Summary - 6/7 - 6/11

Ashton Merck's picture


A weekly feature with a roundup of articles and other materials of interest to scholars of business and economic history.

As I was searching around for some links for this week, it occurred to me that it has actually been quite some time since I went to an archive.

The last time I really set foot in an archive was when I was working for one - until about March 10, 2020, I was an intern at the Rubenstein Library, processing records in their advertising history collection. I haven’t so much as opened a finding aid since.

Access to archives was, of course, always something of an inequitable exercise. It’s the reason many of us write grants for sums of $500 or $250, just so we can afford a sketchy airbnb in Wichita. But many of these longstanding questions of access, which are really questions about who gets to tell what kinds of stories, have become more fraught than usual in the last year. Uneven access to vaccination and thus, travel, means that scholars who were already more mobile before the pandemic, or who had comparatively fewer hurdles to get to their archives, and/or more resources to draw on, are likely to be some of the first back in the reading room.

At the same time, the abrupt shuttering of archives over the last year has been keenly felt not just by scholars, but by the archivists themselves, who in many cases were locked out of the buildings where their materials were housed and unable to do most of the core functions of their job for extended periods. In my Twitter feed, I'm sensing a palpable feeling of relief about even the remote possibility of being able to get back to the work of studying the past. And crucially, most of the enthusiasm I see for returning to archives is from people in contingent roles and early in their career -- people whose next step in their career literally depends on their ability to access the materials to finish their dissertation, book, or article in the next 6-12 months.

All this is to say that I find myself vaguely and distantly missing the archive, the way you miss an old friend you haven't seen in some time. Perhaps you also find yourself missing your archives, with their particular quirks, challenges, and fascinations. You may be going back next week, or next year, or not at all.

This week, a few links related to archives in business and economic history.

Over 2 million documents related to the Dutch slave trade have recently gone online, as part of an 8-year digitization project.

A promising new acquisition on women and work is being processed at Hagley.

A rich database of 20th century Shanghai newspaper advertisements recently went live. But it’s a little different from other advertising databases.

This EABH bulletin on finance and photography, with 300 full-color images from financial archives.

In “it’s relevant because I’ve decided it is relevant,” a somewhat, ahem, dry history of dehydrated whale meat in military rations.

A new history of money in South Africa based on items from the Smithsonian’s numismatic collections.

In case you're wondering, the podcast section of this newsletter is on hiatus for a while as I adjust to my new job (which does not involve much going to archives) and wrap up some other projects. I am hoping to pick it up again in the fall, with a focus on highlighting early career scholars ("emerging scholars" in BHC parlance). If that's you, and you'd like to talk about your work, send me an email or Twitter DM @awmerck.

Send comments, suggestions, leads, or ideas for this section to Associate Editor Ashton Merck.

Categories: Roundup