Colleen McFarland Rademaker 2016-11-16 15:33:06
Here’s something that archivists don’t discuss much—love. This two-part article explores the bonds that can develop between archivists and their collections, and what the outcomes might be for the archival profession. In this first part, Colleen McFarland Rademaker, head archivist for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, defines love and challenges readers to think about how they might open their hearts, beyond affection, to their collections. In the second part, which will run in the next Archival Outlook (January/February 2017), David McCartney, university archivist at the University of Iowa, poignantly shares his own deep archival encounter and the subsequent benefits gained by his institution. Part 1: Finding Love in the Archives My story of finding love in the archives is the result of working for and with people who see the world a little differently than an academic or civil servant does. As an archivist for religious organizations for the last six years, my frame of reference has shifted profoundly. People of faith recognize the limits of human cognition and seek the guidance of the divine, the spirit, the universe—all terms for the realm beyond human comprehension and control. And from people of faith, I have learned to understand archives as places where real human relationships can be forged across the seemingly impenetrable barrier of time. For those who have been trained in the discipline of library or archival science, that might sound too warm-and-fuzzy. Our professional training occurs entirely in the sphere of rationality, and our discipline’s research methods are largely borrowed from the social and natural sciences. We are so thoroughly immersed in rationalism that finding a word worthy of describing a nonrational approach to the archives is difficult. Theologian Richard Rohr reminds us that irrationalism is not the only word that expresses the opposite of rationalism. Transrationalism, literally meaning “across or beyond rationalism,” also serves in this capacity. In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Rohr notes: "[T]hings like love, death, suffering, God, and infinity are transrational experiences. . . . The transrational has the capacity to keep us inside an open system and a larger horizon so that the soul, the heart, and the mind do not close down inside of a small and constructed space." The Four Loves By talking about love in the archives, we invoke a transrational force that all of us have experienced directly and yet none of us fully understands. To understand more about the nature of love, consider the medievalist, fiction writer, and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis. He published a slim but dense volume, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960). The title derives from the four different ancient Greek words that appear in the Christian New Testament, all of which are translated into a single English word: love. Lewis examines every one of these terms, pairing each with a more nuanced English word for love and exploring its nature and manifestation in human relationships: eros (the romantic “being in love” kind of love), storge (affection), philia (friendship), and agápe (charity). Romantic Love Eros is the kind of love we are most familiar with culturally. Lewis is quite clear that eros is not equivalent to sexuality, but is instead an all-consuming, romantic kind of love. It can lead us to a life-time of committed contentment or to a series of regrettable decisions that undermine our own self-interest. The dangers inherent in eros are its seemingly divine authority and its ultimately fleeting nature. When we fall in love, we obey love’s commandments. When we fall out of love, we wonder what on earth we were thinking. The cultural taboos against falling in love with dead people are so strong that eros in the archives remains confined to the realm of fiction. And yet, what great fiction it makes! Richard Matheson’s 1975 award-winning novel, Bid Time Return, tells of a romance between a modern-day playwright and an early-twentieth-century actress made possible through time-travel. Movie buffs will know Matheson’s book better as the film Somewhere in Time. Matheson’s inspiration came from his personal captivation with a historical photograph displayed in Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City. In a 2005 interview published in Creativity Research Journal, he stated: "In the Opera House, I saw a photograph of Maude Adams, the famous American actress. It was such a great photograph that I creatively fell in love with her. What if some guy did the same thing and could go back in time?" Affection Storge, or affection, is the love in operation in your family relationships, with your pets, among school or college acquaintances, in your neighborhood, and probably even with your work colleagues. Storge is a kind of glue that bonds us together when we have little in common with each other aside from the spaces and places we occupy. It is not a love that we work hard to obtain, and yet life without it would be unbearable because it affords us stability and comfort. As C. S. Lewis writes: "Affection almost slinks or seeps through our lives. It lives with humble, un-dress, private things; soft slippers, old clothes, old jokes, the thump of a dog’s tail on the kitchen floor, the sound of a sewing machine . . . " (56-57) However, storge can lull us into taking for granted those for whom we feel affection. Its coziness and security may blind us to the dignity of their humanity. Storge can also mislead us into thinking that we are always its deserving recipients, Lewis reminds us, even when we behave in most unlovable ways. Does storge manifest itself among archivists? Have you ever referred to a long-deceased records creator in your archives by his or her first name? Or by a nickname? Have you ever delighted in finding some obscure piece of previously unknown, but ultimately trivial, information about a person represented in your collection? Have you ever made playful jokes about your records creators? Have you ever wondered what a person represented in your collections as creator or subject would make of the fact that he or she has become the informer of research papers and museum exhibits? If so, I would say that you are manifesting clear signs of affection for the people in your archival “neighborhood.” Friendship Philia, or friendship, is, in Lewis’s estimation, an undervalued love in the modern age. Unlike romantic love or affection, philia originates in a shared interest, conviction, or passion. Friendship is “discovered” through companionship, through simply spending time together. When two companions realize that they share the same intellectual appetites or guiding principles, philia ensues. Ancient Greeks found philia the most laudable love of all. It requires mutuality, but not equality; it ignores the physical body and social position. As Lewis writes: “[Philia] is an affair of disentangled, or stripped, minds. Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities” (103) . Disembodied as it is, philia has an undeniably spiritual quality to it. However, Lewis points out that spiritual does not mean holy or godly. Circles of friends can become elitist cliques; the humility among true friends may translate into a collective conceit that disrupts communities and other social bodies. Given its incorporeal nature, philia seems a perfect fit for archival encounters. While processing or doing research, one can feel a part of a deeply meaningful interaction with a records creator, based on that common interest, conviction, or passion. Skeptics would dismiss this sense as an imposition of one’s self upon another who is not able to push back. But philia is not a pushy love like eros. The less cynical among us would reframe it as an asynchronous relationship of friendship. If we, as archivist or researcher, truly “listen” to those words on the page and respond with a thoughtful mind and open heart, we can indeed find ourselves in profound and life-changing dialogue with a friend. Charitable Love Finally, agápe, or charity. As a Christian apologist, Lewis places agápe above the three other loves. The most well-worn New Testament phrases (“Love is patient, love is kind…” and “God is love”) employ the word agápe. It is most succinctly described as a love for the seemingly unlovable—those who offer you no romantic attraction, comfort and stability, or shared passion. Or, as Lewis describes them, “lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior, and the sneering” (177). More commonly, the objects of agápe are described as the marginalized, the stranger, and the (or more precisely, your) enemy. This kind of love is not easy. For Lewis, it requires the grace of the Creator not only to give agápe, but also to receive it when it is offered to you. Charity is to be given without spectacle and received without humiliation; feelings of agápe towards oneself are necessary to pull off both of these feats. Tim Sherratt and Kate Bagnall’s digital humanities project, Invisible Australians, could be described as an agápe-driven initiative. The project provides access to images and documentation that reveal and humanize the Australians adversely affected by the White Australia Policy of 1901. Monitored as if they were criminals, nonwhite Australians—Aboriginals and Asian immigrants—were the target of discriminatory laws and policies embraced by a government seeking to legitimize only the presence of people of European ancestry. In his 2011 Journal of Digital Humanities article, “It’s All about the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People,” Sherratt explains why he and Bagnall undertook this project using only personal funds and time: “It’s all about the respect and responsibility we have for our collections. It’s all about the respect and responsibility we have for people like this.” Moving Beyond Casual Affection in the Archives While these four kinds of love do not exist in isolation from one another, I found it helpful to have them parsed so that I could better understand the longings of my own heart amidst the voices of those representing themselves or merely represented in archival collections. As a profession, should we be more attentive to and vocal about love in our work with collections and our work with the public? What would happen if we allowed ourselves to move beyond the casual affection that afflicts us by virtue of our humanness and venture into the territory of friendship or charitable love for the creators and subjects of our historical records? First, I think archivists would more fully realize the humanity of those represented in the historical record. The loves of friendship and charity are the bases for the “genuine encounters” that Scott Cline eloquently exhorts in his 2012 article in The American Archivist, “Dust Clouds of Camels Shall Cover You: Covenant and the Archival Endeavor.” One who feels the love of friendship or charity towards another cannot and does not use that person as a means for self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, or self-satisfaction. Rather, one realizes the poverty of one’s existence prior to the encounter and develops profound gratitude for it and the person who made it possible. Second, archivists might be better positioned to help others find love within the historical record. While this outcome clashes with the (unattainable) professional ideal of objectivity we learn in history and library science graduate programs, it places us in solidarity with another group of professionals—cultural and natural heritage interpreters. The National Association for Interpretation defines interpretation as a “mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in [a] resource.” Ultimately, the goal of interpreters is the protection of the landscapes, ecosystems, and cultural heritage materials under their care. These goals are not dissimilar to the goals of the archival profession, which seeks the protection of the historical record. However, interpreters seem much more aware of the role that love plays in reaching that end goal. As the Senegalese Environmentalist Baba Dioum notes, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” Stay tuned for “Part 2: Uncovering Friendship in the Archives” by David McCartney, coming your way in the January/February 2017 Archival Outlook.
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