Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
The Schmooze

What Archivists Are Worth

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Image by Flickr / Ben McLeod

Like the making of history, the writing of history is a collaborative venture. It may look as if ideas are entirely the product of the individual imagination but, as any honest, straight-talking historian will tell you, they are the result of a group effort. The writer-cum-historian gets all the credit but were it not for the efforts of archivists, not much would get done. Keepers of the flame, of the historical record, they are the great unsung heroes of the scholarly enterprise.

They are also among the very first to be fired when the chips are down. When it comes to cutting institutional costs, archivists are widely thought to be the most dispensable. After all, goes the reasoning, they are merely stewards of the past — guardians of paper — rather than vital contributors to the present.

True, archivists do not generate money for their institutions. But what they do generate — and sustain and nourish — is a vibrant sense of history, without which the broader community is impoverished in ways that go well beyond the contours of a budget.

Hadassah, the Zionist Women’s Organization of America, is currently celebrating its 100th birthday. I can think of no better occasion for trumpeting the virtues of its splendid archives, which has been in existence for quite some time now, and for encouraging researchers to make use of its wealth of reports, scrapbooks, memos, letters and photographs.

But, alas, that’s not to be. Hadassah has dispensed with its smart, resourceful and profoundly committed archivist and all but foreclosed the possibility of discovery, of the artful collaboration between historian and archivist.

We are all the poorer for it.

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.