The Record Keepers’ Rave – The New York Times


Is there room in your thoughts for unuseful particulars? Or, would you make some, regardless of lengthy odds the fabric may someday show practicable?

For those that discover consolation in stockpiling solutions to unasked questions, an invite: Once a month, most months, there occurs a occurring that rewards compulsive curiosity. For a number of hours within the backcountry of social media, miscellaneous info surge and swirl and billow in unison, like clouds of starlings disappearing and reforming in an empty winter sky.

They flutter in from area of interest museums, authorities businesses, college libraries and county historians — launched on a summons from The National Archives and Records Administration of the United States. This confluence is named an “Archives Hashtag Party.”

The events unfold on Twitter, primarily, and they’re extra like frenzied present-and-tells than events. On the appointed day, and in regards to the appointed subject (as an illustration, “inventions”), contributors unleash volleys of photographs and trivia from their information, tagged with a communal hashtag to facilitate mass perusal.

In December, the subject was #ArchivesBakeOff.

The hashtag parties are the handiwork of a small group of employees at the National Archives. Their aims are twofold: to draw public attention to the holdings of the National Archives, and to refract that attention widely, across a community of like-minded organizations, which can themselves refract it on.

Thus far, the parties have been spared from significant troll activity. Social media has “a well-deserved reputation for being a toxic place sometimes,” Ms. Parkinson said, adding, “I think that the hashtag party is a respite from that. It’s not to tear anything down. It’s only to build your knowledge and build your enjoyment of history and let you know these amazing things are out there. People who care passionately about all kinds of history and preserving it making it accessible, are doing that work for you.”

The exuberance of the hashtag parties is even more remarkable when one considers the fact that internal surveys of government workers consistently rate the National Archives and Records Administration among the worst places to work in the federal government.

“Much of the work that goes on behind the scenes at the Archives is hard, physical work in windowless facilities that lack amenities found in most Federal office settings,” said David Ferriero, the head of the Archives, when testifying about his agency’s persistent low ranking before a Congressional committee in 2015.

Mr. Ferriero added that over the previous three decades, the agency’s holdings had “more than tripled” as staff numbers fell, “rightfully” frustrating employees who “have felt undervalued and overworked for years.”

Nonetheless, a 2019 analysis found that 91 percent of Archives employees agree with the statement: “The work I do is important.” This is, of course, the argument for any archive. Archivists do not proclaim life good or bad, or random or predetermined; they contend only that it is important. “Yummy banana pudding” from last year’s holiday party is important, says the Utah State Archives. “A recipe from our Office Manager Sherry Schutter” is important, says an organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Chief U.S. Prosecutor at Nuremberg.

Of course, significance is subjective: Although Mr. Ferriero assumed the office of Archivist of the United States under former President Barack Obama, the agency faced strong criticism during the Trump administration for designating certain records — including some related to deaths, and sexual assault and abuse allegations, of detainees in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — as “temporary,” and therefore scheduled for eventual destruction. In response to public comments, the retention period for some records was lengthened, while others were reclassified as having “permanent historical value.”

The sweet spot for archive hashtag party guests, Ms. Parkinson said, is “learning something new about something you already knew about.”

You know (perhaps) that Dwight Eisenhower served as President of the United States at some point during the 20th century. But did you know that his post-presidential papers include cooking directions typed by his staff — or clipped from other sources — and pasted into a scrapbook alongside some of his own enormous recipes (like a beef stew that feeds 60)? Or that he requested Queen Elizabeth’s recipe for drop scones after she hosted him at Balmoral Castle in August 1959? Or that the queen sent the recipe several months later accompanied by a handwritten note which featured cooking tips that seemed only to render the recipe much more confusing?

“Everybody loves that recipe,” said Ms. Parkinson.

Does history come alive in the kitchen when one attempts to recreate the queen’s drop scones in one’s own kitchen? From personal experience, the answer is: not really — or else the president implored the Queen of England to send him the recipe for a kind of very airy, slightly metallic, burnt floppy pancake. (Success may be thwarted by the queen’s tip about reducing serving size, which presents this as the rare baking recipe in which ingredient ratios are irrelevant: “Though the quantities are for 16 people,” she scrawled, “when there are fewer, I generally put in less flour and milk, but use the other ingredients as stated.”)

Did the queen intentionally send the president a mostly-directionless recipe to prevent him from replicating her treat? Would he, as a midcentury cooking enthusiast, have been able to intuit the instructions? Did Dwight Eisenhower enjoy the taste of slightly metallic, burnt floppy pancakes? Did he request the recipe out of mere politeness — or, perhaps, as a scheme to acquire an item penned in the queen’s handwriting for his personal recipe collection? The Archives do not contain such information.

But they do offer something useful: the urge to learn more.



Source link Nytimes.com

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