In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Weather (of) Documents
  • Marta Werner (bio)

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Emily Dickinson, A 387, “The Clouds their | Backs together laid.” Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections.

[End Page 480]

“Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour.”

—R. W. Emerson1

weather in the lower world


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The Meteorological Journal, Volume 2, January 1844 (detail). Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections.

genealogy of records

The archive is not as outsiders imagine it—a space of order, efficiency, completeness—but rather a space of chance meetings between what survives and those who, ignorant of what is truly there, come to look for it. In the years after The Gorgeous Nothings was published, I have turned from my studies of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts, seeking to better understand the constructions of the out-of-the-way, if not hidden, archives of some of her contemporaries. My aim has not been to rescue these archives for literary history but to [End Page 481] awaken them momentarily that I might ask them and myself some questions: Do documents, like the clothes of the newly dead, still embody the beloved forms of the lost? Why in the whorl of time do some documents speak to us while others seem to have nothing more to say? As documents outlive us, yet in many instances represent us after our deaths, what were they to us in our lives? Were they our escapes? Or were they possessive prisons that ultimately survived us? When are the documents we leave behind finally free—liberated into their own long but now half-life histories?

The origins of the word “document” stretch back at least eight centuries. In its earliest incarnations, the word suggested “lesson,” “instruction,” “evidence,” “proof,” and “warning”; today, the concept that the term implies has expanded to include “any concrete or symbolic indication, preserved or recorded, for reconstructing or for proving a phenomenon, whether physical or mental.”2 While the word’s association with evidence and proof perseveres, what the document actually gives evidence or proof of has lately been unsettled. Writing on medieval notarial acts, Armando Petrucci describes the “illusion of authentic history” that documents promise and adds that they convey less the events they report than the hierarchy of those involved.3 While my subject here, the Snells’ Meteorological Journal, falls most clearly into the genre of the historical document, its deepest message may concern not the climate of mid-nineteenth-century New England but, rather, its own internal and complex unfolding. Here, imagining a genealogy of documents entails our attentiveness to those random or chance events that seemingly fall outside history but that reveal more subtle networks of relations, entangled tales diffractively threaded through long unfolding events and relationships. The Snells’ Meteorological Journal gives us the opportunity to investigate the sometimes unexpected connections among social contexts and those who come a [End Page 482] century later to examine them, creating genealogies between the living and the dead.

Amherst weather records, 1835-[ongoing].

Author: E. S. Snell ; Sabra C. Snell ; Donald F. Ives ; Philip T. Ives ; Hatch Experiment Station ; All Authors

Edition: Downloadable archival material: English

Database: WorldCat

Summary: The Amherst Weather Records contain climatological data recorded by Professor Ebenezer Strong Snell (Class of 1822) and his daughter Sabra Snell from 1835 to 1902; observations recorded by the Hatch Experiment Station, Massachusetts Agricultural College from 1891 to 1924; and at Amherst College by Dr. Philip Ives (Class of 1932) and his son Donald Ives (Class of 1969), 1948 to date. Professor Snell’s original ledgers contain his weather observations noted at least twice daily in the morning and the afternoon. These are among the earliest on record for Massachusetts. After Snell’s death in 1876, his daughter carried on the work until 1902. Data from observations at the Hatch Experiment Station, Massachusetts Agricultural College, form part of the records of the National Weather Bureau station that operated there from 1889 to 1966. The collection of climatological data at Amherst College resumed in October 1948 primarily for educational purposes. This continues to date. [End Page 483]


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The Meteorological...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-021X
Print ISSN
0093-8297
Pages
pp. 480-529
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-30
Open Access
No
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