- Restoring Order: The École des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870
From the moment of the foundation of the êcole des chartes to the demise of Napoleon III, this excellent investigation from Lara J. Moore revisits the history of nineteenth-century France. In the process she casts new light on traditional concepts pertaining to archival and library science. The purpose of her dissertation is to contrast changes in the political context with the evolution of governmental policies toward archives and libraries. These policies include classification modalities, setting up agendas for priorities, and introducing new curricula in the êcole des chartes, where librarians and archivists were trained.
One is reminded that the perception of the ancien régime and the French Revolution changed whenever a new political regime came into power. Therefore, the legacy of those documents inherited from previous periods, hardly organized as they were passed on, has been managed according to the official perception of [End Page 382] the day. These legacies of the past have been used to serve the immediate political needs of the recipient governments. Moreover, the ministers who were in charge of the archives and the libraries in these governments were often historians themselves, most of whom had gained experience in researching documents for the purposes of their own studies. Accordingly, they handled archives as dictated by their political views as well as their knowledge and competencies in the subject. Priorities were defined for classification, and new methodologies were put in place.
Moore suggests we adopt another viewpoint when considering these recording processes: archives should be acknowledged as the ultimate (or least perceptible) expression of the political decision-taking process. Moore never fails to be very specific on the part played by the École des chartes in those changes. She makes a point of highlighting the concrete details whereby these policies saw the light of day. The history of this institution is indeed an object of discussion in this study, but it becomes almost an ancillary subject to the author's main concern. The school, it is stressed, generally suffered from the successive policies aiming to reform the sector of archives and libraries and incorporated, often quite reluctantly, more practice-based courses into its curricula (e.g., classification of libraries and archives).
But the actual value of this book lies in the fact that the author goes beyond the mere analysis of the history of so-called traditional institutions (royal library, national archives, etc.). By focusing on commissions or associations like the Société de l'École des chartes, it provides further insights into the actual places and stages where decisions were made, where they were relayed, and where they could be undermined. It is critical to be made aware of the existence of these secondary stages as yet another outlet for power and authority. Such a work should be complemented by a study of the social networks that developed around these secret institutions, taking also into account the Chartists themselves.
Finally, this work gives further insights, derived from the circumstances and context in which they came about, into the creation of fundamental notions and principles in archival science, such as the respect des fonds. We (re)discover a period in the 1860s, when librarians and archivists debated passionately about their roles. This era may be identified as a defining moment in the history of both professions.
Moore's reasoning is generally rigorous. Her selected bibliography is extensive, like the list of the manuscript sources. Given the difficulty of finding and accessing some of these documents, Moore's work is particularly impressive.
The prospects offered by Restoring Order are many and promising. A more detailed analysis of administrative and professional practices would certainly help corroborate Moore's findings. At any rate, this book can be regarded as a major contribution to the history of French archives and libraries in the nineteenth century. Moore said that while her study...