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  • Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process
  • Mildred L. Jackson
Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process. Edited by Gesa E. Kirsch and Liz Rohan. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008. 192 pp. $35.00. ISBN 978-0-8093-2840-2.

What draws a scholar to his or her research project? What compels one to write a monograph or an article on a particular subject? Editors Gesa E. Kirsch and Liz Rohan posit that "how a researcher chooses a subject is a subject itself" (1). In Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process they gather essays by eighteen authors representing several disciplines, who reveal the ways in which passion, personal connections, and serendipity connect them to recent research projects.

Authors have stumbled across information in the process of other research, in their grandmothers' attics, and in conversations. All of these bits of information lead to serious and thoughtful research. The connections between the research and the discovery are often personal and demonstrate how our research is often intimately related to who we are. Barry Rohan discovered papers revealing his grandfather's role as a prominent activist in an actors' union called the White Rats in an old trunk. Through the discovery of old playbills and other material Rohan uncovered not only a piece of family history but also the basis for a piece of public history. Gail Y. Okawa filled in the gaps from her grandfather's life and discovered untold stories of Japanese internment camps in Santa Fe. Authors reveal what they learned about themselves and about their families by following the trail of something that did not seem serious enough at first to warrant a book or an article. The passion and creativity that result from the projects are evident in the essays.

The book is organized thematically, according to the topics of creativity, personal experience and family history, politics, and how our research subjects parallel our own lives. Each author came to his or her topic in a different way, and each used archival research in a different way. David Gold discusses becoming an accidental archivist, a theme that runs through many of the essays. Gold states that working in archives is "like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, except that you don't have a picture on the box for reference, there's more than one puzzle in the box, the pictures keep changing depending on how you fit the pieces together, and the pieces themselves change shape when your back is turned" (15). The essays build on the importance of archives but reach well beyond the physical archives found in libraries and museums. Archives are found in boxes in closets and under beds. As Gold says, "We never know where an archive will lead" (18).

The archive in the library is also important. Archival research adds additional layers and meaning to the items that inspired the authors in the first place. They [End Page 391] mention the importance of librarians who led them to vital resources and to the significance of reading the same texts their subjects read.

Beyond the Archives is a delight to read and will inspire researchers to look for opportunities in unexpected places. The scholars have demonstrated that research can and does have personal relevance and is not merely a dry exercise. This is a volume that every researcher should read.

Mildred L. Jackson
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa


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