I know why I fell in love with archives, and it’s not because of the scalpels, overhead scanners, onionskin paper, or legacy hardware emulators (even though those are some fun parts about being an archivist!). I fell in love with archives because archives are stories, and stories are and always will be, my first love. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve my mom reading stories to me by my bed before I could read. Our favorite stories came from the Addy books in the American Girl Doll series. In fact, those books are where my love for historical fiction originated.
As I’ve grown older and carved out a life for myself within the archival profession, I am starting to see that my love for stories and my love for archives share a greater connection than I thought. Archives are the stories of everyday people living out their everyday lives. We gain access to these stories through a variety of media, such as letters, diaries, photographs, digital workstations, audio files, social media accounts, rare books, etc. But in another sense, archives create stories as well. For instance, a few years ago I read a wonderful novel entitled The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (she wrote The Girl with the Pearl Earring—another great read). I nearly vacuumed The Last Runaway and genuinely became sad when it ended. I was so desperate for the book to continue, I decided to read all the acknowledgements in the back. My heart skipped a beat when I saw Chevalier acknowledging the archivists who helped her gather historical information for the novel. The Last Runaway exemplifies how archives are not only stories themselves, but they inform subsequent stories.
Lastly, I’ve been thinking a lot about fiction stories that feature archives. One that sticks out to me is a book I read a few years back called The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I’m sure you’ve heard of it! In The Help, archives abound in the form of oral histories. Skeeter records the true life stories of African American maids in Mississippi during the civil rights era; however, to protect the maids, she masks these archives by wrapping them in fiction—a book she calls “The Help.” Whoa. So essentially, what we have is a fiction book (The Help written by Kathryn Stockett) where the protagonist documents true narratives yet must mask these narratives in a layer of fiction (“The Help” written by Skeeter) . Whew…this is getting Inception-like! In the example of The Help, the fictitious stories actually preserve the archives!
Where do you see archives in fiction (or even vice versa)? Let’s get those creative juices flowing!