Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Off to the Archives...together

Today, I went with Chris to one of the archives here in Marseille to help him with his work. It was my first time at an archive, and I have to say, it was quite interesting.

Chris and I walked into the archives, he helped me get a temporary pass card into the archives, and then we headed to the stinky locker room to put our bags away. We were not allowed to take bags into the main room.

The main room where we worked was a lot more impressive than the rest of the archives I walked through. There were long sturdy wooden tables, wooden rafters above us, and lots of light from the windows. It was very hot in there, but we got use to it after a while.

Chris went up to the desk and "ordered up" some books. Chris takes digital pictures of the pages in the books and then goes back through and translates the information. Some of the pages are in Latin, some in French, and a few are even in Provencal...which he can't read. The books are registers of council meetings from the 1300's. The handwriting on some were elaborate and beautiful, and others, it was just as bad as Chris' signature. :) Some of the pages have been destroyed due to water or other things, so that makes Chris' job much more difficult. There are pages made out of paper and some made out animal hide.

Looking through these old documents was quite fascinating! It was almost like a treasure hunt....looking for interesting things about piracy. Of course, Chris had to look and I just admired the writing and found the doodles to the sides hilarious. You could tell how boring some of those meetings were based on the kinds of doodles to the side.

I helped take pictures or hold the pages flat while Chris snapped photos. We spent the afternoon doing that and got quite a bit accomplished.

Once we get the pictures uploaded...I will have to post a few of them so you know what I'm referring to and you can see what kinds of things Chris works with.


Jacob said...

Question for Chris:

Is any effort being made to digitize these documents in a systematic way? Do you know if these efforts changed at all after the City Archive collapse in Köln?

Electronic Eremite said...


Not that I know of. In fact, I offered them CDs of my pictures and they flatly refused, despite the fact that I use a high quality camera and often use a tripod.

In my mind they view these documents as their "patrimony" a word the French toss around quite a bit, and they don't want people to have easy access to them online. By having them only accessible in the archive, you bring scholars to the city, increase the city's academic "tourism" and can use the archives and the documents as a center for academic activities, like conferences. I see the point, but it makes it much easier for the native French to study these than people from the New World, like us. Again, this is probably another "perk" gained from not digitized - better local research at the expense of worldwide study.

Avatus said...

On "Matrimony" -- My mom does the same thing with our home movies and photographs. I have offered on several occasions to burn them to DVD or CD so that the entire family can enjoy them. She believes that they are better served strewn about the house in boxes and closets, though, and refuses to release them to the family at large. The net effect is that deterioration over time, or worse, is going to destroy them and all we'll be left with are the vague memories of family activities. POSING for 30 years worth of pictures at these unrecounted events, however, will be concretely burned into our remembrances. It's selfish and idiotic. If all the repositories of knowledge in the world had the sense to back up their information, think of how the world would be different! I'd have access to photos of my first childhood dinosaur hunt, for one thing. Do your research and publish your findings, Doc, so that no one ever needs to go there again... Except on vacation... ;)