Monday Marvels

Ask an archivist why they were first drawn to the field, and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you it was because of the stuff.* Many of us are interested in history and like the idea of combing through collections of papers during the work week: finding unique documents, discovering previously unknown stories involving real people and events, even just smelling the delightful scent of decaying paper (yes, that’s what you’re smelling when you step into a building with lots of old books). When you get down to business, archival collections are full of fun things. So I was thinking, what better way to give this blog a much-needed kick than to highlight at least one fun thing from the ACLS collection every week?

Here’s your first Monday Marvel – let it serve as a pick-me-up at the beginning of the week!

Letter from Stanley N. Katz to Kevin Guthrie in which Katz mentions JSTOR - in 1996!

Letter from Stanley N. Katz to Kevin Guthrie in which Katz mentions JSTOR – in 1996!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that I once wrote about how the ACLS has a history of embracing technology. I mentioned in that entry that I’d found some letters related to JSTOR, and here is one of them for your viewing pleasure! For those of you who aren’t familiar with JSTOR, which was founded in 1995, it’s a huge digital library where people can search for books, journal articles, and primary sources. Simply put, if you’ve done scholarly research in the past decade and a half, you’ve probably used JSTOR. I remember it as one of the few databases I knew about and used as an undergraduate, so I was really excited to find this letter in the ACLS collection.

There are a few things of interest here:

  • It’s from Stanley N. Katz (ACLS president from 1986 to 1997) to Kevin Guthrie (founding JSTOR president and now president of ITHAKA)
  • It’s dated March 1st, 1996 – very early in the life of the database!
  • In the letter, Katz responds to Guthrie’s request asking him to view a demonstration of JSTOR. Imagine seeing such cutting-edge technology as it’s still being developed! Of course Katz said yes; who wouldn’t?

Kevin Guthrie’s original letter is also in the collection, but you’ll have to come to the Library of Congress to see it. I’d love to post it (Guthrie has fantastic penmanship), but need to abide by copyright laws for obvious reasons!

There you have it – one small reason why archives are awesome. Happy Monday!

* Disclaimer: It’s true that many people get into the field for different reasons, and lots of archivists become even more enthralled with their work as they start to embrace other facets of it (outreach, reference, exhibit work, controlled vocabulary, collaboration efforts, preservation and conservation, appraisal, digitization, crowdsourcing, ethical and legal issues, records management, and oral history are just a few topics that come to mind here).

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