Charles E. Lee delivered his presidential address at the 1972 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in Columbus, Ohio.  His address was published in the January 1973 issue of the American Archivist.  Lee served as the director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History from 1961-1987.

The Report of the Committee for the 1970’s had been published in April 1972, and Lee acknowledged the necessity of SAA setting these struggles aside to focus on the positive aspects of archival work.  (Lee’s response to this report is on pages 218-20 of the above citation.)  As indicated by his title, he grouped his joys of being an archivist into three categories:

  • persons
    • professional colleagues — Lee gave special shout-outs to Phil Hamer, Mary Bryan, H.G. Jones, and A.K. Johnson, Jr.  He also acknowledged three Archivists of the U.S. — Wayne Grover, Bob Bahmer, and James Rhoads.  His speech continued to mimic an awards acceptance speech as he named numerous other persons who had helped him.  My favorite anecdote is the advice he attributed to Ernst Posner, who said, “‘Economy of effort is a rule which must always be remembered, Charlie; with so very much to do you cannot afford to waste energy'” (8).  Lee also pointed to international colleagues who formed valuable friendships.
    • colleagues in government (e.g., governors, state legislators, governing commissions, etc.)
    • “customers” — Lee referred to patrons of the archives as “the persons for whom we put on the whole show” (11).  He singled out government officials, scholars, and genealogists as examples of archives’ users.
    • persons in the documents — “part of our joy certainly is getting to know persons no longer living, by perusal of the documents” (11)
  • places
    • “The plats and maps of which men have recorded their discovery of the land and their uses of it are surely among the greatest joys of an archivist . . .” (12).
    • other archives — “How good it is to go to other archives, to see other people doing the things you do, to feel smug when you think you are doing things better, to resolve to do better when you think you are being surpassed” (13).
  • papers
    • Lee recounted the “calm joy” and “satisfaction which comes of bringing order out of chaos, intelligibility out of confusion” (13).

Lee drew an interesting comparison between archivists and Martha from the Gospel stories, who made a name for herself because of her focus on accomplishing tasks.  In conclusion, he explained that the tasks of the archivist “have to do with capturing the word, with making it permanent if it has been a word worth saying, of making it fit into intelligible patterns with other words, so that different men in different eras and places may speak together and live together in a meaningful manner across the barriers of time and space” (14).

 

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