In 1977, Patrick M. Quinn’s article for The Midwestern Archivist introduced the piece by Howard Zinn that I reviewed last week.  Quinn worked at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1966-71) and was Assistant University Archivist at the University of Wisconsin (1972-74).  He then became University Archivist at Northwestern, remaining there until 2008 and still having an emeritus position today.

 “Archivists and Historians: The Times They Are A-Changin'” is a revised version of a paper that Quinn presented at the 1973 meeting of the Midwest Archives Conference.  He defined the job of archivists: “to interpret, understand and anticipate those [social] forces so that we might have some control over them, both as human beings and as archivists” (5).  He pointed to the New Deal era as the time that produced “a generation of historians-turned-archivists” (6).  After World War II, economic growth coupled with an “educational explosion” produced new jobs for historians, greater interest in historical research, and, therefore, the need for more and better archives (7).  Quinn saw the 1960s as a period of transition for archivists and especially for the Society of American Archivists (SAA).  He identified a younger generation of archivists who had different priorities than the founding members of SAA.  He listed their conclusions about SAA (8):
  • stagnant activities, outlook, and membership
  • leadership too traditional and narrowly controlled by top-level administrators, National Archives personnel, and Southern state archivists
  • mostly white, with unequal treatment of women
  • perpetuated “an elitist approach to writing history” by determining what materials should be collected and from whom

Quinn identified a number of responses from SAA to these internal pressures:

  • Committee on the 1970s
  • Committee on the Status of Women
  • anti-discrimination policy
  • development of new action groups and newsletters
  • movement to recruit new members and hire an executive secretary
  • creation of regional archival organizations

Of course, the economic crises of the 1970s hurt archivists, leading to a tight job market — both due to cutbacks and increased competition with history PhDs who couldn’t find other employment — and stagnant salaries.  Quinn concluded,

“The related phenomena of individuals becoming archivists by default, and the archival profession comprised in the main of history prelim flunkouts and librarians assigned to archival work against their wishes, are over.  The new archivist will be a person who consciously and deliberately chooses to enter the profession.  Criteria for prospective archivists will be determined more and more by exigencies of the economy combined with apprenticeship performance rather than being based upon artificially imposed educational standards” (10).

He suggested the relationship between historians and archivists had been strained, likely because “historians tended to view archivists in the same manner as they did filling station attendants, while archivists, especially those with history backgrounds who entered the archival craft by circumstance or default, looked upon most ‘real’
historians with resentment and jealousy” (11).  He also pointed to the Lowenheim affair as a specific cause of dispute.

Of course, the division of SAA in 1974 with the creation of the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators also both reflected and amplified changes in SAA as well as the relationship of archivists and historians.  But it does seem that Quinn’s prediction about the intentionality of people entering the archival profession has been fairly accurate.

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