The Allure of the Archives (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History)

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9780300176735: The Allure of the Archives (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History)

An exquisite appreciation of the distinctive rewards of historical research and a classic guide to the personal yet disciplined craft of discovery, now in its first English translation.

Arlette Farge’s Le Goût de l’archive is widely regarded as a historiographical classic. While combing through two-hundred-year-old judicial records from the Archives of the Bastille, historian Farge was struck by the extraordinarily intimate portrayal they provided of the lives of the poor in pre-Revolutionary France, especially women. She was seduced by the sensuality of old manuscripts and by the revelatory power of voices otherwise lost. In The Allure of the Archives, she conveys the exhilaration of uncovering hidden secrets and the thrill of venturing into new dimensions of the past.

Originally published in 1989, Farge’s classic work communicates the tactile, interpretive, and emotional experience of archival research while sharing astonishing details about life under the Old Regime in France. At once a practical guide to research methodology and an elegant literary reflection on the challenges of writing history, this uniquely rich volume demonstrates how surrendering to the archive’s allure can forever change how we understand the past.

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About the Author:

Arlette Farge is Director of Research in Modern History at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Natalie Zemon Davis is Professor of History at the University of Toronto. Thomas Scott-Railton is the translator of several books, including works by Étienne Balibar, Michel Foucault, and Slavoj Žižek.

Review:

"This is a book to be cherished, to be handed on from generation to generation, preserving as it does the thrill of each new reader’s encounter with the fragmentary written remains of the past. Arlette Farge captures with extraordinary vividness the ‘obscure beauty’ of archival records, and the passion and exhilaration that handling centuries-old documents can stimulate."—Lisa Jardine, University College London (Lisa Jardine)

"The Allure of the Archives, available at long last in a marvellous English translation, is a profound and moving work about archives, about history and the law, and about women in history."—Emma Rothschild, author of The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History (Emma Rothschild)

"In The Allure of the Archives, one of France's leading historians offers the reader a stunning phenomenology of archival practice. Arlette Farge combines an unparalleled account of the immediacy and excess of the archive with a profound meditation on converting archival research into historical narrative and argumentation. This book is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the production of historical knowledge. Its translation is long overdue."—Kunal Parker, University of Miami School of Law (Kunal Parker)

"This reflexive, gendered ethnography of the historian’s craft – already a French classic – delicately explores what the author calls the organized topography that lies beneath the archives. Every student of history should read this book."—Richard Price, author of First-Time, Alabi’s World, and Travels with Tooy (Richard Price)

"Deciphering nearly illegible texts, recopying them endlessly, passing from document to document, each day burrowing deeper into the archives in order to retrieve the words of the past: these are the historian's tasks that Arlette Farge brings to life with a touch that is both tangible and subtle. Her book illuminates the strange task that is the historian's, whose aim is to enter the past, find the long lost and the long dead, and listen to their reasons, their misfortunes, their words."—Roger Chartier, Collège de France (Roger Chartier)

"The Allure of the Archives is the ars poetica of a particularly gifted and eloquent historian. The reading room may be brutally unheated and the volumes unwieldy, the occasions of transcription quite flatly hostile or indifferent to the voices we most wish to hear, but the archive’s pull is all the more profound: its holdings bear witness that the world is larger than our preconceptions."—Linda Gregerson, University of Michigan (Linda Gregerson)

“A captivating introduction to the pleasures of the archive.  The allure, le goût de l’archive: Scott-Railton’s translation captures the full flavor of Farge’s remarkable prose.”—Kathryn Burns, University of North Carolina (Kathryn Burns)

"[Farge's] description of a personal, physical relationship to archives resonates more than ever as the essence of curiosity, an existentially fulfilling act in which the historian can literally touch the past."—Jacob Soll, Chronicle Review (Jacob Soll Chronicle Review)

"A little gem of a book. A diamond, perhaps, given both its clarity and the finesse with which it’s been cut and set. It is an unmistakable classic: one of the great memoirs of the silent, day-to-day drama of research . . . Adamantine: sharp, brilliant, perfect, and created to last."—Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed (Scott McLemee Inside Higher Ed)

"Lyrical, suspenseful and humorous in turn. Farge has created a fascinating account of how historians work that will appeal to scholars and history buffs alike . . . [This] classic intellectual memoir, finally translated into English, elegantly re-creates the thrills and (literal) chills of a historian's archival treasure hunts."—Shelf Awareness, Starred Review (Shelf Awareness)

"In this elegant and captivating (and admirably translated) account . . . we gain an appreciation of historical research as a calling, an obsession, and an insight into how our ideas about the past might be shaped."—Los Angeles Review of Books (Los Angeles Review of Books)

Received second place for the 2014 translation prize in non-fiction given by the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation. (Translation Prize French-American Foundation 2014-05-23)

‘Farge’s work is an eloquent testimony  to the materiality of the archive and its power to astonish and delight’ —Arnold Hunt, TLS (Arnold Hunt TLS 2014-07-25)

“A unique, lyrical  paean to historical research, . . . now superbly translated into English. . . . The kick of research—not self-evident, by any means—is the subject of Farge’s marvelous book. Behind it lies the goal of history, which is ‘the understanding of a time and a world.’ . . . [But] The Allure of the Archives is more than a reflection, however evocative, on the seductive joys and travails of research; it is a methodological handbook, . . . [containing] several chapters with subheadings that read like guidelines for the would-be historian.”—Brenda Wineapple, The Threepenny Review (Brenda Wineapple The Threepenny Review)

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