Archival Work and Writing

Being an archivist influences how I write stories–the subject matter, how I think about the world, and even plotting. (Not sure what should happen next? Throw in some archival documents!)

It’s common advice to write what you know, but I’ve never written about archival processing, and it’s uncommon for me to use the archives as a setting.

Instead, I find myself thinking about broader issues, like how memory works and the relationship between the present and the past. I’m interested in what constitutes a document and how our idea of history changes over time. I’m interested in artifactual value (which is that awe you might feel in the physical presence of something really old). I want to think more about our sources for historical knowledge and the differences between oral and written histories.

These were all issues that interested me in my day-to-day work, but that often got shoved out of my head while I sorted correspondence by date or researched the particulars of the Burma Walkout.

Now that I’m not working with collections every day (due to being a full-time mom), I have time to process (pun intended) some of these ideas, which are coming out in my fiction.

Often, if I’m stuck on a story, I just have to think about archives, and suddenly it all clicks.