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Friday 17 May 2013

Phoenix seeds spread by the wind

Nearly 2 weeks ago I had the honour to be one of the keynote speakers at a conference in Berlin, Das Erbe der Berliner Sexualwissenschaft: Eine Fachtagung sexualwissenschaftlicher Archive
held in the impressive surroundings of the Humboldt University Graduate School, formerly the Imperial Veterinary College. This took place on the exact 80th anniversary of the destruction of Magnus Hirschfeld's Institut fur Sexualwissenschaft by the Nazis in 1933.

I gave a brief summary of the matters I addressed in my talk over on the Wellcome Library blog  in a post on Sexology in the Wellcome Library.

This was a fascinating, wideranging and interdisciplinary day, as the programme indicates (although sadly Erwin Haeberle was unable to be there) dealing with a range of issues around Hirschfeld and his institute, the continuing problems that beset institutions building up research collections in what can still be a controversial area, and the wider impact of his legacy. There were also some excellent and thought-provoking panel discussions involving speakers and the audience in lively interchanges. While my German is, alas, too rudimentary to keep up with scholarly papers and debate, the organisers had very kindly provided me with an interpreter whose services meant that I was able to follow the outlines of what was being said.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

I sort of wonder what Foucault would have thought of this

Learnt today that the French Ministry of Culture has sent out an appeal for sponsorship to raise 3.5 million Euros to purchase the Foucault papers, which have already been given the status of National Treasure in order to inhibit their export.

Presumably somebody is asking that amount for the papers? this is not clear from the reporting.

I would rather hope that any sum raised will include the consideration of processing costs, an often-overlooked invisible necessity to make archival collections actually usable by researchers.

The trouble with these enormous sums being reported in connection with the papers of super-starry names is that it leads other people who are perhaps not quite such luminous figures in the pantheon to get an entirely unrealistic idea of the amount of money that repositories will pony up for their records.

It has also been my experience, over my years in the archives, that the papers of Big Names, while bringing a lot of cred and media coverage to a repository, may by no means earn their keep in the task of pulling in the punters over the long term, whereas other collections, by names less familiar to the general public, e.g. the papers of Frederick Parkes Weber (who he? probably most people's response), which have been for many years reliably among the most requested holdings in Archives and Manuscripts, Wellcome Library, prove far more valuable to a wide range of researchers.