Mark Edwin Peterson

This site covers my work for my studies as a PhD student in Cultural Studies at George Mason University. I am focusing on the idea of library collections as culture, specifically the formation of academic special collections in the United States. Scholars today often complain about the fact that archives of the past did not collect the material that we are interested in today. But archives do not collect, for the most part. Nor are they the automotic depository of all records or communication that we have come to expect from our computers and hope for from government agencies. People and institutions keep hold of documents for their work, and in some cases they offer them to archives. And sometimes the archives accept these records and manage to take the steps to preserve them. These decisions are driven by individuals and generated by their needs, interests, and abilities. It is fine to say that the failures of archives to serve us now is some moral failing of the people of the past, but I believe that only works if we understand what archives do and the steps they take to build collections

I have worked as an archivist and want to look at what archives do now, but I am mostly interested in the idea of what the goal of a collection might be, and how that reflects the society of the time while also having value for us now. In American universities, archives of a vast variety of depth and quality are paired with other special collections, such as rare books or oral histories. These types of collections, at least in the university setting, reflect much more conscious decision-making and often have more detailed records of what was collected when, by whom, and why. So, my dissertation will focus on these academic special collections and how to read their creation and use, with some attention to what that means for the larger topics of archives and universities. Collecting tells us about forces at play in the wider world. And we can take an understanding of library collection and access to find what is going on with recent work to put special collections online in our own society.

Track my progress, or find some of my other stuff, here