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 and libraries influenced by the United States. Much recent historiography has complained 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 get around to processing them. All these decisions are driven by human people 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 only if we understand what archives do and the steps of their construction.

I have worked as an archivist and plan to examine this issue of what people are doing with archives 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 communicating to 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 probably focus more generally on special collections and how to read their creation and use, with some attention to what that means for the larger topics of archives and academic libraries. Collecting tell us about forces at play at the university and in the wider world. And we can take an understanding of library collection and access to analyze 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