Sunday, October 11, 2015

Romance in the Archives

On 2 October Sarah Wendell posted a podcast of her interview of
Caryn Radick, who is the Digital Archivist and the Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University [...] has a cool research project where she is investigating how romance writers use archives, and she’s also very interested in depictions of archivists in fiction from the romance genre and other genres as well.
The transcript was put online on 4 October and I thought I'd pick out the bits most directly about Caryn's research.
Caryn: [...] I’ve been focusing on whether romance writers use archives when they’re writing their works, because when I was younger I started reading historical romances, and I learned quite a bit of history from them, so I figured somebody must be doing the research, and from what I understand, they do.
Sarah:  So you’re looking at how romance writers use historical archives in their writing.

Caryn:  Correct. [...] I constructed a survey which I was fortunate enough to be able to circulate through Romance Writers of America, and I got some really good responses. [...] Yeah, a lot of people who responded to the survey, a lot of them just really, said they really want to get those details of time and place correct, but they also like to get a voice that represents the time period or place that they’re looking at.  One of the things I really appreciated was there was a certain amount of, of reverence and enthusiasm for using archival materials which reflects what it was like for me when I was first getting into the profession.  The, the aspect of, wow, this is a diary that somebody wrote in the nineteenth century, and I can’t believe you’re letting me touch this.
Sarah:  Yes!

Caryn:  That’s fine!  It, it’s great.  Most indicated that they would really love it if there was more information available online, which wasn’t exactly a surprise, because I think the expectation these days is that things are online.  People are a little surprised when you tell them that, no, actually, you’re going to have to come in to see that, or, you know, we can try to give you some information, but it, it’s not going to be available online.  And another aspect that, that didn’t surprise me was that some people were very enthusiastic or wanted to know more about how to use archives, but they felt that they didn’t quite know how to get started, which is, which is pretty common. [...]

Caryn:  [...] So, back in, I think it’s 2011, 2012, romance hit the archivists’ radar when Protected by the Prince by Annie West came to our attention, because the heroine of that book is an archivist, and, you know, being surprised that this –

Sarah:  You guys must have been like, wait, what?  Seriously?  She’s us?  Woohoo!

Caryn:  Yes.  She’s an archivist, and we’re, yay, there’s an archivist!  Wait, oh.  She’s wearing glasses.  Oh, she’s kind of frumpy.  [Laughs] [...] so it was kind of a moment of fun for, for the archives community, where suddenly, hey, there’s discussion about, there’s this book, it’s got an archivist heroine, probably a little bit making fun of the book and, and as I said, the stereotype of the archivist in it, and there was, there was even a, a blog had a contest to write your own archival romance, and there were a few other discussions, and then it kind of just went its own ways, as things do, but since I had read romance when I was younger and I, I’ve known some romance writers and I’ve gone to a couple of the events, it was in the back of my mind at the time that, you know, actually, now that I think about it, I know that romance writers that I’ve met seem to also be pretty detail-oriented and care about getting the, their novels right, and I started wondering if they use archives, and I suspected they did.

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