The Allure of the Archives
Arlette Farge; Translated by Thomas Scott-Railton; Foreword by Natalie Zemon Davis
February 24, 2015
152 pages, 5 x 8
Arlette Farge’s Le Goût de l’archive is widely regarded as a historiographical classic. While combing through two-hundred-year-old judicial records from the Archives of the Bastille, historian Farge was struck by the extraordinarily intimate portrayal they provided of the lives of the poor in pre-Revolutionary France, especially women. She was seduced by the sensuality of old manuscripts and by the revelatory power of voices otherwise lost. In The Allure of the Archives, she conveys the exhilaration of uncovering hidden secrets and the thrill of venturing into new dimensions of the past.
Originally published in 1989, Farge’s classic work communicates the tactile, interpretive, and emotional experience of archival research while sharing astonishing details about life under the Old Regime in France. At once a practical guide to research methodology and an elegant literary reflection on the challenges of writing history, this uniquely rich volume demonstrates how surrendering to the archive’s allure can forever change how we understand the past.
"This is a book to be cherished, to be handed on from generation to generation, preserving as it does the thrill of each new reader’s encounter with the fragmentary written remains of the past. Arlette Farge captures with extraordinary vividness the ‘obscure beauty’ of archival records, and the passion and exhilaration that handling centuries-old documents can stimulate."—Lisa Jardine, University College London
"The Allure of the Archives is the ars poetica of a particularly gifted and eloquent historian. The reading room may be brutally unheated and the volumes unwieldy, the occasions of transcription quite flatly hostile or indifferent to the voices we most wish to hear, but the archive’s pull is all the more profound: its holdings bear witness that the world is larger than our preconceptions."—Linda Gregerson, University of Michigan
“A captivating introduction to the pleasures of the archive. The allure, le goût de l’archive: Scott-Railton’s translation captures the full flavor of Farge’s remarkable prose.”—Kathryn Burns, University of North Carolina
"Lyrical, suspenseful and humorous in turn. Farge has created a fascinating account of how historians work that will appeal to scholars and history buffs alike . . . [This] classic intellectual memoir, finally translated into English, elegantly re-creates the thrills and (literal) chills of a historian's archival treasure hunts."—Shelf Awareness, Starred Review
"In this elegant and captivating (and admirably translated) account . . . we gain an appreciation of historical research as a calling, an obsession, and an insight into how our ideas about the past might be shaped."—Los Angeles Review of Books
‘Farge’s work is an eloquent testimony to the materiality of the archive and its power to astonish and delight’ —Arnold Hunt, TLS