Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Scott on Farge, "The Allure of the Archives"

Via LHB reader Rebecca Scott (University of Michigan) we have word that Yale University Press will soon publish an English translation of The Allure of the Archives, by Arlette Farge (Director of Research in Modern History, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris). Normally we post whatever description the press has offered, but Professor Scott generously allowed us to publish her own write-up on the book:
In 1989 the French historian Arlette Farge published an elegantly-written small book on judicial archives and the ways in which historians can engage the documents those archives contain. The book was titled _Le Goût de l'archive_ , a play on words implying both the taste of & a taste for the archive. Insightful, witty, and erudite, the work became a classic among readers in France, and was translated into Spanish and into Portuguese. Farge vividly evokes the vision of life in ancien régime Paris that emerges from police records and the archives of the Bastille, while warning of the traps that archives have laid for us, the illusions of immediacy that can lead us astray. In short, astringent chapters she reflects on the difficulty of confronting "Traces by the Thousands," and the lure of finding "Captured Speech."

For years no publisher took on the task of translating Farge's (nearly poetic) prose into English. So aficionados of the book who wanted to teach it had to try to coax students into reading it in the original French, or attempt to convey Farge's brilliance in paraphrase. But this month the book will appear from Yale University Press, under the title THE ALLURE OF THE ARCHIVES, translated by Thomas Scott-Railton, with a forward by Natalie Zemon Davis. The advance reviews are admiring.

The book will apparently be available from Yale University Press as of Monday, August 19, in time for last-minute additions to syllabi in courses on methodology, on legal history, on historical writing. . . or any course in which one needs to discuss what it is that historians do and how they do it. (I will be assigning selections, for example, in a seminar on law and slavery, by way of preparing law students to use raw testimony from U.S. court records in developing their own analyses.)