An exquisite appreciation of the distinctive rewards of historical research and a classic guide to the personal yet disciplined craft of discovery, now in its first English translation.
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.
Arlette Farge is Director of Research in Modern History at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Natalie Zemon Davis is Professor of History at the University of Toronto. Thomas Scott-Railton is the translator of several books, including works by Étienne Balibar, Michel Foucault, and Slavoj Zizek.
"Farge’s work is an eloquent testimony to the materiality of the archive and its power to astonish and delight."—Arnold Hunt, TLS
Received second place for the 2014 translation prize in non-fiction given by the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation
"In The Allure of the Archives, one of France's leading historians offers the reader a stunning phenomenology of archival practice. Arlette Farge combines an unparalleled account of the immediacy and excess of the archive with a profound meditation on converting archival research into historical narrative and argumentation. This book is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the production of historical knowledge. Its translation is long overdue."—Kunal Parker, University of Miami School of Law
"This reflexive, gendered ethnography of the historian’s craft – already a French classic – delicately explores what the author calls the organized topography that lies beneath the archives. Every student of history should read this book."—Richard Price, author of First-Time, Alabi’s World, and Travels with Tooy
"Deciphering nearly illegible texts, recopying them endlessly, passing from document to document, each day burrowing deeper into the archives in order to retrieve the words of the past: these are the historian's tasks that Arlette Farge brings to life with a touch that is both tangible and subtle. Her book illuminates the strange task that is the historian's, whose aim is to enter the past, find the long lost and the long dead, and listen to their reasons, their misfortunes, their words."—Roger Chartier, Collège de France
"TheAllure 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
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