Volume 48, number 2 (May-June 2013)

‘The King’s Library of Manuscripts’: the State Paper Office as Archive and Library

By Michael Riordan

pp. 181 - 193


The State Papers were the principal executive instruments of the early modern English state. By 1610 they were kept in the State Paper Office, remaining there until 1854 when they were subsumed into the Public Record Office. This paper will examine whether the State Paper Office, over two centuries, had more characteristics of a modern Archive or Library. To do so, it will look at the key archival processes of appraisal, and arrangement and description, as well as exploring whether, like modern archives, the records were understood contextually or, like a modern library, they were regarded as discrete containers of information.

Information Infrastructure and Descriptions of the 1857 Fort Tejon Earthquake

By Megan Finn

pp. 194 - 221


In 1857, Californians experienced the largest earthquake in the state’s history. Few people lived near the earthquake’s epicenter, so the earthquake was small in terms of damage and loss of life, but it still was felt from San Diego to San Francisco. After the earthquake, Californians wanted to understand what had happened elsewhere. They circulated narratives about the earthquake by boat and horseback in letters and newspapers. Californians made sense of the earthquake without standardized timekeeping or modern scientific theories. The descriptions and explanations of the earthquake that surfaced were shaped by and reflected the 1857 information infrastructure.

The Information Ecosystems of National Diplomacy: The Case of Spain, 1815-1936

By James Cortada

pp. 222 - 259


Workers in information-intensive professions live in an information ecosystem in which they create, analyze, store, and communicate information as their core activities. This article illustrates how that happens through the historical case study of Spanish diplomats over the course of more than a century. Their information ecosystem proved extensive, encompassing institutions, bodies of tacit and explicit knowledge, and routine and ad hoc collections of information. This essay offers a model of how to explore the history of a profession's information ecosystem, relying on administrative histories, memoirs, and an analysis of the extant paper trail left by these diplomats.

Of Dustbowl Ballads and Railroad Tables: Erudite Enactments in Historical Inquiry

By Hamid R. Ekbia and Venkata Ratnadeep Suri

pp. 260 - 278


History is a heavily document-driven field. The character of these documents varies from era to era and from case to case, and their content constitutes what can be broadly called “historical information.” Historical information, however, is not fixed, stable, or even cumulative; rather, it is enacted through the epistemic culture and practices of historians. Our study of two well-known historical cases in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—the monopolistic practices of railroad operators in the American West and the Dust Bowl phenomenon in the Midwest—show how historians enact information by adopting a fluid strategy toward their sources of information and their changing notions of evidence. At the same time, they also show that these enactments maintain a certain degree of consistency and continuity with the overall body of knowledge of the scholarly community, giving them a more “educated” character and differentiating them from the routine enactments of daily life. In this paper, we explore the historiographical practices engaged by historians that enable this kind of enactment.

This issue is available on Project MUSE