Friday, March 14, 2014

The Allure of the Archives

Sandy Bay Historical Society
Winter being the perfect season to deepen my knowledge of Halibut Point inside cozy research facilities, I made my way over to the Sandy Bay Historical Association (SBHS) which aims to gather all things memorable in Rockport (Sandy Bay). 
Judy Bogage
Volunteer Judy Bogage is there to welcome visitors and help with organizational chores at the Museum.
Les Bartlett
Upstairs, Les Bartlett is scrutinizing glass plate negatives from bygone eras, bringing his photographic expertise to curatorial improvements of the collections, and finding gems for his in-depth publications of local history. 
As a newcomer to this den of antiquity I find myself tip-toeing through rooms and corridors as though they contain elements of a sanctuary, or delicate furnishings, or sleeping secrets, all of which, come to think of it, seem to define the place. There's a sense of anticipation that something unknown might be knowable, that our predecessors left us clues, that experiencing the past sympathetically can be interesting or even enlightening. 
Last year Yale University Press published The Allure of the Archives. In titling their translation of a 1989 French classic by Arlette Farge they tease us about the sensual aura of intimacy with ancient voices and manuscripts.  Says the Barnes and Noble review of the book, "Farge’s classic work communicates the tactile, interpretive, and emotional experience of archival research...and an elegant literary reflection on the challenges of writing history." I anticipate the pleasure of those pages.
A constant marvel among archivists is the preservation of free working space. That challenge may be nearly as daunting as preserving the collections themselves. When I heard that SBHS received the research notes that Allen Chamberlain bequeathed to the [Pigeon Cove] Village Improvement Society, for his 1940 masterpiece Pigeon Cove 1702-1840, research director Gwen Stephenson managed to create a spot for investigation.

Gwen Stephenson
examining Allen Chamberlain's notes
Pigeon Cove is the colonial fishing/farming village that grew up to sustain the granite quarrying industry and the summer visitor recreations. At its northern tip Halibut Point retains experiential access to these dramas of geography and history. Allen Chamberlain's narrative, map and accompanying photographs document the  early settlement on which this activity is based.
Inside two storage boxes are field notes in his hand collating deeds, charts, surveys, sketches, and letters. There is correspondence with sources and keen collaborators. For someone able to sit quietly with the pages, the excursions and processes of Chamberlain's journey generate an inspired saga of their own. As a glimpse into genius, observes Les Bartlett, it's akin to looking at the annotated musical manuscript of a great composer.
"Hallowboat Point"
Chamberlain had been able to discover, and type up this transcript from the 1798 American Coastal Pilot, showing an intriguing name for my focal landform: "Hallowboat Point." It's the only such spelling I've been able to find through internet research. Can it allude to "Sacred Boat Point?" Tantalizing.

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