A shadow running through my days

The __New Yorker had an interesting article (only the abstract is currently online) on the by-now infamous photo album of Karl Hoecker, a guard at Auschwitz. Some of the photos can be seen here. The story is not exactly new; I first read about it in the New York Times in September of last year.

The article provided some interesting insights into the way in which archivists think and highlighted the broad range of knowledge and skills needed to fully understand the object for what it is. What I found most intriguing, however, was how boring the writer made the story sound. These kinds of opportunities are the stuff of archivists’ wet dreams, and most of us would count ourselves extremely lucky to have an artifact like this fall into our laps once in our career, but somehow Alec Wilkinson manages to suck all the life out of what should have been a great story.

I’m not writing this to trash Mr. Wilkinson’s writing ability. Lord knows The New Yorker doesn’t hire just anyone as a staff writer, and according to Wikipedia, Mr. Wilkinson has been on staff since 1980. Instead, I think this story points to just how difficult it is to describe what we archivists do in a compelling way which explains the value of our work (and us).

The album has been described in great detail in other places; I’ll let you read the stories I’ve linked to above rather than rewriting it again. More photos can be seen here (with audio commentary) and here.