I’ve been thinking lately about the career aptitude test that my classmates and I took in high school. I remember the setting well: the high school cafeteria. I sat at the second or third table down, on the far left side, facing the stage—roughly the place where my friends and I sat at lunch every day. (How much of this is genuine memory?)
I have always tested well, so I have a generally positive memory of the test itself. I remember kind of enjoying the variety of questions, though perhaps having been a bit frustrated with ones that required an ability to imagine how two-dimensional images would look once they had been folded into three-dimensional objects.
And I remember the results of the test, a recommendation that I should do work focused on organizing things, like being a file clerk. Me and Harvey Pekar, right?
What interests me about this memory of the results (I wish I had the actual results, but I think they’re probably long lost) is how it could be read to be connected to the way that my interest in the kind of document markup I can do with TEI tends towards greater granularity. I tend not to make use of those best practices for libraries that I mentioned last week.
And this reminds me of how I responded to a question Gerda Lerner asked in the first research seminar I took in graduate school. She asked whether every person who had ever lived belonged in a dictionary of biography, and I said yes. Which was the wrong answer because she was asking us to think about how, as historians, we would assess significance and apply that assessment to the formation of a research plan. I didn’t like the idea of making those kinds of choices.
But one of the things I do like about the idea of what we are doing with the Wheaton College Digital History Project is that we are making available (eventually) documents that have not previously been known. And I understand this activity to some degree as yet another positive answer to Gerda’s question. In effect, we are saying that the fact these documents have not been used in the past is less a product of their insignificance than of chance. Which is one of the things historians know about the documents we use as evidence anyway. Whatever sources we have available to us come to us as a result of decisions that do not actually reflect their significance in some grand scheme so much as their significance to individuals for reasons that often have nothing to do with our research questions.
Sometimes, when my friends reflect on the work that I have come to be doing over the past seven years, they say that I could do this work as a librarian or an archivist. (I’m not entirely sure whether I agree with them.) And I wonder how close that means I have come to following the advice that resulted from that career aptitude test I took in the high school cafeteria all those years ago.