“Reading the Accidental Archival” Blog Post

I know I tend to say this every time I write a blog post, but I enjoyed this reading this article because it was fascinating. (Judging from the fact that all of these readings are “interesting” or “fascinating” to me, you would assume that I don’t get out much…) This article discussed the author studying urban life within the “petite bourgeois” of St. Louis in the twentieth century through artifacts found in, what the author calls, an “accidental archive.” This “accidental archive” to this author are the papers and objects that fell out of the pockets of clothes from the Aufderheide family when going through the laundry chute of the author’s former house (Heathcott, 239). The reason this house is an “accidental” archive is because of the nature of the objects stored in the house, along with how they were stored in the house. These objects do not necessarily all connect together (shopping lists, needles, Christmas gift labels, filling station adverts), and they were not properly stored to withstand the weathering of the years gone by. However, these artifacts are still useful when studying the petite bourgeois of St. Louis during the early twentieth century.

The article goes on at length to discuss how architecture can provide certain information about the past as well. More specifically, architecture can provide the “most consistent mediation between the private sphere of individuals and families and the broader public realm” (Heathcott, 249). Where the house was built, how the house was built, and the location of other types of neighborhoods can also provide certain insight to some social aspects of this petite bourgeois class that was growing during this time period. Despite how interesting this type of information may be, the author points out that architecture, street improvement, and planning did not necessarily determine how the people who resided in those houses would behave. Because of this, turning to the specific artifacts found in this “accidental archive” can help get a better glimpse into the daily life of a member of that particular class, the Aufderheider family.

Certain artifacts found included laundry order tickets, pieces of shopping lists, envelopes addressed to the family, train tickets, sewing needles, and so on. While these items may not seem so important to someone outside of the historical field, to those studying this particular time period, these items are seemingly priceless. For example, the train ticket and Pierce Oil Corporation filling station advertisement found suggests some movements that the family may have had in the city and elsewhere (Heathcott, 255-256). The Broadway Laundry Co. order ticket suggests that the family eventually sent some clothes out to be cleaned, instead of washed within their own home (Heathcott, 254-255). This could suggest either that the family simply wanted to take advantage of the nearby service for particular articles of clothing, or even that the family had the extra money to spend on having some of their clothes cleaned elsewhere.

Overall, I enjoyed this article and found it to be very interesting.


Sarah E Jones

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