Monday, March 22, 2010

To Preserve or Not to Preserve?

Historians like to ask this question, I think, because the answer is what distinguishes historians from antiquarians. People might describe the difference in many ways, but historians usually demand an objective compelling reason for preserving something, save for the few on the fringe (like me) who say, "save it all now and let someone else figure out the reasons why later".

And believe me, someone will be trying to figure out why a bobblehead of Justice Scalia is hanging out with medieval tomes on law.

Justice Scalia-head isn't alone in the Yale rare book room. Let's go to the closeup on Rehnquist-head.

Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

It is pretty adorable, yes. But what are these things? Why are they being stocked in Yale's rare book room? What are future historians and lawyers going to do with these?

To deal with the future implications of these Supreme Court dollies' inclusion in the rare book room, I've solicited the opinion of a Brave Historical Preservation Grad Student Correspondent. She gave a few suggestions of questions preservationists will surely ask upon discovering these little gems decades down the line. I attempted to answer them.

-My first reaction would be that I didn't know bobblehead dolls were an old enough art form to be historical. [Mine, too.]
-Then I would want to know what material they are made of, or what they are likely to be made of. [Looks like plastic, putting them in the Barbie section of the archives.]
- Are there any labels or notes with the items? [They all come with a book and a copy of the Constitution, but those are also plastic, and thus unreadable.]
- Does the box smell funky? This would indicate potential mold issues. [insert Clarence Thomas joke here]
- What kind of environment are they being repackaged in? If there are no mold problems then just an archival box would be fine. [So many justices, so little room in the box! Clearly there need to be two boxes, because the strict constructionists don't get along with the judicial activists.

The good news is, there's a dissertation in here somewhere for whoever wants to bridge legal and art history. The bad news is, now I kind of want a set of these. If they were widely available, I'll bet they'd sell better than the Hillary Clinton nutcracker.

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