Can a “Discovery” Be Made in an Archive?

Archives 2I am in the archives this week.  I am hoping to discover something that will be useful to my current research project.  I am not expecting to uncover something that no one has ever seen before, but if I do stumble across a manuscript that had either been misplaced or forgotten, and somehow advances our understanding of my field in new ways, I would probably consider it a “discovery.”

Over at The Atlantic a couple of archivists are debating the meaning of the term “discovery.”  A lot of it seems to be semantics, but it is still an interesting debate.

Suzanne Fischer of The Henry Ford says that if you “discover” something in an archive it is not a “discovery.”   Helena Iles Papaioannou of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln argues that it is a “discovery” if you find something in an archive that no one knew was there.

This debate arose in the context of Papaioannou’s find of a Surgeon General’s report on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

So what does count as a “discovery?”

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