Laura E. Helton is an Assistant Professor of English and History at the University of Delaware, where she teaches African American print culture, archival studies, and public humanities. She is currently working on her book, Collecting and Collectivity: Black Archival Publics, 1910–1950, which traces the making of African American archives and libraries to show how historical recuperation shaped forms of racial imagination in the early twentieth century.
Laura E. Helton
A recurring dispute on Twitter in recent years revolves around claims of archival discovery. Announcements of scholars finding documents “lost in the archive” inevitably provoke exasperated reminders, often from archivists, that such documents had already been found—and perhaps even cataloged. But when Jean-Christophe Cloutier came upon Claude McKay’s last novel, Amiable with Big Teeth, few could dispute that discovery was the correct term. As a graduate student intern at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2009, Cloutier was processing the papers of literary agent and “all-around schemer” Samuel Roth when he encountered the lone copy of McKay’s unpublished manuscript, the existence of which surprised scholars and archivists alike (286).