Archives in Fiction: The Case of the Missing Museum Archives
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
While the overall goal of POP Archives is to showcase how archives and archivists are depicted in pop culture, one can't talk about that depiction without addressing the extremely white elephant in the room. The more items added to my master list, the more I've noticed an extreme lack of people of color represented. This may, hopefully, change as I add more to the list and the website, but it's definitely the norm thus far and that needs to change.
So, I was delighted to come across this book via Amazon while searching for fiction or non-fiction that might address archives and/or archivists. Written by Steve Brezenoff and illustrated by Lisa K. Weber, the Museum Mysteries is a series of children's books set among the museums of Washington, DC following the adventures of the Capital City Sleuths comprised of Amal Farah (age 11), Raining Sam (age 12), Wilson Kipper (age 10), and Clementine Wim (age 13). The four friends are the children of curators, assistants, and archivists so they're primed and ready to solve any mystery that happens to occur within a museum environment.
In The Case of the Missing Museum Archives, the mystery in question is the stolen plans for the Bat-Wing, the first stealth plane developed by the Germans during WWII. Amal's father, Dr. Ahmed Farah, the Air and Space Museum's Assistant Archivist is accused of stealing the plans and it's up to Amal and the Capital City Sleuths to discover who really stole the plans and save her father from getting fired.
The story itself is a straight forward Scooby-Doo type mystery. Actually, it's more like A Pup Named Scooby-Doo since the sleuths have their own Red Herring in a snooty girl named Ruthie Rothchild. Still, it's a standard mystery to be solved, first accusations and suspicions, second suspicion, new evidence and resolution. Peppered throughout the book, however, are factoids about museum exhibits and history while the story provides ample teaching moments regarding inclusion and morally ambiguous behavior. The book even includes discussion questions and writing prompts for young readers to consider.
Where the archives and archivists are concerned, the book is a bit thin showing anything behind the scenes. We only meet Amal's father and his boss, Dr. Heinfield. Unfortunately, she isn't the most pleasant of head archivists and, if you follow where I'm going with this, it isn't long before we find out how unpleasant she really is. It's not an uncommon trope to find in fiction so holding the Museum Mysteries to a higher standard might be asking too much. After all, the book is for children...and me apparently. What's important, though, is there are archivists, a woman and a man of color, of varying morality and a group of children armed with curiosity and an extraordinary amount of historical knowledge. What more could you ask for?