Boston.com recently created a slideshow on 21 famous Cantabrigians, along with a section where readers can vote on their favorite Cambridge celebrity. It is always tricky to assign a town or a city to a celebrity, and some of Boston.com’s picks work and some don’t.
It’s safe to call Henry Wadsworth Longfellow a famous Cantabrigian, even though he was born in Portland, Maine. The Affleck brothers (Ben and Casey) and Matt Damon grew up in Cambridge and went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin. They are famous and technically from Cambridge. Would they call themselves Cantabrigians? What about Julia Child? She wasn’t born here nor did she retire here but she lived here for 40 years and filmed her famous cooking shows in her TV-ready kitchen in Cambridge. Is she a Cantabrigian? And what about John Malkovich? Does residency make you a Cantabrigian – famous or not? More importantly how is a Cantabrigian defined?
In an indirect way, Boston.com’s slideshow gets to the heart of a very important aspect of an archivist’s work: defining the parameters of a collection and prioritizing what should be collected. Since the Cambridge Room collects the history of Cambridge, the definition of a Cantabrigian (famous or not) is very important. Our collection has materials – albeit reference materials – on Longfellow, the Affleck brothers, and Child but not on Malkovich. (But if Malkovich was more involved in the Cambridge community all that could change. Can you imagine Malkovich running for Cambridge City Council?)
Think for a moment if the Cambridge Room collected information on every “famous” person who lived in Cambridge at one point in their lives? The Harvard professors alone would require an entire library to house their papers. Archivists can’t collect everything – it wouldn’t be possible – besides famous Cantabrigians are only a small piece of the vastness that is the history of Cambridge.