Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Craig Robertson’s The Passport in America: The History of a Document (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) is one of the most detailed histories of a documentary form I have ever read. He considers each specific aspect of the passport – how the name appears, the signature, the use of photographs, the bureaucracy supporting it – up until it becomes officially accepted in the 1920s. Robertson is not trying to write an archival history, instead trying, with success, to understand how the state emerges with authority for the control of personal identification. It is a rich and engaging history, one that is particularly relevant today with raised concerns over identity with the fears about terrorist attacks and government intrusions into privacy.

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