How ‘Now and Then’ Inspired My Love for Archival Research

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Roberta, Sam, Teeny, and Chrissy sit together outside of the library in ‘Now and Then’ (Image Credit: New Line Cinema)

Now and Then is more than just a well-written, nostalgia-driven Bildungsroman backed by an incredible soundtrack. It’s also one of a handful of popular 90s films that centers the narratives of curious, outspoken, and rebellious girls in search of adventure and belonging.

When I wasn’t dreaming about becoming a writer with Vada Sultenfuss or learning how to be a better private investigator with Harriet the Spy, I was scream-singing “knock down the old, gray wall” with Roberta, Sam, Teeny, and Chrissy while planning my next trip to the library.

I could go on, for endless hours, about the many things I love about Now and Then but one thing about the film I’m forever thankful for is its portrayal of archival research. The first instance being the one where they go to the library to find out information about the death of 12-year-old “Dear Johnny”.

When their efforts amount to nothing but more confusion and curiosity, they plan an epic bike trip to another library outside of town. After the iconic skinny-dipping Wormers scene, the girls make it to the library and have an emotional moment during which the girls are forced to contemplate death, the loss of childhood innocence, and family secrets.

Deep, emotionally-impactful story lines aside, the scenes of the girls doing research and exploring the archives taught me about different ways to find information. Those were the days before Google and Reddit. I couldn’t even Ask Jeeves, let alone Siri or Alexa, yet. I was a 90s kid who loved to read and spent hours getting intimately aquatinted with my Grolier New Book of Knowledge encyclopedia set, my main source of information when I wasn’t at the library.

Now and Then opened my mind to a whole new world of primary source materials I never knew existed. I knew libraries had endless rows of countless books but I didn’t realize all that they had to offer until the girls’ trip to the Greenfield Library to find copies of old newspapers.

I also learned about the important of using librarians as a resource and guide while researching. I didn’t use the language of “research” and “archives” as a kid whose age wasn’t even in the double digits yet but my experiences in libraries were certainly precursors to my work now as a writer, philosopher, and budding investigative journalist.

Roberta, Sam, Teeny, and Chrissy were truth-seekers on a mission to find answers to questions they had about the world around them. And since they couldn’t always count on their parents and peers to be honest and transparent with them about their concerns, they took the initiative to find some answers on their own. When they didn’t turn to Cosmopolitan, psychics, or spirits in cemeteries, they turned to archival research.

Of all the reasons I love Now and Then, their experiences as young philosophers and traveling archivists remain one of the biggest sources of inspiration in my life. Followed, of course, by Crazy Pete.

Written by

NYC-based philosophy graduate student whose work covers Genocide Studies, Repro + Enviro Justice, and Critical Race Theory. @moontwerk

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