This essay argues that archival paradigms over the past 150 years have gone through four phases: from juridical legacy to cultural memory to societal engagement to community archiving. The archivist has been transformed, accordingly, from passive curator to active appraiser to societal mediator to community facilitator. The focus of archival thinking has moved from evidence to memory to identity and community, as the broader intellectual currents have changed from pre-modern to modern to postmodern to contemporary. Community archiving and digital realities offer possibilities for healing these disruptive and sometimes conflicting discourses within our profession.
This contribution examines the social, material, and epistemic practices of historians and their counterparts engaged in the textual and visual reproduction of historical sources in nineteenth-century Austria and Switzerland. The Schweizerische Urkundenregister (1863–1877), a Swiss register of medieval charters, and the Monumenta graphica medii aevi (1859–1883), an Austrian collection of photographic facsimiles of medieval sources, were both intended to make historical sources accessible outside the archives in the framework of national history. The article analyzes institutional collaborations and the social interactions among the actors involved and follows the trajectories of the mobilized archival objects. These projects for national source publications appear as a negotiated social practice, in which archival objects were dislocated conceptually as well as materially in order to be stabilized and reified again in new infrastructures of research. The conflicts surrounding the projects reveal disputes about authority over the archival records, their significance, and the techniques required to represent them properly, and show how the emergence of scholarly source publications accompanied a conscious erasure of older contexts of meaning.
The 2016 US Presidential elections may have presented the most prominent illustration of email and recordkeeping in public perception, but they offer only the most recent and public story of emails as records. This article offers an overview of the development of email as a government record in the USA, as well as the evolving archival perspectives on email and political accountability. Archivists have been contending with email for over 30 years, and from its earliest days in the US political usage, email has presented a complex array of recordkeeping and archival challenges, and we trace the changing archival perspectives and regulatory situations around email as a record in the USA over the past three decades. In this investigation, we explore questions about how and why officials create or destroy email, how email records are appraised, and whether or not preserved emails can be meaningfully accessed. In light of these questions, we argue that the archival tenet of accountability is tenuous at best in the face of the changing technological and political challenges presented by email as a record.
This article discusses issues around the display and use of historical language now considered offensive. Taking as a starting point the non-neutrality of archives, archival systems and documentation, it considers the role of archivists in upholding and reproducing dominant power structures through archival description. It also examines the implications of the uncritical reproduction of historical language in archival description, catalogues and finding aids. It considers the balancing act between reproducing this language and potentially causing offence and distress, and not providing full and accurate information if it is not displayed. While much has been written previously about these issues, there are fewer links to practical actions which may be taken to mitigate these issues. Therefore, a case study is presented using the Language Policy developed by the Find & Connect web resource in Australia, to consider how archives and archivists can be more transparent in their archival description practices. It discusses the development and content of the policy, implications for work on the web resource, and public reception to the policy.
The UK’s history of colonialism has resulted in an archival record that includes evidence of ethnically diverse populations and examples of racialised oppression. Government records created within this legacy present people of colour through a colonial lens, often adopting racist language. Taking inspiration from Australian and North American protocols for the culturally sensitive management of archives documenting indigenous communities and considering the effectiveness of existing common descriptive practice in the UK, some initial recommendations for appropriate descriptive practice are made. These are offered in a tiered format of ‘good, better, best’ practice, responsive to widespread resource constraints in the UK public archive sector. It is hoped that considering the practicable steps that can be taken to decolonise archival descriptive practices can contribute towards broader transformations in the sector. Please note that this article contains terms that may upset or offend readers; these have been included only where necessary for illustrative purposes and are denoted with inverted commas.
In the opening keynote speech at the Eighth International Conference on the History of Records and Archives (I-CHORA 8) in Melbourne, Australia, the author provided an overview of archival displacement as an historical phenomenon, before concentrating on postcolonial cases and arguing for a fuller global history of the displacement of archives during decolonisation. The talk concluded with some thoughts on future directions for research on displaced archives. Understanding the term “displaced archives” to refer to any records that have been removed from the context of their creation and whose ownership is disputed, this short article elaborates further upon a potential research agenda for displaced archives, which remains an under-researched area in archival studies.
The Khmer Rouge archives that are now held by the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh are not the same archives as the ones that were built up during the Khmer Rouge regime. The largest archive, the archive of the Tuol Sleng incarceration centre, comprises records that were found in several places and brought together in one archive. In the upheaval of the first months following the breakdown of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, many records were lost, stolen, misappropriated or destroyed. During the 1980s, the remaining records were kept in poor conditions and remained uncatalogued. Some records known to have been in the archive in 1979 later disappeared, and some records were later added to the archive. By retracing the history of the Tuol Sleng Archive and looking through a Records Continuum lens at the archival processes that were applied when the archive was appropriated by the successor government and reconstructed into an archive that supported their political aims, this paper uncovers some problems that have affected the way the records were managed, which have serious implications for the reuse of the records as instruments of evidence, accountability and memory. The author argues that the work that was done on the archive by foreign organisations amounted to a neo-colonial exploitation of the archive. She concludes that there is a clear need to rethink the way the records are accessed and used and she advocates for an archival system based on Cambodian values and ethics that takes into account the rights of the subjects of the records and of their communities.
The records in the collection of National Archives of Australia (NAA) relating to child endowment payments demonstrate how the status and significance of records are transformed by changing social and political climates. These records provide an example of the processes at play when records enter the pluralised, fourth dimension of the Records Continuum, and take on new value and meaning for different communities. This article argues that advocacy by the people whose lives are documented in records plays a crucial role in the transformation of the meaning and purposes of records, and has been an impetus for change in archival processes and practices in Australia. In this case, Care Leavers have harnessed the history of the Commonwealth paying child endowment to children’s institutions around Australia to argue successfully that the Australian government undeniably facilitated the institutional child welfare system and thus has a moral duty to help remedy the wrongs inflicted on so many in these institutions. The author argues that NAA has greatly improved the accessibility of its child endowment records, but radical transformation is required for these records to be truly reclaimed by Care Leavers.
In this paper, we challenge the traditional collecting archive model, which disembeds records from their living contexts and preserves them for future access in custodial, institutional settings, characterizing it as a continuing colonization of knowledge structures for Indigenous Australians. Referencing the warrant provided by the findings of the Australian Research Council-funded Trust and Technology research project, we imagine new forms of Archive that reconnect with existing and ancient Indigenous forms back through time, “somewhere beyond custody.” We discuss the Monash Country Lines Archive Program in partnership with Indigenous Australian communities as an exemplar of a decolonized, participatory Archive. We imagine how future research partnerships might conceptualize and model a creative technology-enabled, participatory Archive—a Living Archive of People and Place to contribute to healing and wellbeing. It would aim to embed or re-embed dispersed archival records in Country and reconnect them with the tangible and intangible records of place and people that continue to exist there. Finally, we discuss reconciling research methodologies and methods that would support the realization of our imaginings.
The figure of the handmaiden seems particularly resonant today, in part due to the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Activated simultaneously as a symbol of passivity and resistance, the handmaiden occupies a contradictory position within our present milieu. In the archival discipline, the metaphor of archivists as “handmaidens of history” emerged out of nineteenth-century characterizations of archival neutrality and persisted up until the 1980s. In contemporary practice, archivists are no longer considered passive stewards; rather, their work is understood to be inherently political and interventionist, and however, despite this critical paradigm shift, archival work is routinely feminized. Drawing from the feminist practice of “doing speculatively”, I suggest that the metaphor of “the handmaiden” is an interesting point of entry for exploring how archival work, once considered mechanical, servile and invisible, has become powerful and disruptive, offering opportunities for political intervention and social change. This article positions the handmaiden as a discursive tool for telling stories about our profession and the many bodies—feminized and otherwise—who have built and continue to influence our field.
The figure of the handmaiden seems particularly resonant today, in part due to the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Activated simultaneously as a symbol of passivity and resistance, the handmaiden occupies a contradictory position within our present milieu. In the archival discipline, the metaphor of archivists as "handmaidens of history" emerged out of nineteenth-century characterizations of archival neutrality and persisted up until the 1980s. In contemporary practice, archivists are no longer considered passive stewards rather, their work is understood to be inherently political and interventionist, and however, despite this critical paradigm shift, archival work is routinely feminized. Drawing from the feminist practice of "doing speculatively", I suggest that the metaphor of "the handmaiden" is an interesting point of entry for exploring how archival work, once considered mechanical, servile and invisible, has become powerful and disruptive, offering opportunities for political intervention and social change. This article positions the handmaiden as a discursive tool for telling stories about our profession and the many bodiesfeminized and otherwisewho have built and continue to influence our field.