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Archivists and historiansusually consider archives as repositories ofhistorical sources and the archivist as aneutral custodian. Sociologists andanthropologists see ``the archive'' also as asystem of collecting, categorizing, andexploiting memories. Archivists are hesitantlyacknowledging their role in shaping memories. Iadvocate that archival fonds, archivaldocuments, archival institutions, and archivalsystems contain tacit narratives which must bedeconstructed in order to understand themeanings of archives. Peer Reviewed
Archival Science 1: 131–141, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. 131
Tacit Narratives: The Meanings of Archives
University of Leiden and University of Amsterdam; The Netherlands Visiting Professor
2000-2001, University of Michigan (School of Information); Oude Turfmarkt 141, 1012 GC
Amsterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:
Abstract. Archivists and historians usually consider archives as repositories of historical
sources and the archivist as a neutral custodian. Sociologists and anthropologists see “the
archive” also as a system of collecting, categorizing, and exploiting memories. Archivists
are hesitantly acknowledging their role in shaping memories. I advocate that archival fonds,
archival documents, archival institutions, and archival systems contain tacit narratives which
must be deconstructed in order to understand the meanings of archives.
Keywords: archival science, mediation, narratives, postmodernism, social memory
New Possibilities
A critical approach is at the heart of archival endeavor. Its even postmodern:
did not the father of postmodernism, Lyotard, equate postmodernism with
incredulity in meta-narratives, in grand schemes? We could also say with
Anthony Giddens: tradition no longer works and cannot be cited as the
rationale for our actions. Giddens’ post-traditional social order is not one in
which traditions disappear – far from it. Traditions become open to interroga-
tion and discourse. Such a post-traditional society is a global society, where
traditions are brought into contact with one another and forced to ‘declare
This critical questioning of tradition opens up a world of possibilities.
As Pat Oddy from the British Library remarked “The postmodern library
is a library where securities have been lost, but where freedoms have been
Revision of a paper presented, on the invitation of the Master’s Programme in
Archival Studies, Department of History, University of Manitoba, in the History Department
Colloquium series of the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 20 February, 2001. Some of the
arguments were used earlier in two papers I presented in the seminar “Archives, Documenta-
tion and the Institutions of Social Memory”, organized by the Bentley Historical Library and
the International Institute of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 14 February, 2001.
1Anthony Giddens, Beyond Left and Right. The Future of Radical Politics (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1994).
gained.”2The same applies to the postmodern archive. We might, however,
already speak of post-modernism in the past sense – for some that may come
as a relief. But anyway postmodernism “has not so much been the relativizing
of truth (to the point even of making it irrelevant) but rather the multiplication
of perspective,” as one of my Amsterdam colleagues Niek van Sas remarked.3
Archival researchers and archivists are exploring a multiplication of
perspectives. They are learning (or relearning) from anthropologists, sociolo-
gists, philosophers, cultural and literary theorists: to look up from the record
and through the record, looking beyond – and questioning – its boundaries, in
new perspectives seeing with the archive (to use Tom Nesmith’s magnificent
expression4), trying to read its tacit narratives of power and knowledge.5
Archivization and Archivalization
But where to look? According to Jacques Derrida’s earlier reading of Freud,
the physical archive outside is merely an impression of the invisible private
psyche.6Both are traces, one internal, the other external. But more recently
Derrida has argued that archivization (the English translation of archiva-
tion) is consigning, inscribing a trace in some external location, some space
outside: “It belongs to the concept of the archive that it be public, precisely
because it is located. You cannot keep an archive inside yourself – this is not
The archive has different phases. Archiving in the customary sense
(Webster’s: “to file or collect as records or documents in or as if in archive”) is
mostly understood to be the activity that follows upon the creation of a docu-
ment. Archival theory, however, carries archiving one phase forward: at the
front end of a recordkeeping system documents are captured, that is accepted
2Pat Oddy, “Who dares, wins: libraries and catalogues for a postmodern world”, Library
Review 16 (1997) 309.
3Niek van Sas, “Towards a New National History: Lieux de m´
emoire and Other Theaters
of Memory”, in: Joep Leerssen and Ann Rigney (eds.), Historians and Social Values
(Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000) 172.
4Tom Nesmith, Seeing with Archives: The Changing Intellectual Place of Archives. Paper
presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Canadian Archivists, Ottawa, 6 June,
5Terry Cook, “Archival science and postmodernism: new formulations for old concepts”,
Archival Science 1 (2001) 3–24.
6Brien Brothman, [Review of] “Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever”, Archivaria 43 (1996)
7Forthcoming in: Refiguring the Archive (Cape Town: David Philip Publishers, 2001). I
thank the editors for having shared with me the impressive papers presented at a seminar
organized by the University of the Witwatersrand (1998), to be published in this volume.
by the system.Archivization8extends beyond capture, it includes the creative
phase before capture. Before archivization, however, is another ‘moment
of truth’.9It is archivalization, a neologism which I invented, meaning the
conscious or unconscious choice (determined by social and cultural factors)
to consider something worth archiving.10 Archivalization precedes archiving.
The searchlight of archivalization has to sweep the world for something to
light up in the archival sense, before we proceed to register, to record, to
inscribe it, in short before we archive it. “What the searchlight makes visible,”
Karl Popper wrote
will depend upon its position, upon our way of directing it, and upon its
intensity, colour, etc.; although it will, of course, also depend very largely
upon the things illuminated by it.11
By differentiating archivalization from the subsequent inscription or archi-
vization, which is then followed by capture and archiving, we gain a better
comprehension of the tacit narratives of the archive.
Constituting the Event
The archive reflects realities as perceived by the ‘archivers’. As James Scott
argues in Seeing Like a State – in fact summarizing his book
builders of the modern nation-state do not merely describe, observe, and
map; they strive to shape a people and landscape that will fit their tech-
niques ofobservation...therearevirtually no other facts for the state than
those that are contained in documents.12
8The term archivation was first used in the nineties by the French philosopher Bernard
Stiegler: Marie-Anne Chabin, Je pense donc j’archive (Paris and Montr´
eal: L’Harmattan,
1999) 66. French archivists, however, used the term as equivalent to archiv´
economie or
archivage: Bruno Delmas, “Archival science facing the information society”, Archival Science
1 (2001) 28. As Paul Ricœur uses the term archivation, it is writing down the oral testimony
and then setting aside, assembling, and collecting these traces: Paul Ricœur, La m´emoire,
l’histoire, l’oubli (Paris: ´
Editions du Seuil, 2000) 209, 211.
9Steve Stuckey, “Record creating events: commentary”, Archives and Museum Informatics
11 (1997) 270.
10 Eric Ketelaar, “Archivalization and Archiving”, Archives and Manuscripts 27 (1999)
54–61; Eric Ketelaar, “Archivistics Research Saving the Profession”, American Archivist 63
(2000) 328–329.
11 Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, 2 (Princeton University Press,
Princeton 19715) 260.
12 James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State. How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human
Condition Have Failed (Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1998) 82–83.
This social reification13 is not the monopoly of the state. It is a consequence
of the panoptic sort, the name given by Oscar Gandy to the system of discip-
linary surveillance by government and in the private sector, using a complex
of technologies involving the collection, processing, and sharing of inform-
ation about citizens, employees, and consumers – information which is used
to coordinate and control their access to the goods and services in daily
life.14 Collecting information constitutes individuals, Mark Poster writes,
reinforcing Michel Foucault’s argument on the ‘power of writing’.15 Such
reification can be linked to Derrida’s argument that archives not merely serve
to preserve an archivable content of the past. No, life itself and its relation to
the future are determined by the technique of archiving. “The archivization
produces as much as it records the event.”16
A photograph is not just a recording: it constitutes the event. Think of the
photographs of the flag raising at Iwo Jima (by Joe Rosenthal, 23 February
1945) and on the Berlin Reichstag (by Yevgeni Khaldei, 2 May 1945).17 But
think also of the photo you take of your family: it makes a record of that little
group, but it also occasions it. The reality we record and the way in which we
record, are induced by socio-cultural factors. Each influences the other.
Technology Changes the Archivable
Derrida is right in assuming that “the mutation in technology changes not
simply the archiving process, but what is archivable – that is, the content of
13 Alain Desrosi`
eres, “How to make things which hold together: social science, statistics
and the state”, in: P. Wagner, B. Wittrock and R. Whitley (eds.), Discourses on Society:
The Shaping of the Social Sciences Disciplines, Sociology of Sciences Yearbook 15 (Kluwer,
Dordrecht 1990) 208.
14 Oscar H. Gandy, The Panoptic Sort. A Political Economy of Personal Information (West-
view Press, Boulder, San Francisco and Oxford 1993) 1, 15. See also Oscar H. Gandy,
“Coming to terms with the Panoptic Sort”, in: David Lyon and Elia Zureik (eds.), Computers,
Surveillance, and Privacy (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London 1996)
15 Mark Poster, The Mode of Information: Poststructuralism and Social Context (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1990) 96; Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish. The Birth
of the Prison (New York: Pantheon, 1977) 189–190. See also Mark Poster, “Databases as
Discourse, or Electronic Interpellations”, in: Lyon and Zureik, Computers, Surveillance, and
Privacy (as endnote 14) 185.
16 Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever (University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1996)
17 James Bradley and Ron Powers, Flags of Our Fathers (New York: Bantam Books, 2000);
Mark Sensen, “Flag on the Qaldei-photo”,
html#photo (consulted 4 June, 2001).
what has to be archived is changed by the technology.18 The discursive style
of an email is quite different from that of a pen-written letter. But the content
is different too, if only because the time lag between sender and receiver has
been reduced to seconds, instead of the days, weeks, or even months in the
past.19 That reduction is a form of what Anthony Giddens calls distanciation
(of time and space) involving modes of power and control: the knowledge that
an email may immediately influence a situation influences the power relations
in decision-making and accountability, differing widely from the way it used
to be when the sender – in Batavia for example – knew that an answer from
The Netherlands could take several months.20
The technologies of records creation, maintenance and use color the
contents of the record, and also affect its form and structure. This is true
even for the seemingly innocent technologies of filing and storage, as Richard
Brown and Tom Nesmith, among others, have made clear.21 Recordkeepers
are, according to Brian Brothman, “creating value, that is, an order of value,
by putting things in their proper place, by making place(s) for them.”22
Numerous tacit narratives are hidden in categorization, codification and
labeling.23 In the colonial archives of the Netherlands Indies the anthropolo-
gist Ann Stoler found information about children in reports – classified secret
– about the political situation in the Netherlands Indies, because they were
framed in a social vision about the danger of contact between white children
and ayas. Bill Russell gave another example in his study of the recordkeeping
in the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs.24 Both the records creating
18 Derrida, Refiguring the Archive (as endnote 7); Derrida, Archive Fever (as endnote 16)
19 Richard R. John, “Recasting the Information Infrastructure for the Industrial Age”, in:
Alfred D. Chandler and James W. Cortada (eds.), A Nation Transformed by Information. How
Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present (Oxford and
New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) 55–105; Anthony Giddens, The Nation-State and
Violence. Volume Two of A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 1985) 174–178.
20 On ‘distanciation’ whereby society is stretched over a shorter span of time and space:
Anthony Giddens, A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism. Second edition
(Houndmills and London: Macmillan Press, 1995) 90–108.
21 Ann L. Stoler, Colonial Cultures and the Archival Turn. Paper presented at a conference
on archives and social memory, St. Petersburg, 27–29 May 1998. See also Richard Brown,
“Records acquisition strategy and its theoretical foundation: the case for a concept of archival
hermeneutics”, Archivaria 33 (1991/1992) 50; Nesmith, Seeing with archives (as endnote 4).
22 Brien Brothman, “Orders of Values: Probing the Theoretical Terms of Archival Practice”,
Archivaria 32 (1991) 82.
23 Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, Sorting Things Out. Classification and Its
Consequences (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1999).
24 Bill Russell, “The White Man’s paper burden: aspects of records keeping in the
Department of Indian Affairs, 1860–1914”, Archivaria 19 (1984/1985) 72.
civil servants and the subsequent colonial records managers or archivists were
shaping contents and contexts of the record.
Remembering and Forgetting
Archiving also entails selecting what should and what should not be kept. The
memory of man and of society cannot retain all: they both can only remember
some things, by forgetting a lot. A small sliver of all records becomes
archives. They are brought into what the Australian records continuum model
calls the dimension of ‘pluralizing’: the records are crossing the functional
boundaries of the organization and of the self, in order to provide collective
memory.25 The boundary keeper is the archivist. He or she decides what is to
cross the boundary and what not. By putting some records, as Tom Nesmith
has remarked,26 on a pedestal, we alter their context and meaning, we infuse
new meaning into the record, to what is left of the series and the fonds, we
add new narratives to the archive and its constituent parts.
Cultural and Social Contexts
Archiving is a ‘regime of practices’ which varies in any given time and in any
given place.27 People create, process, appraise and use archives, influenced
consciously or unconsciously by cultural and social factors. What applies to
recordkeeping in organizations, applies to the archives as a social institution
of a nation too.28 Social, cultural, political, economic and religious contexts
25 Sue McKemmish, “Yesterday, today and tomorrow: a continuum of responsibility”, in:
Proceedings of the Records Management Association of Australia 14th National Convention,
15–17 Sept. 1997 (Perth: RMAA, 1997), reprinted in: Peter J. Horsman – Frederick C.J.
Ketelaar – Theo H.P.M. Thomassen (ed.), Naar een nieuw paradigma in de archivistiek. Jaar-
boek 1999 Stichting Archiefpublicaties (’s-Gravenhage: Stichting Archiefpublicaties, 1999)
203, available on
26 Tom Nesmith, What is a Postmodern Archivist? Paper presented at the annual meeting of
the Association of Canadian Archivists, Halifax, May 1998.
27 “Practices being understood here as places where what is said and what is done, rules
imposed and reasons given, the planned and the taken for granted meet and interconnect,”
according to Michel Foucault, “Government Rationality: An Introduction” [original French
version published in Esprit 371 (May 1968) 850–874], in: Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon
and Peter Miller, The Foucault Effect. Studies in Governmentality (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1991) 75.
28 Eric Ketelaar, “The difference best postponed ? Cultures and comparative archival
science”, Archivaria 44 (1997) 142–148, reprinted in: Peter J. Horsman – Frederick C.J.
Ketelaar – Theo H.P.M. Thomassen (ed.), Naar een nieuw paradigma in de archivistiek.
Jaarboek 1999 Stichting Archiefpublicaties (’s-Gravenhage: Stichting Archiefpublicaties,
determine the tacit narratives of an archive. One should make these contexts
transparent, may be even visible, as one tries in a museum to re-enact the
context in which the artifact was made.29
Semantic Genealogy
Contexts not only of records creation. Recontextualisation (the term is used
by Michael Ames and other museologists and anthropologists30 ) takes place
at every stage of a record’s life and in every dimension of the records
continuum,31 adding values to (or substracting values from) the record as
a semiophore, to use Krzysztof Pomian’s term for museum artefacts.32 Like
the objects in a museum, records derive their significance from the different
‘invisibles’ they construct and from the ways in which they mediate these to
the spectators or users.
Every interaction, intervention, interrogation, and interpretation by
creator, user, and archivist is an activitation of the record. The archive is an
infinite activation of the record. Each activation leaves fingerprints which are
attributes to the archive’s infinite meaning. As David Bearman writes
When we accession, transfer, arrange, weed, document and inventory
archival materials, we change their character as well as enhance their
evidential and informational value. The facts of processing, exhibiting,
1999) 21–27, available on; Eric Ketelaar,
“De culturele context van archieven”, in: Peter J. Horsman Frederick C.J. Ketelaar –
Theo H.P.M. Thomassen (eds.), Context. Interpretatiekaders in de archivistiek. Jaarboek
2000 Stichting Archiefpublicaties (’s-Gravenhage: Stichting Archiefpublicaties, 2000) 83–
91 (a French version, pending publication in La Gazette des Archives is available on’Ethnologiearchivistique.doc).
29 Frederick C.J. Ketelaar, Archivalisering en archivering (Samsom, Alphen aan den Rijn
1998) 14), following Hugh Taylor, “ ‘Heritage revisited’: documents as artifacts in the context
of museums and material culture”, Archivaria 40 (1995) 8–20.
30 Michael M. Ames, Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes. The Anthropology of Museums
(Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1992) 46, 141–143.
31 Ketelaar, Archivalisering en archivering (as endnote 29) 14; Theresa Rowat, “The record
and repository as a cultural form of expression”, Archivaria 36 (1993) 198–204. On the
comparable recontextualisation of museum objects see Ames, Cannibal Tours (as endnote 30)
46, 141–143; Jan van der Dussen, De musealisering van onze cultuur. De tijd in perspectief
(Venlo: Limburgs Museum, 1995) 21; Jan Vaessen, “Over context”, Jaarboek 1996 Neder-
lands Openluchtmuseum (Nijmegen and Arnhem: SUN/Nederlands Openluchtmuseum, 1996)
32 Krzysztof Pomian, Collectors and curiosities. Paris and Venice, 1500–1800 (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 1990).
citing, publishing and otherwise managing records becomes significant
for their meaning as records, which is not true of library materials.33
No longer can we regard the record as an artefact with fixed boundaries
of contents and contexts. In a posttraditional view – reinforced by the
challenges of the electronic records – the record is a “mediated and ever-
changing construction,” as Terry Cook writes.34 It is open yet enclosed, it
is ‘membranic’, the membrane allowing the infusing and exhaling of values
which are embedded in each and every activation.
Derrida writes that every interpretation of the archive is an enrichment, an
extension of the archive. That is why the archive is never closed. It opens
out of the future.35 The archive, in Derrida’s thinking, is not just a shel-
tering of the past: it is an anticipation of the future.36 Every activitation of
the archive not only adds a branch to what I propose to call the semantic
genealogy of the record and the archive. Every activation also changes the
significance of earlier activations. It is an application of Freud’s retrospective
causality. Let me give an example. The records created and used by German
and Dutch agencies during the Second World War to account for the looting of
jewish assets, were continued to be used, after the war, by German and Dutch
agencies in the processes of restitution and reparation. The same record was
activated again and again for different purposes, as it is today activated in the
search for looted and lost works of art and other Holocaust assets.37 Current
use of these records affects retrospectively all earlier meanings, or to put it
differently: we can no longer read the record as our predecessors have read
that record.
The archival document is not a simple artifact, a zip-file that opens with
one stroke on the keyboard. The document does not open itself nor speaks for
itself, but only by inference from its semantic genealogy.38 It does not speak
for itself neither because it merely echoes what the researcher whispers, it
33 David Bearman, “Documenting Documentation”, Archivaria 34 (Summer 1992) 41,
reprinted in: David Bearman, Electronic Evidence. Strategies for Managing Records in
Contemporary Organizations (Pittsburgh: Archives & Museum Informatics, 1994) 237.
34 Cook, Archival science and postmodernism (as endnote 5) 10.
35 Derrida, Archive Fever (as endnote 16) 68.
36 Derrida, Archive Fever (as endnote 16) 18.
37 Eric Ketelaar, “Understanding Archives of the People, by the People, and for the People”,
in: James D. Bindenagel (ed.), Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets Proceed-
ings (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999) 757–761; Henny van Schie,
“Joodse tegoeden en archieven. Context in de praktijk”, in: Horsman – Ketelaar – Thomassen,
Context (as endnote 28) 257–273.
38 Verne Harris, “Claiming less, delivering more: a critique of positivist formulations on
archives in South Africa”, Archivaria 44 (1997) 136; Verne Harris, Exploring Archives: an
only tells what the researcher wants the document to tell him or her. “Scholars
(including archivists) are not, can never be, exterior to their objects”.39
Reading the Archive
The semantic genealogy of the membranic archive will be seen by some as
a threat to traditional values as authenticity, originality, and uniqueness. But
shouldn’t we stress more the archive’s power: the archive as ‘repository of
meanings’, the multilayered, multifaceted meanings hidden in archivalization
and archiving, which can be deconstructed and reconstructed, then interpreted
and used by scholars, over and over again. We read today other things in the
archive, than the next generation will read, and so on ad infinitum.
The semantic genealogy provides the opportunity for any construction or
deconstruction of what all the people involved in the archives’ creation and
use may have meant in archivalization and archiving. That re- and decon-
struction is not the end of the archive, it is only possible through seeing with
the archive.40 The museologist Eilean Hooper-Greenhill wrote
Meanings are not constant, and the construction of meaning can always
be undertaken again, in new contexts and with new functions. The radical
potential of museums lies in precisely this. As long as museums and
galleries remain the repositories of artefacts and specimens, new relation-
ships can always be built, new meanings can always be discovered, new
interpretations with new relevances can be found, new codes and new
rules can be written.41
The analogous conclusion for records is reached by Carolyn Heald who
The records do exist in fact; they just need to be deconstructed/read,
not through objective lenses, but through subjective ones ...Physical
evidence can tell as much or more about a document and its context as
the informational content itself.42
Introduction to Archival Ideas and Practice in South Africa, second edition (Pretoria: National
Archives of South Africa, 2000) 20.
39 Harris, Exploring Archives (as endnote 38) 96.
40 Nesmith, Seeing with Archives (as endnote 4).
41 Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge (London and New
York: Routledge, 1992) 215.
42 Carolyn Heald, “Is there room for archives in the postmodern world?”, American Arch-
ivist 59 (1996) 101. See also Arjun Appadurai, “Introduction: Commodities and the Politics
Archival intervention has to do with storytelling, as the South-African archiv-
istics scholar Verne Harris compellingly argues.43 At every stage of the
record’s trajectory some ‘archiver’, while activating the record, tells a story.
We have to document these stories.44 In the first place to enhance the account-
ability of all ‘archivers’ for their decisions, as the International Council on
Archives’ Code of Ethics prescribes.45 Beth Kaplan rightly criticizes the lack
of standards requiring archivists to document their decisions, reveal their
methods or explain their assumptions.46 But also to rebuild the path records
follow from creator to archives and, as Laura Millar pleads, to restore the
connection between “the reality of records in the hands of their creators and
those same records in an archival institution.”47 By whom, when, why, how
was the archive created? Where was the archive kept, in the safe or in the
bedroom? Who used the archive in the first, second and nth place when, why,
how? Who did the appraisal, when, why, how? Et cetera. All these stories
constitute the genealogy of the record, more dynamic and more effective
than the traditional provenancial and custodial history. The new concept of
provenance, as recently proposed by Tom Nesmith, “consists of the social
and technical processes of the records’ inscription, transmission, contextu-
of Value,” in: Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural
Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 5.
43 Harris, Exploring Archives (as endnote 38) 86–88.
44 Ames (as endnote 30), Cannibal Tours 141–144; Cook, Archival science and postmod-
ernism (as endnote 5) 24.
45 Available on Paragraph 5: “Archivists should record, and be able to justify,
their actions on archival material.” The commentary to the code includes “Archivists should
keep a permanent record documenting accessions, conservation and all archival work done.
46 Elisabeth Kaplan, Practicing Archives with a Postmodern Perspective. Paper presented
in the seminar “Archives, Documentation and the Institutions of Social Memory”, organized
by the Bentley Historical Library and the International Institute of the University of Michigan,
24 January 2001, 11. See also Thomas J. Ruller, ‘ “Dissimilar appraisal documentation as an
impedimenttoshartingappraisaldata...”,Archival Issues 17 (1992) 65–73. Most discussions
on appraisal are happening behind closed doors: Anne Picot, “Ethical Meltdown: Account-
ability and the Australian Recordkeeping Profession”, Archives and Manuscripts 28 (2000)
47 Laura Millar, Creating a National Information System in a Federal Environment: Some
Thoughts on the Canadian Archival Information Network. Paper presented in the seminar
Archives, Documentation and the Institutions of Social Memory”, organized by the Bentley
Historical Library and the International Institute of the University of Michigan, 24 January
2001, 15.
alization, and interpretation which account for it [the record’s] existence,
characteristics, and continuing history.48
The stories resound, in Verne Harris’ words, the voices of the authors
of the documents, the bureaucrats, the archivists, and the researchers who
all used and managed the files.49 Those voices have to be recorded and
recovered. The peeling back of layers of intervention and interpretation,
Harris writes, is about context. I agree: once we no longer assume that there is
only one reality or meaning or truth, but many, no one better than the other, we
can try to find these multiple meanings by interrogating not only the admin-
istrative context, but also the social, cultural, political, religious contexts of
record creation, maintenance, and use – in other words, by interrogating the
archive’s semantic genealogy.
48 Tom Nesmith, “Still Fuzzy, But More Accurate: Some Thoughts on the ‘Ghosts’ of
Archival Theory”, Archivaria 47 (Spring 1999) 146.
49 Harris, Claiming less (as endnote 38) 136.
... Underscored forthwith have been the requirements of reconfiguring archives as contradictory and contended, disciplinary and open-ended, anxious and emergent undertakings of power and meaning, command and erasure, inscription and rewriting. This means accessing but also exceeding abstract structures of argument concerning the archive as commencement and commandment, private psyche and public access (alongside their spatial vacillations), memory and forgetting, past and future (Derrida 1996; see also, Ketelaar 2001) and of the archive "as first the law of what can be said, the system which governs the appearance of statements as unique events" (Foucault 1972: 129), in order to uncover the discursive rules governing the distinct epistemes of knowledge-formations (Foucault 1970). It equally intimates the importance of thinking through the ways in which archives sanctify and sacrifice, bury and disinter, exorcize and exhume pasts and histories (Hamilton, Verne Harris, Michèle Pickover et al. 2002). ...
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... Yet, those valuable primary sources were not presented as a digital emulation of traditional collections, as is commonly the case with digital archives. Instead of a traditionally cataloged collection of materials from 1917, or a series of decontextualized archival materials used to enforce storytelling from a singular point of view -the tacit narrative, as Ketelaar (2001) calls it -this was an effort to give actuality to the past, enabling today's audience to empathize with people who lived through this historical event. ...
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Digital preservation has significantly expanded over the past few decades, renewing old and creating new challenges related to provenance, integrity, completeness, and context in memory and preservation practices. In this paper we explore how, perhaps counterintuitively, a more extensive digital historical record offers greater opportunities to misrepresent reality. We first review a set of concepts and socio-cultural approaches to memory and preservation. We then focus on the multiplicity of digital memory and preservation practices today, examining their limits, possibilities, and tensions; specifically, we explore the challenges of decontextualized data, personal versus institutional preservation, and “outsider” digital collections that are willingly and/or forcibly excluded from official accounts. Through these discussions, we review examples of what we consider good digital memory and preservation practices that take new approaches to context and collaboration. Lastly, we explore the optimism inherent in seeking to preserve human knowledge over the long term and to make it accessible to all.
... In order to make sense of this textual corpus, modern scholars must consider the process whereby chroniclers filtered their information and determined what details to include in their compositions and what to omit. By the same token, both the static and changing nature of interaction could be elucidated from the texts as a consequence of new or contemporaneous information forced into unchanging structures, while old, replicated, or legacy information was easily identified as such (Ketelaar 2001). The tendency of Chinese texts to combine rigid literary conventions with detailed new information, as well as China's imperial court motivations for creating textual records with such detailed information, have to be borne in mind by modernday historians. ...
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The reversion of the Chinese state, under the early Ming emperors, from private maritime shipping and trade to state-sponsored diplomatic and economic missions into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean littoral under the Admiral Zheng He, has led to the Chinese textual documentation contains substantial information on the Sultanate of Melaka in the fifteenth century. However, this body of information, and the historical narrative of the Sultanate, has been based primarily on the extant records of the imperial Ming voyages, and the official bureaucratic records, such as the Ming shilu and Mingshi . Other texts post-dating the fifteenth century, including such encyclopedias as the Dongxi yangkao , draw their information on Melaka from these texts. The digitization of the Siku quanshu ( Compendium of the Four Treasuries ) commissioned in the late eighteenth century, has opened up the opportunity to discover hitherto unknown historical information, and the develop new paradigms and methodologies for the research of the history of Melaka. Importantly, the various entries of information on Melaka, found in the compendium that date after the fall of the Melaka Sultanate in 1511, provide insight into the lenses and experiences through which archivalisation, and the process in which Chinese officialdom collected information on the port-city, occurred through the course of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. This paper utilizes digital database search processes to elucidate new aspects of the history of Melaka’s trade and economic interactions with East Asia, and how Southeast Asia ports continued to feature in the memory landscape of the Chinese officialdom, long after the ceased to exist in the form of their original polities.
... In professional archival practice, potential records are subjected first to "appraisal": this process involves value assignment (determined on the grounds of contextual research, institutional missions, interpretations) and subsequent selection for inclusion in the archive. 61 Cook 2001;Ketelaar 2001;Cook and Schwartz 2002;Hedstrom 2002;Nesmith 2002;Schwartz and Cook 2002;Jimerson 2006, 21-23;Evans, McKemmish, and Rolan 2017. My thanks to archivist and special collections librarian Genna Duplisea, of McKillop Library at Salve Regina University, for her aid and thoughts regarding archives and archival practice. ...
Ancient Seleucia-on-the-Tigris, located in modern Iraq, was a multiethnic imperial capital city in Mesopotamia. Founded by Seleucus I Nicator in the late fourth century BCE, the city was conquered by the Parthians in 141 BCE and eventually superseded by nearby Ctesiphon. An excavation sponsored by the University of Michigan, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art explored the site over six seasons from 1927 to 1937. Per antiquities laws instituted under British Mandate rule, finds from the excavation were dispersed between those U.S. institutions and the Iraq Museum. This dissertation examines this excavation—and the collection and archive it produced—as a legacy collection. It probes three frames for the Seleucia excavation: the colonial context of British control of Iraq between World Wars I and II; the excavation’s approach to artifacts (consequential for object recovery and documentation); and the history of and discourse around “nonexpert” labor on the excavation in Iraq and on the collection in Detroit. These frames are prerequisites to understanding the excavated corpus—its contours and its limitations—and thus the site, and to advancing a more equitable archaeological practice. Chapter 1 offers a backdrop discussion of legacy collections and archaeological archives, with particular attention to archival practice. A description of extant archival resources offers a window into archival process and a resource for future Seleucia researchers. The context of the British Mandate in Iraq is presented in Chapter 2, which outlines intertwined political and archaeological developments in interwar Iraq. The consequences of British rule on interwar archaeology in Iraq were not limited to antiquities laws: a case study of British Royal Air Force involvement at Seleucia illustrates British colonial facilitation of foreign archaeological practice. The results from the Michigan excavation at Seleucia remain under-published and under-incorporated into knowledge about Seleucid and Parthian Mesopotamia. Partially due to ruptures of 20th century global events, this is also a consequence of excavation practices. Chapter 3 identifies a view of finds as objects—not contextualized artifacts—dually rooted in the project’s initial Biblical goals and its practice of acquiring objects under division for sponsoring institutions. The second half of the dissertation considers “nonexpert” labor as a key aspect of knowledge production about Seleucia. A review of previous scholarship on archaeological labor in the Middle East and Africa (Chapter 4) offers frameworks drawn from history/sociology of science and critical histories of archaeology. These frameworks are applied to Seleucia in Chapters 5 to 7, which examine the (in)visibility of and discourse around Iraqi excavation workers in Seleucia’s publications, archival texts, and archival photographs. Details about excavation roles and individual excavation workers are also offered from archival evidence. This discussion recognizes the decisions of individual workers, made within the excavation’s overall object orientation and recovery strategy, as shaping the extant artifactual corpus. The lens of “nonexpert” labor shifts to the U.S. in Chapter 8, which is focused on a Works Progress Administration project in Detroit, contextualized by other New Deal archaeological projects. Political necessity made the WPA lab workers highly visible, in contrast to the Iraqi workers. These newly presented histories of Iraqi and American contributors to knowledge about Seleucia offer a more robust view into the biography of the Seleucia collections at Michigan, as well as a fuller set of stakeholders.
... Esta fiebre obliga a re-pensar un concepto que hasta hace poco estaba dominado por la perspectiva de los arcontes y sus normas; es además una ocasión para quebrar sus mecanismos de distanciamiento y despolitización, y comprender los archivos, más bien, como "motores de circulación, como actos archivísticos o prácticas que movilizan medios distintos y que son, a su vez, movilizados por estos" (TAYLOR; HIRSCH, 2012), como "esencialmente performativos" (ALTO; MCKEMMISH, 2020, p. 534). Nuestra apuesta interpretativa parte del reconocimiento de que los archivos contienen "narrativas tácitas" que hay que deconstruir para entender sus significados (KETELAAR, 2001); buscamos responder a estas exigencias a partir del enfoque en una serie de "actos de archivo" que consideramos fundamentales en el arte contemporáneo: recoger, revolver, montar, movilizar. ...
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La figura del perpetrador es constitutiva del imaginario colectivo colombiano. Nuestra autocomprensión gira sobre el eje de la guerra semipermanente y se articula por las polaridades de su lógica dramática: ¿Quién es el victimario y quién es la víctima? ¿A quién hay que odiar y a quién hay que compadecer? La videoinstalación “Dar la cara” (2013), de José Alejandro Restrepo, demuestra la potencia crítica del archivo para desmontar las figuras del perpetrador en la cultura colombiana. La obra convierte el archivo en una máquina de pensamiento que desentierra los complejos procesos políticos que inscriben la culpabilidad en ciertos rostros, los estratos culturales que esconden sus representaciones, las tramas de intereses y las temporalidades cruzadas del conflicto. El suyo puede ser considerado un trabajo de arqueología de nuestra memoria cultural, que la desestabiliza identificando la secreta actividad de imágenes aparentemente inocentes y caducas. Palabras clave: perpetradores; archivo; arte contemporáneo colombiano.
... Esta fiebre obliga a re-pensar un concepto que hasta hace poco estaba dominado por la perspectiva de los arcontes y sus normas; es además una ocasión para quebrar sus mecanismos de distanciamiento y despolitización, y comprender los archivos, más bien, como "motores de circulación, como actos archivísticos o prácticas que movilizan medios distintos y que son, a su vez, movilizados por estos" (TAYLOR; HIRSCH, 2012), como "esencialmente performativos" (ALTO; MCKEMMISH, 2020, p. 534). Nuestra apuesta interpretativa parte del reconocimiento de que los archivos contienen "narrativas tácitas" que hay que deconstruir para entender sus significados (KETELAAR, 2001); buscamos responder a estas exigencias a partir del enfoque en una serie de "actos de archivo" que consideramos fundamentales en el arte contemporáneo: recoger, revolver, montar, movilizar. ...
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Reflexiona-se sobre a urgência do arquivo, da memória e do testemunho durante a Pandemia da Covid-19, tanto quanto das narrativas dela derivada. Algumas delas são elaboradas a partir das margens daquilo que logo será o relato oficial. Os relatos das perdas são marcados em artefatos de memória e deverão fazer parte, no futuro, do arquivo de um momento histórico como este que vivemos. Nesses registros estão as vozes daqueles que se negaram a que seus familiares mortos fossem esquecidos, apenas traduzidos em números ou dados. Pergunta-se de que forma essas narrativas das margens oferecem lugar a memórias que disputam o cenário público e político para se opor às narrativas triunfalistas e silenciadoras. Elas resgatam as trajetórias de vidas perdidas para mostrar o tamanho do dano e pôr em evidência o comum diante de tragédias do passado e do presente. Ilustra-se a reflexão a partir da descrição de altares de memória construídos em diferentes países para lembrar as vítimas da COVID-19. Trata-se de oposição ao relato oficial que minimiza as perdas e que resgata as memórias que estão nas margens, as “vidas invisíveis” que foram perdidas.
... Os documentos com valor secundário são acessados por pesquisadores diversos, que os usam para diferentes fins e neles encontram significados e sentidos distintos daqueles para os quais foram produzidos. 12 Mas, ao arbitrar o que deve ser preservado ou não, o arquivista e os demais membros da comissão de avaliação de documentos 13 também atribuem, intencionalmente ou não, significados, narrativas e sentidos a esses registros (KETELAAR, 2001). ...
Conference Paper
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Propriedades dos monarcas, os arquivos eram, até o final do século XVIII, instrumentos, cujo acesso era restrito, subordinado ao sigilo e ao arbítrio dos governantes. A Revolução Francesa (1789) transformou essas instituições em patrimônio nacional cujo acesso tornou-se direito de todo cidadão francês. A abertura dessas instituições, os debates seguidos sobre a organização desses acervos com a definição do princípio da proveniência 1 e a publicação do "Manuel de Arquivistas Holandeses" em 1898 marcaram o surgimento da Arquivologia como área autônoma em relação à História (REIS, 2006). 2 Ao longo do século XIX, os arquivistas assumiram o papel de agentes neutros e passivos, cuja função principal era a preservação dos documentos, sem qualquer influência direta sobre os processos de produção, eliminação e destinação desses à guarda permanente. 3 Os historiadores, sob a influência do Positivismo, passaram a valorizar as fontes documentais textuais como base para a determinação da verdade sobre o passado e a considerar a Arquivologia uma ciência auxiliar da História ao lado da Paleografia e da Diplomática. Posturas essas que contribuíram para o distanciamento entre essas áreas de conhecimento e para que os historiadores, confinados às salas de pesquisas, deixassem de refletir sobre os arquivos e seus acervos, atribuindo, a esses últimos, naturalidade nos processos de acumulação e recolhimento e neutralidade no seu arranjo e descrição. Seguindo trajetórias paralelas, as últimas décadas do século XX impuseram novas perspectivas teóricas e metodológicas à Arquivologia e à História. A abordagem pós-moderna, desenvolvida principalmente pela Arquivologia canadense a partir dos anos de 1980, abriu o debate sobre o papel dos arquivistas, sobre a natureza dos arquivos e dos documentos e sobre sua relação com a memória. Advogando a necessidade de releitura dos princípios da Arquivística, essa corrente negou a postura de neutralidade e colocou em evidência o contexto frente ao texto, as relações de poder, os significados e a necessidade de desnaturalizar tudo que era tomado como natural (COOK, 1991). Na História, a terceira geração dos Analles, na década de 1970, redefiniu a concepção de documento, adotando instrumentos e abordagens teóricas de outras ciências sociais (BOUTIER, 1998).
This article discusses the manner in which Zimbabwe’s faltering economy affects the functioning of the National Archives of Zimbabwe (NAZ). It also looks at the NAZ access regimes, ethical and professional issues, and their ramifications on archivist-researcher relations. It observes that the conflict of interest between the mandate of archivists to preserve and conserve archives and researchers’ need for access to archives at the NAZ occasionally complicates researcher-archivist interaction. This is because, as professionals and government employees, archivists must follow ethical standards and archival regulations governing the preservation, conservation, and access to archives, even if the same access guidelines and archival practices are not always in the best interests of researchers. This article uses the term “archivists” to explicitly refer to the NAZ staff members who assist researchers at the control desk by identifying, retrieving, and acquiring photocopies of required archives/documents, whilst the term “researchers” refers to both academic and non-academic users of the archives. The issues discussed in this article are pertinent to professional archivists as well as local and foreign researchers, both seasoned and junior, who want to do research at the NAZ and other African archives.
This article focuses on the production of archaeological knowledge within the fieldwork archive. Archaeological archives do not always reflect the reality of evidence uncovered during fieldwork processes or even the fieldwork processes themselves. This includes the many different agents and agencies, which are crucial to the construction of archaeological knowledge and their representation—or lack of representation—in the archive. Archaeological archives impose restrictions on how knowledge is included in a collection, the way it is recorded, and the fieldwork processes used. Therefore, this article considers the way in which the processes of archival documentation produce, transform, and construct archaeological knowledge. The main examples are from the British School of Archaeology in Egypt's excavations at Abydos between 1921 and 1922, often referred to as the Tombs of the Courtiers and directed by Flinders Petrie. Looking at the different contexts of an excavation archive, from before its creation to its ongoing curation and use, can reveal significant aspects not just of the history of archaeology but also on many of the ongoing recording methods and processes still used in the field today.
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ABSTRACT This research has analyzed how the institutions of the merit-based bureaucratic system in the Korean Government changed from 1948 to 1963, applying the gradual institutional change theory of Mahoney and Thelen (2010). Though copious research has been produced on Korean economic development, little analysis has been made on the emergence of the Korean developmental state. This research aimed to fill in the analytical gap by examining how effective bureaucratic institutions was established in the Korean developmental state to draw out implications for the institutional change theory as well as the discussion on the developmental sate and state capacity. This research has found that the merit-based bureaucratic institutions of the Korean Government positively changed in a piecemeal approach from 1948 to 1963, though once disturbed from 1955 to 1959. Contrary to the existing literature, this research also has found that the institutional setting for the merit-based bureaucracy was set from the very beginning of the Syngman Rhee Administration; however, the selective implementation and enforcement of the rules in the Syngman Rhee period hindered the Weberian bureaucracy. This research has, therefore, drawn out that for positive institutional change, the role of the change agents is critical especially the vertical chain of reformative leadership and capable practitioners. The low level of opposition is beneficial for not only positive but also negative change. In the end, in the case of Korea, the initially ambiguous institutions provided the actors with considerable discretion to manipulate or misuse rules. As a result of the institutional reform the rules and regulations became detailed reducing the gap between what the rules say and how the rules are implemented. The empirical tests of this research have confirmed the basic assumptions of the gradual institutional change theory of Mahoney and Thelen (2010). Firstly, the empirical results have shown that the institutional change has more to do with a piecemeal internal process than to do with any external shock or event. Secondly, the gap between the existence and the enforcement of an institution has also been proved valid. Thirdly, the empirical tests have confirmed the influence of three change factors producing different types of change in the theory. Based on the empirical findings, this research has identified important implications for the institutional change theory with three key areas for improvement. The first is the validity of the three modes of change in the theory. The test has identified the need to address the different magnitudes of the three factors affecting change. This research has also identified the need to clarify the definition of gradualness and the concept of the change agents to solidify the theory. This research has also enriched the discussion on the developmental state and state capacity by identifying the limitations of the merit-based institution in different contexts. Based on the analysis, this research has drawn out four key lessons for developing countries and for the donors: the importance of the enforcement of rules; the synchronized reform coalition between committed leadership and competent practitioners; the importance of understanding local contexts; and the relationship between dictatorship and development. By analyzing the emergence of the bureaucratic institutions, this research has not only broadened our understanding of development and state capacity but also presented a practical policy solution to overcome the persistent state of incapacity in the developing countries today.
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The archivist has to understand the ways people create and maintain records and archives. This is particularly important as archives and archivists go through a paradigm shift from provenance defined by stable offices and roles to one of dynamic process-bound information. In all stages of records and archives management and archival usage, the socially and culturally defined "software of the mind" plays a role. This new "archivistics" demands that archival education be comparative and multi-disciplinary. Likewise, research in archival science, broadly defined, is a key instrument for experimenting, inventing, changing, and improving professional education.
Three commonplace assumptions tend to be found among those who have advocated evolutionary schemes in the social sciences — whether or not the authors concerned have been influenced by Marx. These can be stated as follows: (1) human societies tend to develop from relatively simple forms of organisation to more complex ones; (2) the sources of major processes of societal change are primarily endogenous in character; and (3) the most fruitful comparisons between different types of society are to be made between those that are ‘close together’ on the presumed evolutionary scale, however such a scale is arranged. I want to place each of these assumptions in question in what I have to say in this and subsequent chapters. Quite apart from their involvement in evolutionary theories which suggest that there is some sort of ‘adaptive logic’ propelling human societies along a path towards increasing complexity, there is good reason to distrust the terms ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ as applied to classifying societies. Many ‘primitive societies’ have very complex modes of kinship organisation, and all possess languages of a structurally differentiated kind. Rather than using the terminology of simple/complex, I wish to introduce the notion of time-space distanciation to analyse some of the phenomena with which evolutionary theorists have been concerned. By ‘distanciation’ here I mean to get at the processes whereby societies are ‘stretched’ over shorter or longer spans of time and space. The generic concern of the theory of structuration is with how social systems ‘bind’ time and space. But it is obvious that societies differ greatly in terms of the extent of time-space ‘stretches’ which they span; and we can ask how this comes about.
JD: Thank you. Well I won’t tell you how pleased I am and honoured to be here with you, and to thank my guests here, and Carolyn Hamilton, to start with. I won’t tell you how pleased I am, because I am not pleased — I am absolutely paralysed by the situation. I am happy to see so many people, but I thought it would be a seminar with questions and improvisation and so on and so forth. And now after these very generous and lucid accounts, and critiques,* I am in a position to go back to the book — and I’ve totally forgotten the book! Almost totally. I brought it with me, and I thought that perhaps at some time I could just consult. And I say this sincerely, because I tried yesterday because I wanted to prepare this improvised session. I tried to read it, and I couldn’t do it. And I was thinking that the choice you have made of this modest essay — it was a lecture in fact (I will tell you more about the archive of this lecture in a moment) — I thought that your choice of this lecture would have to do with precisely the questions that were addressed by you — that is, the current situation of the archive in this country, the challenge of memory, the reference to the past, the TRC, and so on and so forth. So I was just preparing myself to address not my book — to plead for my book — but just to share with you a number of concerns. So let me try and say something about the book, but I hope that very quickly we will leave the book and just discuss burning things here.
This extended think-piece begins by exploring the late twentieth-century philosophical trend of postmodernism, and what its fragmented, decontextualized world-view means for archives. Such a position, as taken up by some historians, posits the absence of coherence, the death of grand historical narratives, and the supremacy of relativity. Consideration of the postmodern serves as a jumping-off point for an exploration of the nature of records, and the mission of the archival profession to furnish an understanding of the documentary evidence of past societies. The discussion leads full circle to situating archivists within their own (postmodern) society and explores how current trends in appraisal and description reflect present societal concerns. Ultimately, the article concludes that there is room for archives and archivists in the postmodern world, and that archivists, with their unique perspective on reading/deconstructing the documentary traces of society, are ideally suited to make sense of it.