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: email@example.com
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
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).
132 ERIC KETELAAR
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.
TACIT NARRATIVES 133
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´
1999) 66. French archivists, however, used the term as equivalent to archiv´
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
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.
134 ERIC KETELAAR
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”, http://www.crwﬂags.com/fotw/ﬂags/su%5Evctry.
html#photo (consulted 4 June, 2001).
TACIT NARRATIVES 135
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.
136 ERIC KETELAAR
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 www.sims.monash.edu/au/rcrg/publications/recordscontinuum
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,
TACIT NARRATIVES 137
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
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 www.hum.uva.nl/bai/home/eketelaar/difference.doc; 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
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).
138 ERIC KETELAAR
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
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
TACIT NARRATIVES 139
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
140 ERIC KETELAAR
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 www.ica.org. 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
TACIT NARRATIVES 141
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.