The Silence of the Archive

May 2017 | 224pp

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The Silence of the Archive

David Thomas, Simon Fowler and Valerie Johnson

This new book provides a ground breaking discussion of a major but little considered issue - the silence of the archive: why archives, sometimes seen as the repositories of truth, often fail to satisfy users because they do not contain information which they expect to find.  

Silences range from details of individuals’ lives to records of state oppression or of intelligence operations.  The book brings together ideas from a wide range of fields, from contemporary history through family history research to Shakespearian studies. It describes why there are these silences, what the impact of them is, how researchers have responded to them and what the silence of the archive means for researchers in the digital age.  

The Silence of the Archive marks the first time that the question of silence in the archives has been discussed holistically and from a broad perspective, looking at causes, responses and implications both for researchers and for the archive itself.

Key chapters include:

  • enforced silences
  • inappropriate selection
  • dealing with the silence
  • possible solutions
  • the meaning of the silences

Readership: This book will be useful reading for professional archivists, postgraduate and undergraduate students of history, archives, librarianship and information studies, as well as academic and other users of archives. 



1. Enforced silences - Simon Fowler

2. Inappropriate expectations - Simon Fowler

3. The Digital - David Thomas

4. Dealing with the silence - Valerie Johnson

5. Imagining archives - David Thomas

6. Solutions to the silence - Valerie Johnson

7. Are things getting better or worse? - David Thomas



Valerie Johnson is Interim Director of Research and Collections at The National Archives. She holds an MA with Distinction in Archive Administration, and was awarded the Alexander R Myers Memorial Prize for Archive Administration. She has worked as an archivist and a historian in the academic, corporate and public sectors.

Simon Fowler is an Associate Teaching Fellow at the University of Dundee where he teaches a course on military archives. Previously he worked at The National Archives for nearly thirty years. He has an MA in Archive Administration from University College London where his thesis was on income generation by archives. 

David Thomas is a Visiting Professor at the University of Northumbria where he is involved in research into access to contemporary records. Previously, he worked at the National Archives where he was Director of Technology and was responsible for digital preservation and for providing access to digital material.  He has written articles and book chapters on archives, focussing on the implications of the digital. 

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