Engaging with Records and Archives

Nov 2016 | 256pp

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Engaging with Records and Archives
Histories and theories

Edited by Fiorella Foscarini , Heather MacNeil , Bonnie Mak and Gillian Oliver

This collection provides a multifaceted response to today’s growing fascination with the idea of the archive and showcases the myriad ways in which archival ideas and practices are being engaged with and developed by emerging and internationally renowned scholars.

Engaging with Records and Archives offers a selection of original, insightful and imaginative papers from the Seventh International Conference on the History of Records and Archives (I-CHORA 7). The contributions in this volume comprise a wide variety of views of records, archives and archival functions, spanning diverse regions, communities, disciplinary perspectives and time periods. From the origins of contemporary grassroots archival activism in Poland to the role of women archivists in early 20th century England; from the management of records in the Dutch East Indies in the 19th century to the relationship between Western and Indigenous cultures in North America and other modern archival conundrums, this collection reveals the richness of archival thinking through compelling examples from past and present that will captivate the reader.  

Readership: This book will be useful reading for both scholars and practitioners, including archivists, records managers and other media and information professionals. Bridging archival, information, and library science; the digital humanities; art history; social history; culture and media studies; data curation; and communication, students and researchers across the disciplines are sure to find inspiration.  

Introduction - Fiorella Foscarini, Heather Macneil, Bonnie Mak, and Gillian Oliver

PART 1: Rethinking Histories and Theories

1. Moving the Margins to the Middle: Reconciling ‘the Archive’ with the Archives - Jeannette Bastian

2. Organisms, Skeletons, and the Archivist as Paleontologist: Metaphors of Archival Order and Reconstruction in Context - Juan Ilerbaig

3. 'Records in Context' in Context: A Brief History of Data Modeling for Archival Description - Jonathan Furner

4. Mapping Archival Silence: Technology and the Historical Record - Marlene Manoff

5. Hidden Voices in the Archives: Pioneering Women Archivists in Early 20th Century England - Elizabeth Shepherd

PART 2: Engaging Records and Archives

6. The Use and Reuse of Documents by Chancellors, Archivists and Government Members in an Early Modern Republican State: Genoa’s Giunta dei Confini and Its Archives - Stefano Gardini

7. The Bumpy Road to Transparency:  Access and Secrecy in 19th-Century Records in the Dutch East Indies - Charles Jeurgens

8. Archival Ethics and Indigenous Justice: Conflict or Coexistence? - Melanie Delva and Melissa Adams

9. History and Development of Information and Recordkeeping in Malawi - Paul Lihoma

10. History of Community Archiving in Poland - Magdalena Wiśniewska

11. Reflecting on Practice: Artists’ Experiences in the Archives - Sian Vaughan


'Presenting a modern version of the archival world through a selection of essays, Engaging with Records and Archives: Histories and theories connects the past with the present, through the eyes of both emerging and internationally renowned scholars from the 7th International Conference on the History of Records and Archives (I-CHORA7).'
- Marjorie Warry, IQ Magazine

'The cogent discussion of how archives participate in - or are excluded from - power structures and culutral memory, especially in the chapter on "archival silence", will be fascinating to many, especially in today's political climate. The volume includes interesting international perspectives, especially from countries such as Malawi, Italy and Poland.'
- Felicia J. Williamson, Dallas Holocaust Museum, Library Journal

'The diverse papers submitted by eleven authors make challenging reading, so this book will interest academics and can be used as a textbook in history or archives courses. It may also interest records managers and scholars in media studies and history, as well as data curation, art history, library science, and other disciplines.'
- Paul M. Blobaum, University Library, Governors State University, JMLA

'It is a welcome, and almost necessary, addition to the shelves of academic institutions and to those of practicing archivists, especially those wanting to keep up with the developments and issues of their field...It’s not often that such an intellectual book is also eminently approachable. The editors and contributors should be well pleased with their efforts; no doubt readers will be, too.'
- Harlan Greene, College of Charleston, College & Research Libraries

' ...it is certainly the case that the majority of articles are engagingly written, the authors are well-informed and expert commentators, and the topics themselves relevant to many professionals.'
- Margaret Procter, University of Liverpool, Archives and Records

'The editors have compiled a book that is both remarkably open-minded and forward-thinking, while still retaining the rigor of traditional historical and archival practices. Each essay stands firmly on its own yet complements the others in a refreshing way; not unlike when you introduce a favorite piece of music or artwork to someone who has never seen it before and they point out something poignant and meaningful that you had overlooked, adding to the complexity and beauty of your own perspective. Sometimes that new information is hidden in plain view, as several of these essays illustrate, but it brings a more holistic outlook that unites all involved in creating, using, and appreciating that piece. This book accomplishes that for records and makes familiar topics new again, ready to be rediscovered in promising ways.'
- Christine Schmid Engels, Cincinnati History Library & Archives, Archival Issues


Fiorella Foscarini PhD is an associate professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.  She taught previously at the University of Amsterdam and holds a PhD in archival studies from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.  Prior to joining academia, she worked as senior archivist for the European Central Bank in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.  She is particularly interested in the nature of records and the activities that shape and are shaped by records.  She is Co-editor in Chief of the Records Management Journal.

Heather MacNeil PhD is a professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto where she teaches courses in the areas of archival theory and practice and the history of record keeping. Her research and publications focus on the theory and methods of archival arrangement and description, the trustworthiness of records in analogue and digital environments, and archives and archival finding aids as cultural texts.

Bonnie Mak PhD is an associate professor at the University of Illinois, jointly appointed in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the Program in Medieval Studies. She has previously held the title of Visiting Fellow at the Coach House Institute at the University of Toronto, and is currently Senior Fellow at the Center for Humanities and Information at the Pennsylvania State University. She is the author of How the Page Matters (University of Toronto Press, 2011), and teaches courses in the history and future of the book, reading practices, and knowledge production. 

Gillian Oliver PhD is an associate professor at Victoria Univeristy of Wellington. Her research interests centre on organisational culture, and the influences this has on the way that information is managed. She is the co-author of Records Management and Information Culture (Facet 2014) and Digital Curation, 2nd edition (Facet 2016) and is Co-editor in Chief of the journal Archival Science.



Melissa Adams, librarian and archivist, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Canada

Jeannette A. Bastian, Professor, School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College, USA

Melanie Delva, archivist and privacy officer for the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster and Provincial Synod of BC and Yukon, Canada

Jonathan Furner, Professor, Department of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Stefano Gardini, doctoral researcher, University of Genoa, Italy

Juan Ilerbaig, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Canada

Charles Jeurgens, Professor, Archival Studies, Amsterdam University, the Netherlands

Paul Lihoma, Director of National Archives of Malawi

Marlene Manoff, independent scholar in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Elizabeth Shepherd, Professor, Archives and Records Management, University College London (UCL), UK

Sian Vaughan, keeper of archives and senior lecturer, Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, Birmingham City University, UK

Magdalena Wiśniewska, PhD candidate in history, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland

PART 1: Rethinking histories and theories

1. Moving the margins to the middle: reconciling ‘the archive’ with the archivesJeannette A. Bastian

Chapter 1 investigates developing multidisciplinary concepts of ‘the archive’ as well as their divergence from and impact on traditional archival theory and practice. By identifying and mapping evolving concepts of ‘the archive’, this chapter seeks to reconcile them with traditional archival theory while exploring ways in which archival theorizing from other disciplines could expand archival thinking by archivists.

2. Organisms, skeletons and the archivist as palaeontologist: metaphors of archival order and reconstruction in contextJuan Ilerbaig

In this chapter Juan Ilerbaig examines the metaphors introduced by Muller, Feith and Fruin, in the Dutch Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives (1920/1940). Ilerbaig presents developments in the three disciplines that can help to illuminate the wider context of the reconstruction project entailed by those metaphors: palaeontology, linguistics, and architecture. The chapter examines some of the effects and implications of those metaphorical choices for archival theory at the turn of the 20th century.

3. ‘Records in context’ in context: a brief history of data modelling for archival description–Jonathan Furner

In Chapter 3 Jonathan Furner attempts to identify some historical factors that combine to explain current differences in certain of the data modelling practices of the archives, library and museum (ALM) communities. Furner employs a historical analysis to help in weighing up the pros and cons of adopting the new model. The chapter provides a narrative of some of the significant events in the recent history of data modelling practices in the ALM communities and identifies some of the ways in which archival data is traditionally treated differently from library and museum data.

4. Mapping archival silence: technology and the historical record–Marlene Manoff

As our access to the archive becomes more dependent upon the technologies of the interface, scholars exhibit increasing concern about the impact of digital affordances and constraints on recordkeeping, research and artistic production. Developments in the field of science studies can provide insight into the interdependence and coevolution of the social, cultural and material factors shaping archival access. In this chapter Marlene Manoff focuses on the entanglement of these and other factors in the production of archival silence and attempts to shed light on the way the term functions both within and outside of archival studies.

5. Hidden voices in the archives: pioneering women archivists in early 20th-century England–Elizabeth Shepherd

Chapter 5 considers the notion of anonymity in archival discourse. Archivists dance over the archive imagining that they hardly leave a trace of themselves, of their actions and decisions. But, in their actions archivists do leave impressions on the archive; they are at the same time everywhere and nowhere. Elizabeth Shepherd uncovers an analogy between the presence and absence of the archivist in the archive and the voice of women in the public sphere. Shepherd considers the archive and the archivist in the scholarship of humanities disciplines, before illuminating the role of women in the emerging archival profession of the early 20th century. This chapter attempts to make the voice of the archivist clearer and provide a framework to expose the hidden lives and voices of women archivists.

PART 2: Engaging records and archives

6. The use and reuse of documents by chancellors, archivists and government members in an early modern republican state: Genoa’s Giunta dei confini and its archives–Stefano Gardini

In Chapter 6 Stefan Gardini discusses the case study of Genoese Giunta dei confini to illustrate the relationship between the idea of the history of a specific archive (Zanni Rosiello, 1987, 44) and the concept of historical sedimentation of archives that has been suggested (Bologna 2014) by recent scholarship. The case study provides important insights into the relationship between the slow progression towards the scientific and cultural use of an archive and its previous administrative and political uses. Gardini uses this case study to expose and question the possibility for archives to maintain their shape perpetually unchanged, considering how the archive is subject to both human action and time.

7. The bumpy road to transparency: access and secrecy in 19th-century records in the Dutch East Indies–Charles Jeurgens

In this chapter Charles Jeurgens investigates the daily practices of, dilemmas about and debates on record management in the colonial bureaucracy of the Dutch East Indies in the late 19th century. The chapter discusses the laborious process of granting and preventing access to government records in the 19th-century Dutch East Indies, addressing the contrasting actions of the government who issued a decree limiting access and use of government information while at the same time making public certain documents from the colonial records. Jeurgens questions the government’s motives and decision making in these processes, and considers how these two contrasting policies affected records management practices in governmental offices. The chapter seeks to show how researching the history behind the daily routines of records management unveils the dilemmas and inner debates of bureaucracy.

8. Archival ethics and indigenous justice: conflict or coexistence?Melanie Delva and Melissa Adams

What happens when justice and long-held archival principles are in direct conflict? Using a case study as a launching point, this chapter examines how archival theories of creation, ownership and authorship together with archival values of access and preservation, may actually undermine archivists’ efforts to pursue justice and nurture relationships with historically oppressed peoples. It encourages the archival community to consider pushing beyond its current practices and Codes of Ethics when making decisions which impact on Indigenous communities. The chapter provides contextual information about Indigenous peoples in Canada and about Indigenous knowledge systems, followed by a case study involving an interaction between a non-Indigenous archival institution and Indigenous community members. Delva and Adams examine how archival ethics and practices were applied and consider tools which could have offered guidance in that situation.

9. History and development of information and recordkeeping in MalawiPaul Lihoma

Through a careful analysis of the literature and official archival records, Chapter 9 traces information sharing and recordkeeping practices during the four administrative dispensations in order to see how information generation and recordkeeping have evolved. Drawing on the works of Mazikana (1986) and Lovering (2010) this chapter looks at pre-colonial information generation, sharing and preservation and offers a more detailed account of the developments of recordkeeping during the colonial and post-colonial periods than is provided by these two authors. Paul Lihoma addresses the pertinent question concerning the role that records played in this system of government, in particular, and, in general, the system of capturing, preserving and utilizing information as an essential feature of the social and administrative process.

10. History of community archiving in Poland–Magdalena Wiśniewska

Chapter 10 is an attempt to present an outline of the history of two of the most influential Polish community archives: the KARTA Centre Foundation and the Elżbieta Zawacka Foundation, in order to give examples of how community archives came into being in Poland. By making reference to the history of these archives, as well as to Polish history, Magdalena Wiśniewska also attempts to relate the Polish community archives movement to the theory of Pierre Nora about the decolonization and democratization of history. In this context Wiśniewska proposes an approach to studying the phenomenon of community archiving in Poland, according to the present state of the discipline.

11. Reflecting on practice: artists’ experiences in the archives–Sian Vaughan

In Chapter 11, Sian Vaughan examines how the practices of the archive and archiving have been encountered and reframed by contemporary artists. As well as the artistic practice there is a growing body of literature in which it is receiving critical attention. This chapter explores what can be learned from reflecting on artists’ practice with archives from a perspective that combines within and without the archival field. It explores the theorizing of archives through practice by artists via one particular thread of artists’ engagement with archives – artists’ experiences with archives where the subject matter itself is art.

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