Archive for the 'Archival theory readings' Category

Archival Theory Reading Reflections

After completing the reading for tomorrow’s class, I am more aware of the importance of historical archiving and the potential influence it has on generations of learners.  Obviously in a public library, the majority of resources are available to everyone, and many of them can easily be checked out and read or examined at leisure.  However, special collections are much more detailed and particular about the information that is presented within them.

I think one of the most interesting things about special collections is the broad range of documents available to learn from.  Instead of just books, we can learn about history through other cultural artifacts as well, like films, sound recordings, and maps.  Additionally, the fact that special collections come about through the diligent work of many historians and archivists presents various perspectives on a main theme.

Ridener wrote that archivists draw on a “rich tradition of theory to define and redefine the archive” (2).  While archiving is a well-established aspect of historical research, new researchers are continuously contributing their own viewpoints.  Archiving, just as in any historical research, is not without subjectivity because even selecting which items deserve to be kept for others to learn from is a decision that is influenced by our own experiences and biases.  Although we are just beginning, in a way we have already decided what each of us involved in the WDP feels is important because we have chosen topics to explore that we believe others could learn from.

Joffrion’s power-point explained that archives have records with “permanent or continuing value.”  Years from now, someone may look at the WDP because they want to know what people were like in the Williamsburg community.  For me, historical archiving begs the question “Whose history are we telling?” As researchers, it’s important for us to acknowledge our own subjectivity as well as the responsibility and power that comes with documenting the past.  Working through the WDP, we are able to broaden Williamsburg’s historical perspective and preserve narratives which may otherwise be ignored.

Archival Theories

The first thing that struck me about the archival theory articles was the amount of controversy surrounding the seemingly mundane practice of archive.  Apparently there are multiple schools of thought regarding what should and shouldn’t be archived, the purpose of archiving, as well as the actual practice of it, and there is a battle royale amongst archivists over what way is the right way.  That said, it was interesting to read about all the different viewpoints surrounding archival theory, and the articles raised some interesting questions that I wouldn’t have thought to even consider.  One such question that Ridener raised was the question of how archival theory is supposed to apply to archiving as a whole, while at the same time preserving each individual archive’s specific approach to its own specific material.  While Ridener asked broad questions such as this, Joffrion instead discussed the intricacies and bureaucracy surrounding archiving, and all of the technicalities that an archivist must consider in his or her profession.  Both authors worked within the realm of archival theory, but each looked at the theory from two separate viewpoints.

Archival Discovery

Reading today’s articles imparted in me the sense of responsibility which is undoubtedly shared among archivists the world over. The first and most important question to answer is what should be archived. As time and resources are limited, archivists much choose those records they feel will be relevant to the most people to catalogue. The role of archival scholarship is particularly important with regard to the historical record.  History at best is a summation of past events. In creating this narrative, we loose sight of small, seemingly insignificant details which in some cases may offer a different spin on our understanding of the past. Our projects later in the semester will offer a good introduction into what it would be like to be a real archivist. We too will have to make the tough decision of what of research should be indexed and saved to become part of the archival record. It seems easy enough now, but I’m sure as the semester progresses, choosing which interview to “keep” will be very difficult as we will become attached to the people who give them and the stories they tell.

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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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