Sunday, August 30, 2009

Records Schedulng

Archival management, as a field onto itself, originated in the 1930s with the establishment of the National Archives and the Society for American Archivists, as well as the Historical Records Survey (HRS) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The subsequent involvement of records management as a specialized business-oriented enterprise occurred in the 1950s. The expanse of governmental activity and its subsequent records spurred a need to reduce the quantity of records while retaining the quality of records of enduring value.

Records scheduling identifies and describes records, usually at the series level, and provides information on their retention periods, which differ depending on their nature and origination. Records scheduling provides mandatory instructions for disposition, which may include the transfer of permanent records to an archives or the destruction of temporary records. Archives acquire records after their initial purpose—Schellenberg’s “primary values”—is complete. Records are retained because of their continuing informational, evidential, and intrinsic values.

Both archivists and records managers share the primary tasks of the efficient, systematic arrangement, description, and preservation of documents for future retrieval and reference. The professions of archives and records management meet at records scheduling, because consistent standards for transfer of records from an organization to an archives create better, representative collections. Archivists have discovered that traditional or analog-based records scheduling and accessioning methods have not proved effective with born digital records. A current challenge in archives and records management is the development of new skills to facilitate the transfer of electronic files and to assess file format longevity and authenticity.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is Appraisal a Science? Part 2 of 2

Eastwood (1993) agrees with the mediatory role of archivists, stating that, “Archivists do not act as historians. Archivists do act as students of the originary nature of archives in order to find ways to protect the evidence of human action. Archivists properly leave questions of the meaning of the intelligence or information communicated by the archival document to posterity to investigate” (243-4). Eastwood sharply criticizes archival theorist Brien Brothman (1991), and others who think like him, for statements, such as, “archival practice, in other words, remains an art” Brothman believes that archivists act like historians, determining history when processing records. Eastwood disagrees, stating, “The archivist is not a processor of information, as Brothman suggests, but a keeper and protector of the integrity of evidence and a mediator of the many interests wrested in the positive act of its continuing preservation” (237). He writes further, “The purpose of the archivist, and therefore of the social role of archival institutions, is to preserve the integrity of archival documents as faithful and trustworthy evidence of the actions from which they originated” (237).

These articles approached appraisal theory and methodology from many angles, while trying to answer the bigger question of defining the role of archivists. The common thread between the readings is that archivists act as mediators between creators and users. Although appraisal is not a science, a methodology that reflects current best practices yet is appropriate for the repository is needed in order to preserve historical documentation.

Appraisal theory and methodology seems to be debated in professional literature more than any other archival process. By reading some of the well-known articles on the subject, I can begin to get a better understanding of this important theoretical practice.

Works Consulted

Brothman, B. (1991). Orders of value: Probing the theoretical terms of archival practice. Archivaria, 32, 78-100.

Craig, B. (2004). Practising appraisal–common grounds and common problems. In Archival Appraisal: Theory and Practice (81-109). New York: K.G. Sauer.

Duranti, L. (1994). The concept of appraisal and archival theory. American Archivist, 57, 328-344.

Eastwood, T. (1993). Nailing a little jelly to the wall of archival studies. Archivaria,35, 232-252.

Ham, F. G. (1984). Archival choices: Managing the historical record in an age of abundance. American Archivist, 47, 12-29.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review of Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America

Women's Roles in Seventeenth-Century America

My review of Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America by Merril D. Smith (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008).
Published in ARBAonline, August 2009.

In Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America, independent scholar Merril D. Smith examines how colonial beliefs about women affected their lives and demonstrates how significant women were in shaping the world around them. Smith considers the lives of white, African, and Native American women between 1600 and 1700 in the British North American colonies. She observes that while the phrase “women’s roles” connotes static responsibilities, in reality, women’s roles were fluid and overlapping in a time of change, conflict, and confusion in the Western world. As wives and mothers, women created families and preserved the social order, while being impacted by revolutions in political, religious, and scientific thought.

Readers will find the narrative chapters scholarly yet accessible, interleaved with illustrations and primary source excerpts. Historically well-known women, such as Puritans Anne Hutchinson and Anne Bradstreet, Quaker Mary Dyer, Indian captive Hannah Duston, and free black landowner Mary Johnson, are discussed, as well as the lives of everyday women recorded in court papers, ship records, church minutes, diaries, and letters. Popular culture sources, such as advice books and ballads, provide indications of gender perceptions during this period.

Chapters elucidate women’s importance in the family, law, immigration, work, religion, war, education, literature, and recreation, and a chronology and selected bibliography accompany the text. This volume is part of Greenwood’s Women’s Roles through History series, which impetus was the excellent reference Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilizations (ARBA 2000). It is highly recommended for high schools with strong history or women’s studies programs.