This week for our archives and manuscripts class, we had a number of interesting articles on the history and nature of archives as well as their function. The most insightful part of these readings were the discussions on the role of the archives in society and how the archivist helps shape how the past is understood.
Indeed, Terry Cook’s article “What’s Past is Prologue” described archives as houses of memory where the archivist through appraisal and acquisition decides what is saved for future use. This highlights the power that archivists have in dealing with records, since it is only through these saved documents that we can try to understand the past. Mark Greene’s “Power of Archives” expanded on this idea in his essay on the different ways that archivist have power, which was very interesting since archivists are usually not seen as power figures in the realm of history but in reality without them the past could not be understood since there would be no record to interpret. These readings helped frame our class discussions on the values of archives and the process of accessioning and deaccessioning. In order for archives to properly function it is important for it to have clear guidelines to help direct the acquisition process. This is important because it helps keep the archives within its area of focus, which is good for the records as it makes it easier for researchers if records of similar topics are housed together. Clear rules on deaccessioning is equally as important because without them, the archives will be unable to transfer material it has acquired outside its scope, which in turn will prevent the archives from acquiring more topical information due to lack of space. Thus one of the important take away from this class was for an archives to function properly it must have a good administrative set up or else it will not be able to adequately fulfill its role to the community.