Archives and Manuscripts Week 6

This past week for class, we read on ethics in archives and how archives are viewed in today’s society. In Understanding Archives, O’Toole and Cox discussed how in the postmodern world, archives have come to be seen not as objective holders of the truth but rather as a collective social memory. Indeed, they continued that since the past is plural, archives must make sure they are opened to all people, from students to academics and community members. This is important to remember since archives must always be looking to best serve the public, since without them, the archives cannot hope to accomplish its missions. Another important reading was Sara Hodson’s ” In Secret Kept, in Silence Sealed,” which looked at privacy issues around the personal papers of famous people. Hodson stressed that these papers need to be handled with care since they may have sensitive information that may require extra legal or ethical considerations. This is a major concern because while the papers may contain important sources for researchers, the archives must consider the privacy of the individual and their family. One clear example was the papers of James Joyce, whose family destroyed some of the more sensitive papers rather than have them made public. Hodson lamented the destruction of these sources and offered the best solution would have been to seal these documents at an archives for a period of years so that no living people would be affected by the revealing of personal information. While this is a noble desire to maintain the historical record, it really does not address the families concerns over privacy, it just pushes the problem down the road. So while archivists must do their best to preserve records, ultimately one must respect a person’s desire for privacy. These two readings, highlight the ethical concerns that archivist face while trying to protect the historical record.


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