The Turn Away from Historical Authority in the Archives

Francis X. Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg

in Processing the Past

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199740543
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894673 | DOI:
The Turn Away from Historical Authority in the Archives

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This chapter continues to examine the changing relationships between archivists and historical scholars but now from the archivists’ perspective. It looks closely at the challenges archives began to face as a result of vast increases in the quantity of records generated by post-World War II bureaucratic growth. These changes pressed archivists to move away from well-established “custodial” notions of archives as a repository for historical memory to radically different concepts of organizational records management. In these circumstances, historical scholarship became increasingly less able to inform the authoritative categories supporting archival descriptive systems and records appraisal. The chapter concludes by examining the important conceptual, as well as practical, consequences of this turn away from historical authority, how this has affected archival involvement in the production of historical knowledge, and the effect of this turn on archivists’ own professional identities.

Keywords: National Archives; collecting institutions; authority; appraisal; provenance; bulk; custodial management; records management; bureaucratic records; functional analysis; American Historical Association; Society of American Archivists

Chapter.  8537 words. 

Subjects: Methods and Historiography

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