Culture and evidence: or what good are the archives? Archives and archivists in twentieth century England
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- Shepherd, E. Arch Sci (2009) 9: 173. doi:10.1007/s10502-009-9077-2
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Archives have the potential to change people’s lives. They are created to enable the conduct of business and accountability, but they also support a democratic society’s expectations for transparency and the protection of rights, they underpin citizen’s rights and are the raw material of our history and memory. This paper examines these issues in the context of the historical development of archives and archivists in twentieth century England. The research lays the foundations for understanding how and why the modern archives and records management profession developed in England. This paper will investigate the historical conflict (or is it a continuum?) between archives as culture and as evidence. The story identifies and highlights the contributions made by many fascinating individuals who established archives services and professional practice in England in the twentieth century. They shaped the archive in a very real way, and their individual enthusiasms, interests and understandings set the course of the English archival profession. To a great extent, it was these individuals, rather than government or legislation, that set the boundaries of English archives, they decided what was included (acquired) and what was not (of archival value.) The conclusion will consider the more fundamental questions: what are archives and what are they for, or perhaps, ‘what good are the archives’?