S. Muller, J.A. Feith and R. Fruin,Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives (1898). For an insightful assessment of theManual's position in the history of archival discourse, see Terry Cook, “What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas since 1898, and the Future Paradigm Shift”,Archivaria 43 (Spring 1997): 20–22.
Of course, we brought to the exercise a host of other differences, including gender, global positioning, and culture. Some we are aware of; others we are not. Some seem significant; others not. While we have worked hard at fashioning a coherent “voice” for the essay, we determined not to hide the tensions generated by these differences. It is our hope that the tensions are creative ones. For the record, Verne produced the first drafts of the introductory and concluding sections; Wendy the middle section.
Verne Harris,Exploring Archives: An Introduction to Archival Ideas and Practice in South Africa second edition (Pretoria: National Archives of South Africa, 2000), p. 57.
In finding this commonality we note our indebtedness to articulators of so-called post-modernist ideas, as well as to the records continuum thinking which dominates Australian archival discourse. But it was Jacques Derrida who coined the phrase, “the archive opens out of the future.” Jacques Derrida,Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 68.
This essay presents two different points of view on description: one based on the principle ofrespect des fonds, and the other focused on the series. It presents these approaches as opposites to tease out and explain the different perspectives that underlie and influence much of the debate. In reality many archival descriptive systems contain some elements of, and are influenced by, the perspectives of both.
Bureau of Canadian Archivists,Rules for Archival Description (hereafter RAD), D-5.
Terry Eastwood (ed.),The Archival Fonds: from Theory to Practice (Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards, 1992), p. 4.
Terry Eastwood, “Putting the Parts of the Whole Together: Systematic Arrangement of Archives”,Archivaria 50 (Fall 2000): 97.
Terry Cook, “The Concept of the Archival Fonds: Theory, Description, and Provenance in the Post-Custodial Era”, in Terry Eastwood (ed.),The Archival Fonds: From Theory to Practice (Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards, 1992), pp. 42–43.
For some of the writing on this topic see Peter J. Scott, “The Record Group Concept: A Case for Abandonment”,American Archivist 29 (October 1966): 493–504; C. Hurley, “The Australian (‘Series’) System: An Exposition”, in Sue McKemmish and Michael Piggott (eds.),The Records Continuum: Ian Maclean and Australian Archives First Fifty Years (Clayton: Ancora Press, 1994), pp. 150–172; Terry Cook, “The Concept of the Archival Fonds: Theory, Description, and Provenance in the Post-Custodial Era”, 42–43; David Bearman, “Item Level Control and Electronic Recordkeeping”,Archives and Museum Informatics 10(3) (1996): 207–245; David Bearman, “Documenting Documentation”,Archivaria 34 (Summer 1992): 33–49; Bob Krawczyk, “Cross Reference Heaven: The Abandonment of the Fonds as the Primary Level of Arrangement for Ontario Government Records”,Archivaria 48 (Fall 1999): 131–153.
We chose not to label the series system the “Australian” system for two reasons: it is not applied universally in Australia; and many non-Australians are supportive of the series system, have written about it, and have influenced its development. Of course, “series system” is also inadequate as a label, for as it is being elaborated today by people like Sue McKemmish and Chris Hurley, it embraces far more than the idea of the series.
Scott, “The Record Group Concept: A Case for Abandonment”,: 496.
Hurley, “The Australian (‘Series’) System”,, 155.
Sue McKemmish, Glenda Acland, Nigel Ward and Barbara Reed, “Describing Records in Context in the Continuum: The Australian Recordkeeping Metadata Schema”,Archivaria 48 (Fall 1999): 3–43.
Hurley, “The Australian (Series) System”,, 155.
Cook, “The Concept of the Archival Fonds”, Terry Cook, “The Concept of the Archival Fonds: Theory, Description, and Provenance in the Post-Custodial Era”, 73.
Sue McKemmish, “Are Records Ever Actual?”, in McKemmish and Piggot (eds.),The Records Continuum, p. 192.
Eastwood, “Putting the Parts of the Whole Together”,: 108.
Ibid.: p. 113.
Ibid.: p. 144.
Ibid.: p. 105.
Michel Duchein, “Theoretical Principles and Practical Problems ofRespect des fonds in Archival Science”,Archivaria 16 (Summer 1983): 64–82.
Heather MacNeil, “The Context is All: Describing a Fonds and Its Parts in Accordance with the Rules for Archival Description”, in Eastwood (ed.),The Archival Fonds: From Theory to Practice, p. 202.
Cook, “The Concept of the Archival FondsTerry”, Cook, “The Concept of the Archival Fonds: Theory, Description, and Provenance in the Post-Custodial Era”, 42.
David, “Documenting Documentation”,, 237.
Tom Nesmith, “What is a Postmodern Archivist?: Can Douglas Brymner, an Unmuzzled Ox, and Star Trek Tell Us?”, paper given to the Association of Canadian Archivists Annual Conference, Halifax, 29 May 1998.
Canadian Working Group on Archival Descriptive Standards,Toward Descriptive Standards (Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1985), p. 10.
The CanadianRules of Archival Description uses the term for the level of unit being described (e.g., fonds, series, file, item) while the AmericanArchives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts uses the term collection to denote the object of description. In both standards, the assumption is that the rules relate to the description of static, previously arranged groupings of records.
EAD Design Guidelines (adopted July 1995), available at http://lcweb.loc.gov/ead/tglib/tlprinc.html, accessed 2 July 2001.
RAD, Glossary, definition of “description”.
Hurley, “The Australian (‘Series’) System”,, 151.
McKemmish, “Is the Record Ever Actual”, 195.
Cook, “The Concept of the Archival Fonds”, Terry Cook, “The Concept of the Archival Fonds: Theory, Description, and Provenance in the Post-Custodial Era”,passim.
Heather MacNeil, “Metadata Strategies and Archival Description: Comparing Apples to Oranges”,Archivaria 39 (Spring 1995): 30.
Chris Hurley, “The Making and the Keeping of Records (2): The Tyranny of Listing”,Archives and Manuscripts 28 (May 2000): 8–23.
Bearman, “Documenting Documentation”,, 34.
Ibid., p. 237.
Hurley, “The Australian (‘Series’) System”,, 154.
This statement is not to suggest that all supporters of the series system are opposed to studying users. Many supporters of this system, including Terry Cook, Adrian Cunningham, and David Bearman have promoted the importance of understanding how users seek information and the how they use descriptive tools.
Eastwood, “Putting the Parts of the Whole Together”,, 105.
Wendy Duff and Penka Stoyanova, “Transforming the Crazy Quilt: Archival Displays from a User's Point of View”,Archivaria 45 (Spring 1998): 44–79.
Verne Harris, “Redefining Archives in South Africa: Public Archives and Society in Transition, 1900–1996”,Archivaria 42 (Fall 1996): 7.
Godfrey Rust, “Metadata: The Right Approach, an Integrated Model for Descriptive and Rights Metadata in E-commerce”,Dlib Magazine (1998), available at: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july98/rust/07rust.html.
Michael K. Buckland, “Information as Thing”,Journal of the American Society for Information Science 42(2) (1991): 358.
Cook, “What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas since 1898”,, 46.
David R. Olson,The World on Paper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 197. In this paragraph, we are consciously deploying the word “represent” with the “postmodern” resonances it now carries. We see archival description as a form, or mode, of re-presentation.
Quoted in Hayden White,The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).
Ibid.. p. 72.
See, for instance, Michel Foucault,The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (New York: Pantheon, 1992); Bruno Latour, “Visualization and Cognition: Thinking with Eyes and Hands”,Knowledge and Society 6 (1986); Derrida,Archive Fever; and Ann Stoler, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance: On the Content in the Form”, in Carolyn Hamilton et al. (eds.),Refiguring the Archive (Cape Town: David Philip, 2002). These commentators have influenced, and are influencing, a growing number of “postmodern” archivists. In terms of discourse, the most prolific of the latter are the Canadians Terry Cook, Brien Brothman, Joan Schwartz, Tom Nesmith, and Richard Brown.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), p. 61.
For an fascinating discussion on archival practice and photographs, see Joan Schwartz, “‘We make our tools and our tools make us:’ Lessons from Photographs for the Practice, Politics, and Poetics of Diplomatics”,Archivaria 40 (Fall 1995): 40–74.
Hope A. Olson, “The Power to Name: Representation in Library Catalogs”,Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 26 (Spring 2001): 659.
Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star,Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 1999), pp. 5–6.
Ibid., pp. 13–14.
Brien Brothman, “In the Name of the Name: Keeping Archives in the Late Modern Age”, in Ethel Kriger (ed.),Wresting the Archon from the Arkheion: A Question of Right(s) and a Call for Justice to Always Come? (Pretoria: National Archives of South Africa, 2001), pp. 152–161.
Ibid., p. 158.
Olson, “The Power to Name”,, 640.
Bowker and Star,Sorting Things Out,, p. 230.
Ibid., p. 14.
We do not claim originality in the outline of a liberatory standard which follows. Bowker and Star, explicitly, have influenced our thinking. But a number of “archival” thinkers, notably Terry Cook, have also influenced us. Cook's ground-breaking ideas are spread through numerous texts, but are concentrated in a text which appeared after we began work on this essay: “Fashionable Nonsense or Professional Rebirth: Postmodernism and the Practice of Archives”,Archivaria 51 (Spring 2001): 14–35.
Bowker and Star,Sorting Things Out,, p. 299.
Ibid., p. 305.
Ibid., p. 308.