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Stories and names: Archival description as narrating records and constructing meanings

Abstract

The authors of this essay, coming from very different traditions and modes of archival discourse, explore together archival description as a field of archival thinking and practice. Their shared conviction is that records are always in the process of being made, and that the stories of their making are parts of bigger stories understandable only in the ever-changing broader contexts of society. The exploration begins with an interrogation of the traditional and ever-valid questions of the what and the why of archival description. Thereafter they offer a deconstruction of these questions and of the answers commonly proffered. In these sections of the essay their concern is with descriptive architecture, the analysis covering a number of specific architectures and including only oblique references to descriptive standardization. The concluding section attempts to draw out the implications of their analysis for endeavours—irrespective of the architectures being used — to define, and to justify, descriptive standards. Their call is not to dispense with standardization, but rather to create space for a liberatory approach which engages creatively the many dangers of standardization.

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References

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  2. 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.

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The authors wish to thank David Bearman, Terry Cook, Catherine Johnson, Thea Miller, and Joan M. Schwartz, whose comments and ideas have greatly improved the essay.

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Duff, W.M., Harris, V. Stories and names: Archival description as narrating records and constructing meanings. Archival Science 2, 263–285 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02435625

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Keywords

  • deconstruction
  • description
  • standards
  • user needs