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Social justice impact of archives: a preliminary investigation

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This article reports the first stage of a research collaboration that is elaborating the multiple relationships between archives and social justice. Specifically, it is developing narrative frameworks and diagrammatic representations to identify, understand, illustrate, and deploy the actual and potential social justice impact of archives, archivists, and archival repositories. A discussion of the broader and historical social justice landscape culminates with a working conceptualization-framework of social justice followed by an examination of the many methods and modes by which social justice can be an object of research. This is followed by an examination of the rising presence of social justice as an explicit and accelerating concern in four key English language archival journals before offering a working articulation and approach to an archival—social justice framework. A discussion of understanding and measuring impact, with specific reference to the framework of impact that we have chosen to deploy, culminates with an analysis of the social justice impact of archives as evidenced through two exemplary case studies. This is followed by a summation of key findings and a discussion of future plans to expand this research. The overall objective of these efforts is targeted toward elucidating how archives can be cast as having both positive and negative social justice consequences and demonstrating how archival work can serve social justice goals.

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  2. We are grateful to Alicia Cecilia Ramírez González, a doctoral student in the Department of Information Studies at University College London for first suggesting we look at Los Archivos del Cardenal. Further information for this section was drawn from Listening post-Feature: Chile's collective trauma (2012) (, The reality of fiction in post-Pinochet Chile (2011) posting on the National Council on Public History’s Public history blog ( and Los archivos del cardenal (


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Wallace would like to acknowledge the research assistance of Stacey Lavender. Flinn and Wallace would like to acknowledge the participants of our AERI 12 workshop for helping to test and develop definitions and frameworks.

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Correspondence to David A. Wallace.

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Duff, W.M., Flinn, A., Suurtamm, K.E. et al. Social justice impact of archives: a preliminary investigation. Arch Sci 13, 317–348 (2013).

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