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Archival interventions and the language we use


This article discusses issues around the display and use of historical language now considered offensive. Taking as a starting point the non-neutrality of archives, archival systems and documentation, it considers the role of archivists in upholding and reproducing dominant power structures through archival description. It also examines the implications of the uncritical reproduction of historical language in archival description, catalogues and finding aids. It considers the balancing act between reproducing this language and potentially causing offence and distress, and not providing full and accurate information if it is not displayed. While much has been written previously about these issues, there are fewer links to practical actions which may be taken to mitigate these issues. Therefore, a case study is presented using the Language Policy developed by the Find & Connect web resource in Australia, to consider how archives and archivists can be more transparent in their archival description practices. It discusses the development and content of the policy, implications for work on the web resource, and public reception to the policy.

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The Find & Connect web resource is funded by the Department of Social Services, Australia. The author would like to thank members of the Find & Connect web resource team, and two anonymous reviewers, for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. 

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Correspondence to Kirsten Wright.

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Wright, K. Archival interventions and the language we use. Arch Sci 19, 331–348 (2019).

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  • Archival description
  • Historical language
  • Archival policy
  • Archives
  • Transparency in documentation