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Discussing the archival discourse

Discussing the archival discourse



The archival discourse is the discussion; literary dialogue (or multilogue); debate that has been raging concerning the concept, theory, practice, science and paradigm of archives.

The archival discourse is the discussion; literary dialogue (or multilogue); debate that has been raging concerning the concept, theory, practice, science and paradigm of archives.



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    Discussing the archival discourse Discussing the archival discourse Presentation Transcript

    • AuthorsElevia KamangaRodreck DavidCalvin Phiri
    •  Archival discourse The archival discourse is the discussion;literary dialogue (or multilogue); debate thathas been raging concerning theconcept, theory, practice, science and paradigmof archivesA discourse is a written or spoken communication or debate or a formaldiscussion of a topic in speech.The idea of discourse is the way in which something is talked about.What is interesting about discourse is not its accuracy but the way in which itchanges. It changes not only through time but it changes by moving throughdifferent forms.When we are studying discourse, we are looking at the trends anddevelopments of archives.
    •  Essentially it pertains to: The origins of archives; The development of archival practice into a sciencewith its own codification (The Dutch Manual of 1898by Muller, Feith and Fruin), literary and theoreticalanalysis The traditional versus modern purpose of archivesi.e.:
    •  according to Ketelaar (1997 )“The term archivists as used inthis code is intended to encompass all those concerned withthe control, care, custody, preservation and administrationof archives”. The archivists profession has slowly revolved dating back tothe 19th century.Records managers and archivists continuedto manage records as artifacts, like their library andmuseum colleagues cared for theirs. This has changedfundamentally with the advent of digital records, sofundamentally that the old paradigm of archivistics had tobe replaced. According to Valderhaug „The archivist‟s foremost duty wasto preserve and make available the archive as “impartialdocumentation” of the activities of records creator, acting asa neutral, impartial intermediate between the records andthe users‟
    • - The administrative, bureaucratic and politicalreasons for archiving versus theinformational, citizenry and democraticreasons- The European versus American tradition ofarchiving and the emerging global archivalparadigm often termed the post modern, orpost custodial paradigm (Cook, 2000)- Exportation of European tradition to Africa- Changes in African countries (Post colonialZimbabwe; apartheid South Africa and postapartheid South Africa)
    • -Post-modern archival discourse and applicabilityof old methodology to new demands-The emergence of the digital age and its impact onarchival science; whether this was a change ofpractice or a complete paradigm shift- The post modern archival science as a true globalscience
    •  THE DISCOURSE OF THEORIES Classical archival science did not provide much room fortheoretical speculation. If the archive was created by a“natural process”, ) that the archivist‟s job was to arrangeand describe it in accordance with this “natural” structure.Furthermore, the Dutch manual provided answers to mostmethodological and practical issues related to arrangementand description of paper-based archives. Eric Ketelaar(2000:234-35) suggests that the high quality of the manualhas been an important reason for the low interest in archivaltheory among archivists: ” This is the paradox ofprofessional quality. Their early professionalism constrainedDutch archivists to ask “what” and “how,” instead of“why.” It led them to focus on the procedures, methods, andtechnologies of archival work and to put matter over mind.”
    •  Classical archival methodology focused on preserving– or recreating – the original physical structures ofarchives. As a result of this, key concepts were oftenunderstood as physical, and not conceptual:provenance was understood as the concrete origin ofan archive, in a physical office, while records wereconsidered as physical objects. The functional andcontextual factors that had been significant in creatingthese physical structures and objects were oftenignored, and the analysis of the archive as anexpression of the creator‟s social position and activitieswas neglected. This led to a situation where archivalscience in practice was reduced to normativeprocedures, methods and techniques for arranging anddescribing archives as physical objects.
    •  Secondly, classical archival science was challenged by the emergence of digitaltechnology. The classical concepts – or the physical understanding of these concepts –were insufficient in describing the electronic manifestations of records andrecordkeeping systems ,they had to be replaced or re-interpreted by more abstractconcepts. Thirdly, the notion of the archive as a “natural, organic whole” was challenged fromanother position: Foucault, Derrida and others had demonstrated that archives areconstructed, created by human beings who transmitted their values and attitudes to therecords. Thus, .archiving is not a “natural” process; it is a societal process influenced bypolitical and economic power, by bureaucratic, legal, cultural and technologicalpreconditions, and by the record creator‟s social position, intentions and purposes. Thearchive is “the law of what can be said” according to Foucault (1992:129), or in KaisaMaliniemis words (2005:4): “The archiving process is not an objective action, it servessomebody‟s interests.” These three factors (and several others) have profoundly influenced archivalthinking, and led to the emergence of new and differing professional discourses andtendencies. (This is also the case in other disciplines: It is possible that the existence ofcompeting theoretical and methodological tendencies is one of the characteristics of ascientific discipline).
    • This discourse focused its energies around twoprimary imperatives: the building of a new national archivalsystem for South Africa; and the imagining ofa post apartheid archive in South Africa. The South African Archives Act was anexpression of a transformation discourse inarchives which had emerged in the late 1980sand gathered momentum in the early 1990s.
    •  In regard to the 1997 establishment of theNARS Act: how has it changed over theyears?
    •  Under apartheid, the archive was skewed infavour of those in power . It expressed thenarratives of a small elite. And it was thedomain of this elite rather than a publicresource.
    • Only the political elite would control who getsdocumented and who doesn‟t, thus controllingwhat archives are. Society was notdocumented, only the selected elite, thevoiceless were excluded, systematic barriersexisted, which hindered some members ofsociety from accessing archives
    •  Its endeavour has sought to redress theseimbalances in line with new national interests.
    •  The need to document society Creating spaces for voices previously excluded the need to make the processes of constitutingthe archive both transparent and accountable the need to open the archive according to theprinciples of “freedom of information” the need to overcome systemic barriers toaccessing the archive the need to develop new publics for archives
    • The apartheid model The post apartheid model answerable only to thestate their operations largelyopaque, and disconnected fromboth “private” archivesand related memoryinstitutions.. transformation endeavour hassought to build a new network ofinstitutions and structures at bothnational and provincial level, again,in line with national interests. The endeavour has been predicatedon: the need for accountability andtransparency the need for public participation; the need for public archives to auditstate record-keeping; the need for inter-institutional co-operation; and the need for the fostering ofsynergies between the intersecting“archival”, “museum”, “library”and “heritage” terrains.
    •  Under apartheid the terrain of social memory,as with all social space, was a site of struggle.In the crudest sense this was a struggle ofremembering against forgetting, ofoppositional memory fighting a life-and-deathstruggle against a systematic forgettingengineered by the state.
    • Interlocking legislation restricted access to andthe dissemination of information on vast areasof public life.These restrictions were manipulated to securean extraordinary degree of opacity ingovernmentthe country‟s formal information systemsbecame grossly distorted in support of officialpropaganda
    •  Obsessive secrecy was further served by theselective destruction of public records and theconfiscation or destruction of non-publicrecords generated by those who resisted thesystem. [(Harris: Seeing (in) Blindness: SouthAfrica, Archives and Passion for Justice) ]
    •  This role shifted significantly after 1990. Theapartheid regime was not overthrown. Therevolution fought for by the liberation movementsover nearly three decades did not happen.Instead, between 1990 and 1994 the apartheidgovernment and its political allies negotiated atransition to democracy with the opponents ofapartheid. In this period what I have called atransformation discourse in archives emerged, adiscourse informed by the assumption thatarchives required redefinition, more preciselyreinvention, for a democratic South Africa.