This is just a quick note to jot down this quote from Ketelaar (2005) because of the way it dispels the idea that the archival record is some fixed thing. Archival records are valorized for their stability and fixity because we think the archive’s integrity depends on them.
The record is a “mediated and ever-changing construction” (Cook, 2001) ; records are “constantly evolving, ever mutating” (McKemmish, 2005), over time and space infusing and exhaling what I have called “tacit narratives”. These are embedded in the activations of the record. Every interaction, intervention, interrogation, and interpretation by creator, user, and archivist activates the record. These activations may happen consecutively or simultaneously, at different times, in different places and contexts. Moreover, as I argued before, any activation is distributed between texts and other agents in a network. The record, “always in a state of becoming”, has therefore many creators and consequently, many who may claim the record’s authorship and ownership.
But this valorization comes at a cost because not all archival records exhibit this characteristic of fixity. This is the case with electronic records, which are often in flux and motion as they are constantly assembled and reassembled from heterogenous data sources, onto our screens.
If we define an archive as a place where this fixity must reside, then we fashion a particular type of memory. This view of archival records fails to recognize the agency of our archival tools, and their relation to us. Ketelaar actually frames his discussion in terms of Actor-Network Theory which is a method for explicitly examining these relations.
I also like that Ketalaar is referencing McKemmish here because I think the Records Continuum is really built around the idea that the flow of records takes place in the wider field of record creation, and memory practices. The fixity or evidentiary nature of records is really just one aspect, and not a totalizing one that should be allowed to overly determine the archive. Our technologies for fixing the record always shape our archives in particular ways that obscure and eclipse. Telling these stories, and describing these relations between archival technologies and memory is what I’m trying to do in my own work.
Cook, T. (2001). Archival science and postmodernism: new formulations for old concepts. Archival Science, 1(1), 3–24.
Ketelaar, E. (2005). Sharing, collected memories in communities of records. Archives and Manuscripts, 33(1), 44.
McKemmish, S. (2005). Traces: Document, record, archive, archives. In S. McKemmish, M. Piggott, B. Reed, & F. Upward (Eds.), Archives: Recordkeeping in society (pp. 1–20). Charles Sturt University.