Three ideas, not always juxtaposed to one another in the literature, have had a profound impact on what archivists preserve. The ideas that archivists should create a universal record of human activity, that social justice should inform archival selection decisions, and that archivists hold a unique form of power that can be exercised through appraisal have led some to posit a professional obligation not only to work toward a more equitable future but also toward a moral one. This article argues that these ideas are generally not helpful to archivists. Local autonomy and unique archival missions better define how archivists can best perform their core functions, rather than ideas based on assumptions of universal documentation or social justice, each rooted in a notion of archival power.

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