Helen Samuels sought to document institutions in society by adding to official archives counterweights of private records and archivist-created records such as oral histories. In this way, she recognized and sought to mitigate biases that arise from institution-centric application of archival functionalism. Samuels's thinking emerged from a late-twentieth-century consensus on the social license for archival appraisal, which formed around the work of West German archivist Hans Booms, who wrote, “If there is indeed anything or anyone qualified to lend legitimacy to archival appraisal, it is society itself.” Today, archivists require renewed social license in light of acknowledgment that North American governments and institutions sought to open lands for settlement and for exploitation of natural resources by removing or eliminating Indigenous peoples. Can a society be said to “lend legitimacy” to archival appraisal when it has grossly violated human, civil, and Indigenous rights?

Starting from the question of how to create an adequate archives of Canada's Indigenous residential school system, the author locates Samuels's work amid other late-twentieth-century work on appraisal and asks how far her thinking can take us in pursuit of archival decolonization.

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