The idea of archives as collective memory is sometimes employed as a metaphor for discussing the social and cultural role of archives. It is argued here that the idea is more than a metaphor and is supported by theories that would view collections of documents and material artifacts as means of extending the temporal and spatial range of communication. Archives, along with other communicational resources such as oral and ritual tradition, help to transfer information—and thereby sustain memory—from generation to generation. Two examples illustrate the interrelationship of archives and memory within this broadened view of communication and culture. The first arises from attempts to find ways to warn future generations of the location of radioactive waste repositories. The second revolves around pressure to efface from cultural landscapes evidence of tragic events that people wish to forget.

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