Historians and archivists approach the documentary past differently, as they consider, respectively, the "archive" (singular) and "archives" (plural). The former focuses on issues of power, memory, and identity centered upon the initial inscription of a document (or series of documents). The latter concentrates on the subsequent history of documents over time, including the many interventions by archivists (and others) that transform (and change) that original archive into archives. Despite making good common cause in lobbying over public policy and initially sharing values based on objective, scientific history, the two professions have drifted apart in recent decades. This essay explores the reasons for this divergence by analyzing the history of the two professions and highlighting resulting misconceptions that blind both to deeper nuances of the multiple contexts surrounding records that may enhance their understanding and use. It concludes that archives are not unproblematic storehouses of records awaiting the historian, but active sites of agency and power. Until recently, it has been in the interests of both professions to deny (or at least not interrogate) the subjectivity of archives. Both professions could benefit significantly, therefore, from a renewed partnership centered upon the history of the record to produce better history.
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Perspective| November 23 2011
The Archive(s) Is a Foreign Country: Historians, Archivists, and the Changing Archival Landscape
The American Archivist (2011) 74 (2): 600–632.
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Terry Cook; The Archive(s) Is a Foreign Country: Historians, Archivists, and the Changing Archival Landscape. The American Archivist 1 September 2011; 74 (2): 600–632. doi: https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.74.2.xm04573740262424
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