In the first of a two-part article, the author examines the negotiated order that formed around the early conception of the purpose and function of archival classification and arrangement. Drawing from the literature that covers the first sixty years of the development of the American archival profession, the article reveals the historical, social, economic, and technological forces, as well as the specific professional circumstances and interests, in which these principles and processes emerged. In doing so, archival classification is presented as an infrastructural tool that is available for, and understandable to, members of the profession. The picture that emerges is one in which notions of classification and arrangement are emblematic of the profession's identity and aspirations, associated with certain configurations of bureaucracy and technology, embodied in tacit and stated knowledge, accomplished and materialized through experiential practice, yet ever emergent and contested in response to changing social and political realities.

Over the centuries, archives have prevailed as information brokerages, functioning (at least in theory) as honest intermediaries as recorded information traverses a network of people, groups, organizations, and government entities. The archives is the conduit between the records creator and its subsequent user, allowing the records to settle permanently in place with a guarantee of continued authenticity and usability. As an enduring form of information infrastructure, archives have been viewed alternately as technologies of bureaucratic efficiency, government accountability, historical memory, social integration, and community resilience.2 In brokering records for posterity, the archives delivers the long view to society—the basic conditions for people to begin to comprehend the past, present, and future.

As a discipline, archival science has carved out its own body of knowledge (models, paradigms, and concepts) centered on the information brokered and an archival method that privileges its ordering capacity, applying principles of organization to records developed from, and reinforced by, this knowledge base.3 To set the information in place amid the creator and the user, archivists seek to understand the biography of the records, their creator and creation, the serial processes and activities that brought them into being, and the acts of sedimentation that settle them in systems, all the while seeking to reconstruct this life history within an archival fonds.

Archivists use the term “arrangement” to refer to this work of placing records within the fonds in relation to each other according to some kind of plan or scheme. In doing so, archivists typically conflate the concepts of classification and arrangement.4 As a concept, classification represents the intellectual work of constructing an interpretive framework (see Figure 1)—a representational architecture or system of categories (or classes) into which records will be placed. Archival classification involves defining the “membership and boundaries” of these classes and the hierarchical relationship among and within them.5 On the other hand, arrangement captures the physical work involved in placing records within such a scheme. This work includes the processes of organizing (organizing documents according to their original place in a recordkeeping system), sequencing (constructing and naming sequences of groupings by level), and ordering (ordering among these sequences or groups at each level of the arrangement hierarchy). Through the process of classifying and arranging a body of records, the archivist is involved in the production, reproduction, representation, and filtering of knowledge.


The representational architecture for archival classification


The representational architecture for archival classification

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According to Elaine Svenonius, “the techne or practical skill of information organization is a function of changing technology, whereas its intellectual foundation, which encompasses theory, is relatively impervious to change.”6 Yet, in the world of archives, this theoretical base has been far from steady. While pertinence or subject-based classification (a form of intellectual access that privileges informational content and the search experience of the user) was once a hallmark of archival work, the protection of records as evidence is, at least on paper, the avowed modern motivating purpose or raison d'être. From a theoretical perspective, records are said to serve as evidence of human action and activity when anchored to, and intertwined with, the circumstances of their original creation and use. Drawing from a stock of knowledge more than a hundred years in the making, provenance-based classification (drawing from the principles of respect des fonds and original order) is now embedded in professional discourse and included in archival standards and dictates. Taking a top-down (knowledge of the creator and other external circumstances surrounding the records' creation and use) and a bottom-up (knowledge of the internal processes and procedures by which the records were created and used) approach, the archivist is mandated to use the information gleaned in this process to try to negate or overcome the distance in time and space between the records as used and the records as archived.7 Thus, the work of the archivist involves understanding records “in relation both to their place in the archive and to the place from which they emerged.”8 Stabilized and objectified in the act of processing, this representation of context is then inscribed and shared in the finding aid in written form.

Yet, as Terry Cook argues, in creating this artifact, the act and process of classification conceals the inherent “messiness” of the world captured within its frame.9 Historical exigencies mean that much of the profound complexity of the world in which records are created and used (the creator's world) and the worlds in which the records are subsequently curated (the archivist's world) and reused (the researcher's world) remain obscured in the process of classification and arrangement. The modern archival profession emerged in tandem with the modern nation-state, allying archivists to the interests of government, administration, and the workings of large bureaucracies. Professional notions about rationality, objectivity, and truth drew upon ideologies from management and organizational theory. Bureaucracies were understood as set organizational forms, comprised of clearly distributed and demarcated activities, with operating rules that were both stable and exhaustive.10 This understanding of the bureaucratic world was codified in the act of classification and bound to the descriptive finding aid. Named hierarchical groupings represented the key external and internal (recordkeeping system) environments considered originary to the records, which together demarcated and reified an instantiation of a fonds.

The associated rise of scientific history in the nineteenth century helped shape archivists' view of their role as intermediaries in the scholarly research process. Scientific historiography's insistence on the objectivity of the historical record meant that the neutrality of the archivist was both assumed and considered sacrosanct. The idea of objectivity is constructed by removing overt traces of the archivist and the place and process of labor from the finding aid. This rhetorical strategy strips archivists of overt agency and emotion, a stratagem that further guards against inquiry and scrutiny from outside parties.11 Such thinking, as Cook notes, relegates the profession to “an invisible caretaker, a docile handmaiden.”12 In such a framework, any correlation between the product of processing (the finding aid) and a faithful description of the physical, intellectual, and emotional labor instantiated in the act of classification and arrangement is impossible. Thus, archivists' tacit knowledge and the activities performed during the process remain largely hidden from view, abandoned, and divorced from the public narrative. In their place is a rendering of what is understood to be an objective representation of the collection and its context.

Yet archivists have always had a level of agency in this process, having the capability to absorb and transform the theory and practice of classification and arrangement. The history of archival classification and arrangement is replete with examples of archivists adopting, sharing, interpreting, and exploiting knowledge and practice in ways that produced desired outcomes. In the process, archival classification was rendered as an infrastructural tool that is available for, and understandable to, members of the profession. As Bowker and Star remind us, tools exist as part of the process of finding a “practical match” between work practices and organizational and technological resources and as part of a “rich set of negotiated compromises” and negotiated orders available to members that let them function together to get work done.13

This article looks at the system of classification that emerged over the first sixty years of the development of the American archival profession. While not the first scholarly work to tackle the history of archival work processes, the nature of this systematic literature review is such that, in separating the discussion from its sister activity in processing (description), classification and arrangement are fully given their due. In looking at what is arguably the most uniquely archival of work processes, the literature review situates itself as part of what Stephen Barley and Beth Bechky call “work at the empirical interface.”14 Thus, the purpose of the article is to direct the reader's attention to the places and circumstances in which archivists strive to materialize, mend, maintain, or metamorphose the links that once existed between records, their creators, the functions and activities that brought the records into being, and the record-keeping structures in which they were originally stored.

Overall, the goal in studying classification models and arrangement in practice and in use is to reveal the historical, economic, technological, and social forces, as well as specific professional circumstances and interests, that influenced the creation of the architecture of this system. In doing so, the article describes the negotiated order that formed around the American archival profession's early conception of the purpose and function of archival arrangement, including instances of slippage in the notion that evidence serves as the organizing force. In the process, arrangement is examined as part of a larger debate about an emerging professional identity, including our contested relationship with constituencies that George Bolotenko describes as “the historical and the modernist (Library Science and Records Management).”15 At a more granular level, conceptions of archival arrangement are shown to be bound to frameworks that took varied and contested positions on the role of the archivist in the information domain (the manager of records across their life span or the custodian of historical records once living); on the value of historical records to society (valued for legal and administrative reasons or for reasons of historical scholarship); on the contexts that should be represented and thus privileged in the arrangement scheme (the administrative/legal or the historical); and on whether arrangement functions as a hypostatization of the needs of the creator, the archivist, and/or the researcher.

In any history of archival classification and arrangement, care must be taken to examine how core concepts are defined and used. In the United States, developments abroad have quietly but inextricably influenced archival theory and practice over the past hundred years. American archival theory was birthed in the political and social movements of nineteenth-century Europe. The history of European archival classification practices is, in turn, linked to earlier political developments in systems of governing; the attendant nature, form, and technologies of state and organizational bureaucracies; the two-way stretch between historians and an emergent archival profession; and the changing role and function of archival institutions within those structures.16

The Rome of the early republic up to the reign of Justinian introduces us to a culture steeped in recordkeeping. Rome of the time is described as teeming with legal and administrative records (“files, notebooks, official minutes, diaries, municipal records, protocols”), which were created by Roman officials—praetors, senators, consuls, provincial governors, and emperors—and housed in home offices or transmitted to various public repositories.17 The sixth to the twelfth century in Europe saw a retreat from public record-taking and from an administration based on record offices tasked with the transmittal, filing, and storage of legal and administrative records. The Roman system was replaced, at least for a time, by ruling structures in which probative documents prevailed, their form codified to preserve the power and the possessions of kingdoms and empires.18

Beginning in the sixteenth century, the management of documents and records in Europe was allied with the legal, economic, and political interests of the emerging nation-state. In this symbiotic relationship, an infrastructure to serve administration reemerged, with officials keeping recorded information by provenance or source according to their origins in chanceries and in treasuries.19 In western and southern Europe, the recordkeeping legacy of medieval systems prevailed, with series of documents brought together based on form, subject, or geographical origin and in turn arranged in chronological order. Eastern and northern Europe, however, adopted a registratur system, which provided for the planned and highly centralized control of retrospective and prospective records in distinct registry offices.20 The registry became an “interim zone,” a place where documents of legal significance were carefully archived and protected, while circulating chancery records ultimately became retired files, archived in a manner that often heralded their disuse and decay.21

With the upheaval of governmental, administrative, religious, and legal structures following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, great masses of historical records became divorced from administration. Losing their fixed role as the legal-administrative apparatus of government, archives were increasingly brought together and made accessible to the public in service of nationalist tendencies, existing not only as engines of bureaucratic and governmental efficiency but as sources for antiquarian and historical interest.22

Following earlier Enlightenment ideals that privileged scientific discovery, human reason, and the sharing of knowledge, pertinence-based classification (grouping documents, regardless of creator, according to predefined hierarchical subject classes) was pursued in support of standardizing and codifying human knowledge for scholarly use. Drawing from established practices of librarianship, the appeal of this strategy may have rested with the degree of skill it inferred, including the “considerable opportunities” provided to those implementing it to showcase their repertoire of knowledge and “intellectual ingenuity.”23 Still, pertinence-based classification was countered, to a degree, by practical concerns, including the adoption of the science of documentary criticism, which aligned European practice to the source of action and to the administration from which records originated.24 Yet, the fundamental assumption of diplomatic criticism—that a document's context is self-contained (manifested in its intellectual and physical form)—negated the need to overtly group documents according to origin, arguably tipping the hand back in favor of pertinence-based approaches.25

Time consuming as it was to implement, the pertinence-based approach to classification dominated until the end of the nineteenth century, when the increasing professionalization of history as an academic discipline helped to undermine its particular method of knowledge organization. With an empirical orientation, the scientific historiography of Leopold von Ranke advocated for a critical method of scholarship that stressed the primacy of evidence and the use of primary sources in pursuit of that goal.26 With the turn toward scientific history came a requirement of “historical neutrality” on the part of the archivist and a realization that archives could only properly function as historical institutions if the pipeline to current administration was reestablished.27 With this new rationale for the link between archives and public administration came the reexamination of archival practices with a goal of bringing uniformity, rigor, and efficiency to the physical and intellectual control of growing volumes of archival materials.

The seeds of that change arose from a “particular historic moment” in the late 1830s and early 1840s as France's Archives Nationales struggled to manage the expropriated records of the old regime and the cadre of newly trained archivists brought in to handle them.28 Determining that a collection's utility was contingent on maintaining its integrity, a principle (respect des fonds) was codified that promulgated keeping the extant archives (fonds d'archives) of an entity together, an entity being described as an individual, a family, or an organization that could be recognized in terms of its authority, autonomy, and competence. Novel in its recognition of archives as a collectivity, the principle's theoretical insight was in understanding that bodies of records (fonds) were created in a manner that served as evidence of a creator's functions and activities. Yet, the fact that the principle was only applied to closed groups of records created prior to 1789 indicates that practicality was a driving force behind its adoption.29

While the practical appeal of the principle lay in establishing a uniform structural/functional methodology to delimit and arrange records, variations to the principle emanating in Prussia showed a more pronounced regard for aligning archival principles with “contemporary trends” in historiography that “demanded greater respect for the origins of historical sources.”30 A variation, provenienzprinzip (principle of provenance), introduced to the Prussian State Privy Archives in 1874 by historian Heinrich von Sybel (a former student of von Ranke), extended the principle of provenance by linking the creator directly to the administrative unit responsible for the records. A later corollary introduced by Sybel's colleague, the historian Max Lehmann, viewed the internal registration or filing system, and the rules and processes that brought them into being, as indicative of the functions and structures of the creator. Thus, the principle of registraturprinzip (the principle of registratur) sought to also maintain the original order in which official papers were created and kept.31 The uptake of this last principle was inextricably linked to the nature and configuration of state bureaucracy and the attendant administrative structure of nation-states. Those that implemented a formal centralized registry division or office and associated registry system (a Germanic administrative tradition evident in Prussia, Germany, and the Netherlands) were more amenable to the notion of maintaining original order than countries that followed a Latin administrative tradition (Italy, France, and Spain).32

Respect des fonds thus involved demarcating an external (macro) boundary for provenance, while original order suggested that provenance was also an internal (micro) instantiation, expressed via recordkeeping order. As Cook notes, this expanded notion of provenance created an inherent dilemma in the archival understanding of the fonds—the “tension of viewing the fonds as a theoretical product of both creation (provenance) and arrangement (original order)” and thus embodying “both a logical and physical reality.”33 Yet, taken together, the two principles created a framework in which the “boundaries and structure” of the creator of an archives were seen as the basis for understanding records as a unit and for facilitating their classification.34 Overall, the effects on archival practice of such provenance-based arrangement were profound. In Italy, for instance, Francesco Bonaini, director and superintendent of the Tuscan Archives, used the principle as the core of a new archival framework or methodology (metodo storico) that was adopted throughout Italy in the 1870s.35 While in the Netherlands, the notion that an administrative body constituted the “fonds” was a departure from previous communal or community-based approaches, where the main level for classification had been rooted in ideas of location and of place (the creator or owner of the archief were geographically bound entities such as city, state, or province).36 In effect, the new dictate helped to create a clear distinction between the concept of the fonds and that of the archive.37

In 1898, the Dutch manual of Muller, Feith, and Fruin (Handleiding Voor Het Ordenen en Beschrijven van Archieven) solidified the emergence of an autonomous Western archival science, combining French and German principles with its own national context. The manual laid out the new understanding of an administrative body as creator of an archives and endorsed respect des fonds and, with some exceptions, that of original order for its arrangement.38 Given substance in the form of a hundred rules for arrangement and description, the manual was said to apply only to archives that came into being from governmental and organizational spheres, having the necessary conditions of naturalness and unity judged absent from personal papers.

The Dutch manual echoed the Dutch administrative context, characterizing the formation and proper classification of the archival collection (fonds) as a natural outgrowth of certain key external (function) and internal contexts (the systematic rules in place in a registry system) of the creating body. Drawing from the language of the life sciences, and suffused with the ideas of realism, the archive was understood as a once-living organism “which grows, takes shape, and undergoes changes” in accordance with rules relating to an archives' formation, composition, and arrangement.39 Thus, the job of the archivist in creating a classification scheme for an organism now considered dead (“closed”) was akin to reanimation, ensuring that the scheme emerged naturally from an understanding of the character of an archives' creating body and from its associated recordkeeping structure.40 In following such an edict, the character of the work of the archivist was transformed—“where formerly it had resembled that of librarians, it began now to resemble that of registry officials.”41

What is important to note here is that the fonds in this instance was seen as having distinct physical boundaries—externally and internally. In the Dutch administrative context, the series system (documents brought together into runs of files based on their form or date) and the dossier system (documents brought together based on subject or case) were understood as origi-nary and thus were to be preserved as a main dorsal line within the scheme. Alterations or enhancements to the classification scheme were brooked only in circumstances that affirmed the meaning of the topography and topology of the records. Thus, macro-level chronological divisions could be utilized as a way of highlighting functional and structural changes to an administrative body that had a direct impact on administration (and thus, by implication, recordkeeping). And modifications to the original arrangement of a collection were recommended only when necessary to correct deviations in the work of the original administrators.42

The mechanism of formal publication helped to diffuse knowledge of the principles across national borders. The translation of the Dutch manual into German (1905), Italian (1908), French (1910), and Bulgarian (1912) facilitated the naturalization of these ideas.43 While an English-language version of the manual was not available until 1940, continental theories of classification were promulgated through the writings of archivists at the United Kingdom's Public Record Office, including Charles Johnson (1919) and Hilary Jenkinson (1922).44 Jenkinson's ideas about the nature of archives, and the notion of what constituted the “fonds” (called the “archive group” in the United Kingdom) were grounded in his work with closed groups of British medieval documents (the nature of which emphasized the legal character of archives) and his understanding of the history and practice of English administration, albeit one that existed before the surge in recordkeeping after World War I.

For Jenkinson, documents could be considered archival if they were drawn up in the course of public or private transactions (of which they themselves were a part) and subsequently preserved for their own information by their creator or a legitimate successor. The first part of Jenkinson's definition was said to impart to archives the quality of impartiality, while the second imparted the quality of authenticity. Jenkinson's beliefs about arrangement were tied to nineteenth-century ideas of scientific history, with public records understood as “first-hand evidence,” their value linked to their status as the “material survivals” of “administrative or executive transactions.”45 Yet, in outlining the proper work of the archivist, Jenkinson was adamant that interest in the subject and methods of history should be set aside to ensure that no external viewpoint would color the organization of the historical archives of government. Demonstrating that classification systems are often sites of professional contestation and echoing emerging notions of the autonomy of archival work, Jenkinson decreed that duty was owed first and foremost to the archives and its impartiality.

Indeed, as Cook describes, archival work for Jenkinson entailed the “guardianship of ‘Truth’ in records through unaltered and unmediated and unbroken context,” and thus archivists were seen to have a moral duty “to illuminate that contextual origin of records, so that their properties as evidence would not be tainted.”46 In linking his conception of the evidentiary nature and value of archives directly to the efficacy of the principles and the associated methodology of archival work, Jenkinson moved the rationale for the principles from a purely practical to a more theoretical domain. Comparable to the authors of the Dutch manual, Jenkinson believed that an adherence to the principle of provenance required a retrospective understanding of the history and origin of administration. Yet Jenkinson added further definition to the emerging contextual and hierarchal model of classification, linking archives first to an administration (represented in the classification scheme as an “archive group”); then, if warranted by its impact on recordkeeping, to a division within the administration (represented as a subgroup); and then to a function within the division (represented as general headings for classes of documents). Thus, for Jenkinson, archive groups and subgroups formed the main vertical, provenancial, and intellectual divisions for archives. From there, the archives, following the principle of original order, could be ordered into the aforementioned classes consisting of series and associated subdivisions. Jenkinson noted that, based on administrative practice, the documents within these classes were generally those of a similar genre or format. However, given the long history and thus fluidity of certain branches of English administration, Jenkinson questioned the continental notion that one originary series (called the “main record” due to its connection to the main business of the division) could always be demarcated as the backbone of a classification scheme and thus be the series from which all other subsidiary series would emanate.47 Instead, Jenkinson delineated a number of series types including original (originary) series, made series (archivist created, in the absence of any discernable original order), and miscellanea. On the question of whether archivists were ever justified in disturbing original order, Jenkinson allowed that cases existed, such as those mentioned in the Dutch manual, where a compromise might be convenient. However, given his admonition that the foremost duty of the archivist is to preserve the essential qualities of archives, Jenkinson argued against imposing the archivists' own sensibilities on the process of classification.48

Yet, the idea that original order, with its focus on reinforcing provenance by protecting the archives' extant materials and spatial configuration, was contested, including among Jenkinson's contemporaries. In particular, and breaking with Prussian archival traditions, archival theorist Adolf Brenneke's doctrine of the “free principle of provenance” (or “the principle of organic structure”) overrode a strict adherence to preserving a creator's original filing system.49 If the Dutch manual had given the green light to correct occasional deviations in the work of administrators, Brenneke sought to counteract what he saw as an overall degradation in recordkeeping practices in the Prussian registratur of his day, where documents made their administrative rounds before unskilled clerks placed them within a set classification framework.50 As Angelika Menne Haritz and Regina Landwehr emphasize, Brenneke's contribution to the debate was about more than reconstructing or rehabilitating the registry, or returning archives to it. For Brenneke, the fundamental purpose of arrangement was about revealing the conditions under which records are created and accumulated. Seen as functional in nature, Brenneke believed that the principle carried with it a notion that an archival body, containing records created and accumulated in the pursuit of particular activities, was capable of revealing a creating body's “community of purposes.” Acknowledging the body of records as an organic growth, Brenneke nevertheless believed that recordkeeping's final order does not always capture the fluid conditions and historical influences that shape business and its processes. Thus, Brenneke left archivists free to intervene in the arrangement of an archives, provided that this work was aimed at showing researchers the archives' essential characteristics.51

In sum, the guiding principles of the emergent European arrangement theory and practice centered on the preservation of the evidential value of records through the representation of a physical body of records in context. Yet, while the first part of the principle of provenance achieved saturation in Europe in the first few decades of the twentieth century, long-standing local and regional differences in archival theory and practice coupled with differences in state administrative structures and the perceived nature and value of extant state recordkeeping systems, and the fact that European archivists of the time were often dealing with defunct rather than living administrations, helped to create a level of ambiguity toward the notion of original order. As in Europe, practical factors would come to influence how American archivists understood classification and the kind of work to which it could contribute. As a classification system was birthed and embedded within the archival infrastructure of the United States, the process, its influences, and its outcomes proved as revealing about the profession's values and aspirations as about its European counterparts.

Like its European counterparts, the emergence of an American tradition of archival classification is embedded in particular configurations and technologies of bureaucracy. When the United States government moved its operations from Philadelphia to Washington in 1800, it consisted of 131 employees, working out of “crowded and unorganized” offices containing records “as disorganized as the government.”52 Yet, some semblance of order was evident in early American government recordkeeping systems. These systems generally adopted a centralized, chronological model for managing information based on processes of indexing rather than classification. In carrying out the functions of government, clerks saw to it that incoming correspondence was registered (which included each letter being individually numbered in order of receipt), folded, and then filed in document boxes, while the contents of outgoing letters were copied and transcribed to bound books. Accompanying indexes were recorded in book and later card format.53 As the work of the federal government grew in complexity and scope, attempts to manage the paperwork burden led to the proliferation of recordkeeping systems and the hiring of extra staff in addition to the creation of more specialized managerial positions.54

By the late nineteenth century, the growth in business and the rise of the modern corporation ensured that America was amid an “office revolution.” Said to match the Industrial Revolution of a century earlier, its ramifications were felt “more widely and sooner” in the private sector.55 While government bureaucracy was mired in complex unmechanized office systems, the private sector increasingly focused its efforts on improving efficiency through the introduction of new technologies.56 In search of reform, the early book form of recordkeeping of the American colonial period was largely swept aside, with the introduction of the typewriter, carbon paper, and duplicators initiating a “revolution in production and reproduction of written communication.”57 These inventions supported a change in practice in which the notion of file units (and associated file series) consisting of incoming letters and copies of outgoing letters filed together supplanted discrete control of documents. Numbered, and thus arranged chronologically, case files were generally indexed by name, while general subject files were indexed by topic.58

With the founding of Melvil Dewey's Library Bureau company in 1876, new filing services, expertise, and equipment were available to the private and the public sectors. As the latest form of administrative apparatus, new filing systems and mechanisms promised to improve workflows and speed up office operations by offering better control, access, retrieval, and circulation of information. With it came the attendant rise of a class of specialized office workers who were their own file administrators. The introduction of new types of storage technologies (embodied in the form of the vertical letter file) and of new methods for classification of information resources (embodied in the form of Dewey's decimal system) had the most impact on records administration. Designed for more effectual subject classification, Dewey's decimal system represented a planned form of pre-action structuring and systematizing of information and knowledge. As an intellectual system, it was instantiated in “a logical arrangement of subject-matter categories with a decimal notation or code” “accompanied by a relative index,” a form of which was first applied to records under the auspices of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1898.59 Similarly, the introduction of the vertical letter file (and the associated vertical method of filing) helped to instantiate a visible, self-indexing, and mobile order in the physical domain, a filing system intimately located and collocated to work.60

By the 1910s, the findings of the federal government's Taft Commission on Economy and Efficiency confirmed that large businesses were mainly adopting these innovative filing systems and procedures. Carbon copies and flat vertical filing were indeed replacing press copy books and older-style Woodruff files (file boxes containing folded documents). User-friendly alphabetical and subject-based filing systems were similarly supplanting more complex numerical filing systems, with their associated registers and indexes. Describing government processes and procedures in less favorable terms, the commission noted that only “a few of the over 250 filing systems used in the executive departments could be regarded as scientific or logical.”61 In their place, the commission recommended a “self-indexing, subject system for filing records, preferably under a decimal system of symbols.”62

Yet, the systems and forces of capitalism and bureaucratic control, and their associated technologies of information, were not alone in shaping how American classification and arrangement practices evolved. Historical exigencies ensured that the archival profession's understanding of classification and arrangement was shaped not only by a distinct framework rooted in evidence but also one that came to be deeply embedded in notions of memory and its construction. Furthermore, a diverse yet related set of contingencies and constraints, including the piecemeal development of a state archival system, the delay in the founding of a national archives and of a national professional archival association, state archives' lack of management of current records, and the strong influence of the library tradition on the management of historical manuscripts (including instances where the state library controlled the state archives) helped create an environment in which archival practice was “highly individualistic” as to method.63 In particular, the rise of separate historical manuscripts and public records traditions had a marked effect on the early theory and practice of classification and arrangement in the United States, feeding into differences in the profession's perceived set of values and overall sense of identity.64 In the United States, the traditions of librarianship were ascendant until the late 1930s before they conjoined with the principles and practices emerging from a nascent archival profession.

The historical manuscripts tradition, and attendant ideas about archival classification and arrangement, emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as archival work moved beyond the realm of individual manuscript collectors, becoming institutionalized in manuscript repositories and early state archival agencies. In institutions with small holdings of manuscript materials, the impetus was on devising schemes for creating an order within a collection. Collections with a small number of documents tended to be arranged into one series, with larger collections generally being divided into multiple series by activity (respecting the source) and/or by document type. At the document level, chronological arrangement was particularly popular, with geographic arrangement and arrangement by subject also acceptable options. On the other hand, repositories with larger holdings, including state archival agencies and major manuscript repositories, also sought to devise their own external classification schemes (whether historical, administrative, subject, or chronologic-geographic) into which all materials could be placed.65

Founded in 1897, this later tradition is exemplified by the work of the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress (LOC). With a collecting mandate as broad as American history, the institution acquired both official records (records of the federal government that were treated as manuscripts because they were no longer associated with their creating entities) and personal papers in pursuit of its service to scholarship.66 In 1913, the practices used to classify over a million official and private manuscripts were outlined in a manual entitled Notes on the Care, Cataloguing, Calendaring, and Arranging of Manuscripts written by the chief assistant of the division, J. C. Fitzpatrick.67 Turning to the established methods of librarianship, as the “only paradigm of intellectual control then available in America,” LOC classification practices were firmly attuned to the scholarly use of the materials and, in the process, facilitating the work of archival processing and the methodology of historians.68 Drawing from an established tradition (a la Dewey) of classifying secondary source materials and using what has been dubbed a “reclassification” approach, predetermined classes and subclasses were created into which all manuscripts were placed, and an imposed internal arrangement scheme dictated how the items within collections were ordered.69

In pursuit of supposed neutrality in the classification process (both on behalf of library workers and of historians who might want to use the collections), temporality and an associated concern for creating classes of records based on their source formed the main intellectual and physical manifestation of the classification process, followed by that of genre/format.70 In part, this particular ordering was a function of the material legacy of earlier recordkeeping traditions that echoed in the collections—a time when documents were handwritten, and recordkeeping generally consisted of incoming letters kept in Woodruff file boxes or tied into bundles and outgoing letters copied in letter books.71 Hence, for the Library of Congress, and institutions such as the Minnesota Historical Society that followed its example, classification occurred broadly along the lines of external provenance (albeit in service of the secondary user and not the primary creator), yet the schema largely eschewed any representation of internal provenance (or indeed any nod toward the emerging information systems of filing and control), including “any conception of record series and any attempt to relate the serial components of a collection to one another.”72

With the LOC taking an early interest in collecting historical manuscripts, it was left primarily to members of the nascent history profession to build and strengthen the public records tradition and in doing so to transition archival work from predetermined classification practices to a more natural or organic form of classification—arrangement by provenance. With scientific history in the German manner in vogue, historians were expected to be vigorously trained in research methods, including “the search for and critical use of sources.”73 In the Progressive Era, when an allegiance to “scientific principles, specialization, and professionalization” was an indication that “one stood upon the cutting edge of modernity,” a cadre of archivally minded American historians sought a systematic and precise approach to managing public records. In doing so, they turned away from the classification systems that librarians had adopted to organize knowledge, seeking instead to draw inspiration from their European colleagues, albeit in a form specifically aligned with the needs of historical research.74 A key player in the development of such archival practice in the United States was the American Historical Association (AHA, founded in 1884) and associated individuals such as J. Franklin Jameson (AHA president, 1907; managing editor of the American Historical Review, 1895–1901, 1905–1928) and Waldo Gifford Leland (AHA secretary, 1909–1920).75 The AHA's formation of a Historical Manuscripts Commission (1895) and a Public Archives Commission (1899) constituted the first formal attempt in the United States to categorize and distinguish between types of historical materials (manuscript materials versus archives) based on their origin (personal/private/nonofficial versus official/public) and proper methods of management.76 In 1902, the AHA's attendant interest in the professionalization of history as a discipline led to a proposal to the newly established Carnegie Institute of Washington (CIW) to fund a clear-inghouse and center for historical research, the Bureau (later Department) of Historical Research.77 In sending staff abroad to search for historical documents relating to American history (including Leland's work in Paris from 1907 to 1914 and 1922 to 1927), the CIW helped introduce American archivists to the new European classification principles and arrangement practices, which they were quick to introduce at home through the auspices of the AHA.78

In particular, the AHA's Public Archives Commission, and its sponsorship of an annual conference of archivists (beginning in 1909), had a significant impact on the nascent American archival profession.79 At the first annual conference of archivists, Leland called for the adoption of the principle of provenance, arguing that archives should “be classified according to their origin,” reflecting the “processes by which they came into existence.”80 Leland was not alone in extolling the value of European archival principles and methods. At the second annual conference of archivists, a report from Arnold J. F. van Laer, a delegate to the International Congress of Archivists and Librarians, counseled American archivists on the “practical unanimity” among their international colleagues on the importance of the adoption of the principle of provenance as the basis for archival classification and arrangement.81

By the fourth annual conference of archivists in 1912, attention began to shift from the historians' general interest in archives to the more practical aspects of archival organization and management.82 A subcommittee of the commission (consisting of Leland, Victor Hugo Paltsits, and Herman V. Ames) went to work outlining the plan and scope of a manual of archival practice akin to the Dutch manual.83 In effect, the manual was to be a rejoinder, of sorts, to the LOC manual, particularly in terms of its adherence to European archival traditions and its articulation of the distinction between archivists and manuscript curators.84 In outlining the chapter on classification, Paltsis made it clear that archivists would abstain from library practice in favor of the newly articulated European principle of provenance.85 However, efforts to complete the manual stalled, with lack of ongoing funding during the Great War putting an end to the Primer of Archival Economy. Yet, the Great War heralded other developments that would further shape the nature of American archival classification and arrangement. In particular, the war turned the attention of American archivists to managing increasing volumes of modern records and to building the archival infrastructure to house these materials. Such activities were undertaken not only in a spirit of independence from their archival colleagues abroad, but in the face of waning interest from historians.86

Efforts to codify practices across the public records and historical manuscripts traditions continued, as previously noted, during the 1920s and 1930s. Generally this entailed a hybrid provenance- and pertinence-based approach, with the public records tradition embracing the former method to a much greater degree.87 Yet loftier debates also in play directly influenced how archival classification and arrangement practices evolved, including ideas about the nature of archives, the role of the archive in society, and the proper allegiances owed by those in the nascent archival profession. While the early proponents of the European principles of provenance and original order were historians, moves were afoot to dislodge their influence and their alignment of the principles with notions of historical context.88 Using Progressive Era values of efficiency and economy to their own ends, a number of state archivists, including Margaret Cross Norton of Illinois, cemented the division between the historical manuscripts and public records traditions, yet, in the process, realigning the latter with an administrative rather than a historical and scholarly orientation.89 For Norton, what distinguished archives was that they existed to serve “public officials primarily and historians only secondarily.”90 The “interpretive role” of archives and of archivists favored by the historical manuscripts tradition was thus rejected in favor of the “custodial-” oriented model of the European tradition.91

Norton's championing of a “proto-records-management argument” (a provenance-based approach to managing archives tied to the needs of public administration rather than of history) was controversial in its day.92 Like Jenkinson (whose manual she called her “bible”), she rejected the notion that emerged from scientific historiography that the needs and methods of the historian necessarily aligned with the principle of provenance.93 Indeed, she feared historians' subjectivity would lead to the diminution of provenance—that items would be selected, and archival units disturbed, to facilitate historical rather than archival needs (the need to manage records as evidence, privileging their administrative and legal value).94 If Jenkinson had contended that archives were formed by and out of the needs of administration, and thus the archivist's prime duty was the defense of that reality, Norton also embraced more pragmatic reasons to support the connection between archivists, bureaucracy, and administration. In framing the existence of archives in terms of fulfilling the administrative and legal needs of government, Norton was attempting to shore up the legitimacy of the state archival institution, an institution bereft of the historical precedence of its European counterparts.95 Harking back to the earlier role and function of archives within the nation-state, Norton thus sought to link the nascent American archival profession “more closely to centers of political influence and power and less to the scholarly world of the academic historian.”96

The dialogue over the nature and form of archival work, including that of archival arrangement, was also reinvigorated by the establishment of the National Archives in 1934, along with the formation of the independent Society of American Archivists in 1936 (where Norton served as the chair of the Committee of Cataloging and Classification).97 During the height of the Great Depression, historians were eager to be employed by the federal government, including at the newly formed National Archives where many of the professional appointees had previously worked or studied with J. Franklin Jameson and other luminaries of the AHA.98 As one of the key operating units charged with bringing new archival approaches to the management of federal records, a professional division for classification operated between 1935 and 1941 run by historian Roscoe R. Hill.99 The work of the division was in turn shaped by broader societal forces that impacted how the National Archives functioned in a time when the economic and social reach of the federal government was ascending and the information it created was growing exponentially. Since World War I, the volume of records being created and maintained by the federal government had ballooned. The advent of mechanical means of creating and duplicating records was only one cause of this increase. Between 1880 and 1930, the role of the federal government expanded in both the domestic and international sphere, with new agencies being created to take responsibility for key areas such as defense, agriculture, and consumer protection. This expansion took place as the population of the United States more than doubled, with an associated increase in the number of federal employees from 150,000 to 900,000. When the policies of the New Deal were put in place to alleviate the economic suffering brought about by the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's program of relief, recovery, and reform led to the creation of forty new federal agencies during his first presidential term (1933–1937). Concomitant, the public revenues allocated to the Historical Records Survey (HRS) and the Federal Records Survey (FRS) of the president's Works Progress Administration served as a financial stimulus to the nascent archival profession and as an incubator to hone more distinctly archival inventorying and indexing techniques for both public records and manuscript materials.100

By the time Roosevelt signed legislation creating the National Archives in 1934, the federal government was creating about 300,000 cubic feet of records a year, with a total accumulation of over four million cubic feet, and growing.101 In the years between its establishment and the entry of the United States into the Second World War, about one-third of a million cubic feet of records were transferred to the National Archives.102 Thus, while the National Archives was founded principally through the agitation and the auspices of historians and the historical profession, the situation on the ground echoed Norton's admonition to put administrative needs ahead of scholarly ones. Accordingly, in service of the national interest, the charge of the National Archives during the war years was “to make itself useful to the prosecution of the war and especially to stimulate the growth of records management in the federal government.”103 In such a nod to emergent records management sensibilities, staff at the National Archives (including future founding father of the records management profession, Emmett J. Leahy) drew attention to the fact that poor classification practices in federal agencies contributed to the glut of government records and the associated challenges involved in their reduction or retention. By advocating for an intervention in recordkeeping processes prior to records coming into archival custody, the goal was to protect the integrity of records of value, while preventing the accumulation and transfer of records without.104 In doing so, an opportunity arose to shift the mindset from solely facilitating the classification of closed groups of federal government records to one in which information was managed across its life cycle.

Yet, the extent of the backlog meant that much of this early work of the National Archives consisted of the transfer of older records from various agencies of government. Because many of these records had been stored “under deplorable, or at best, unsatisfactory, conditions,” archivists faced the difficult task of reconstructing the order of the files in light of what was described as “meager evidence.”105 As a result of adopting the practices of the HRS, the notion was firmly established from the outset that conditions required archivists to have collective control of records, rather than the item-level approach favored by librarians.106 At the same time, the distinctly archival term “arrangement” (in the sense of physically organizing materials) came into more common use alongside that of “classification” (which more generally embodies the representational architecture), with “provenance” and “original order” used as its guiding principles.107

Showing a crystallization of opinion on the topic, the predetermined subject matter classification of library practice was generally rejected in favor of a system that reflected the National Archives' role in support of public administration and in serving the “most important users” of the National Archives—the agencies of origin and other government entities.108 Such a system was said to draw on staff knowledge of what “actually happens to bodies of archives, as they are assimilated into an archives establishment, in the way of giving them names and local habitations.”109 Necessitating the use of the historian's mind-set (a process of research described as “piecing together the historical evidence which identifies individual records, groups of records and record-producing agencies”), fonds (and their associated divisions, subgroups) were to be based on an administrative unit, while series (or what Hill called “archimon”) were to be grouped together based on evidence such as “physical contiguity, recurrence of some original filing-system symbol, some specific record found outlining the organization of the board or information procured from a veteran employee of the board whose memory may be trusted.”110

By 1941, with the government preparing for war, federal agencies were creating about two million cubic feet of records annually, with an accumulated backlog of eleven million cubic feet.111 In the service of the mounting war effort, the National Archives was called upon to provide information to federal agencies on government activities during World War I, as well as to accept the transfer of records from federal agencies looking to free up space for “defense activities.”112 Stepping in to help combat this growing information management problem, the National Archives accessioned another third to a half million cubic feet of records during the war years.113 Against this backdrop, the findings of a special committee at the National Archives (the Finding Mediums Committee headed by Solon Buck) swept away many of the vestiges of librarianship with the dissolution of the divisions for classification and cataloging, and the formal adoption and application of provenance as the basis for arranging public records.114 At the National Archives, responsibility for arrangement became the duty of sixteen separate custodial record divisions, with a staff officer (Oliver W. Holmes, in the new position of director of research and records description) assigned to coordinate the overall work of arrangement.115 The committee formally defined what constituted the administrative unit or division of government (and its associated body of records) that would function as the highest level of intellectual control for holdings of the National Archives. With Buck dismissing the use of “fonds” (which, when tied to a registry or filing unit he believed could result in multiple fonds for a given agency), the National Archives established the “record group” as a pragmatic framework attuned to the emerging work process of archival staff.116 Pegging the record group to an administrative unit usually corresponding to the bureau level of the federal government ensured that each body of historical records would be “of convenient size and character for the work of arrangement and description and for the publication of inventories.”117 The practical question of how to create a system of storage and location for an ever-increasing volume of materials also played a role in how classification was envisioned. The overarching concern was to physically allocate record groups to the various record branches of the National Archives and, from there, to bring to life the relationship of record groups to each other through the instantiation of an ideal stack plan.118

The emergence of a burgeoning set of pragmatic American archival principles and practices also took place against the backdrop of an emerging program of archival education in which the National Archives played a key role. Archival education served as a microcosm for the ongoing contestation over the role that the disciplines of history, library science, and later records management would play in shaping the nature and practice of archival work, including archival arrangement. In play were differing notions about what membership entails in a community of practice, including differences in professional norms, values, principles, work practices, and so on.

Reporting in 1938 with historian Samuel Flagg Bemis at the helm, SAA's Committee on the Training of Archivists sided with the status quo, determining that the education of American archivists should take place in graduate schools of history, with archivists assuming the mantle of historical scholars with additional technical archival training. It was also suggested that coursework could be in pursued in library science, with an acknowledgment that library principles and methods could be useful for the work of cataloging. Yet, in the United States, enthusiasm for library training was tempered by the fact that European archival training programs had largely eschewed its influence. This was due to the (rather ironic) perception that librarianship would bring an overly practice-based orientation to the archival field and by the knowledge of the damage that librarians' ignorance of the principle of provenance wrought to some archival collections.119 Despite SAA's early interest in archival training, it was left up to individuals such as historian Solon Buck (soon to be second archivist of the United States) to articulate a comprehensive program of study for the fledging archival professional. Buck anticipated such programs being administered within graduate departments of history and the social sciences. That such programs were possible was clear from a small but growing number of university courses that emerged at the time, including one on archives and historical manuscripts (including the techniques of arrangement) that Buck taught at Columbia University Graduate School during the winter semester of 1938–1939. In writing about graduate archival education programs, Buck emphasized the difference between library science and what he termed “archival science,” much of which he attributed to the nature of the materials managed by both, with archives singled out for their legal significance, physical makeup, and organic nature.120 Embracing the idea of the archivist-historian, Buck emphasized that archivists needed a good grounding in history (including that of government and administration) and the historical method, as well as in archives administration. Archives administration was defined as the history and present practice of archival work, including that of arrangement.121

As the archival profession moved into the second half of the twentieth century, the challenge of managing the glut of federal records that arose from the expansion of government following the New Deal and two world wars, and a concern for broadening the audience and the research use of federal archives, continued to shape archival practice in the United States. Alongside a strengthened life-cycle approach to records management, the postwar years for the newly named National Archives and Records Service (NARS) included working with federal agencies to destroy records of temporary value and thus reduce the costs of federal records storage. Given that by 1946 the National Archives building was already three-quarters full, staff at the National Archives also turned their attention to internal records management issues. Using developing appraisal principles, the National Archives destroyed over half a million cubic feet of its holdings between 1945 and 1969, believing that the records “no longer warranted expending taxpayer dollars to preserve them.”122 The postwar years also witnessed an increased emphasis on the publication of articles and printed guides to publicize the holdings of the National Archives among historians and their graduate students; all in an effort to attract more scholarly use of the collections.123 Meanwhile, the National Archives also anticipated serving a broader research community as records of value for “sociological, statistical, economic, and technical studies” became available after the war.124

Given these developments, it is not surprising that Jenkinson's notion of the impartiality and objectivity of the archive and its guardians was set aside in favor of archivists playing a more active role in selecting records created by public institutions. In making appraisal decisions, staff at the National Archives drew on a model of archival value drawn up by staff member Theodore Schellenberg in 1956.125 A primary or originary value was understood as the value that records had for creating agencies. While a secondary (and longer-lasting) value was the value that records had for those other than the original creator after the records were no longer in active use. In making that distinction, the notion of evidence shifted once more. This time from a Jenkinsonian model tied to neutrality, objectivity, continuous custody, and the needs of administration, to one that tied evidence firmly to deliberative choices made by archivists in service of the needs of future users, still primarily historians. As Cook notes, the “evidence” paradigm that had come to dominate modern archival thinking thus coexisted with a “memory” paradigm in which archivists now accepted their role as active shapers of public memory and were increasingly attuned to trends in historiography in support of this process. Thus, archivists were once more distanced from a sole concern for administration, revisiting their role as the “handmaidens of historians.”126

In the interim, staff at the National Archives continued to refine the notion of classification and its associated work processes, with such theories and practices then promulgated through a series of in-house publications and a training and instruction program for staff.127 Within the record group, constituent elements were laid out as the subgroup (“usually established on the basis of organizational and functional origins”), series (an amalgamation of the European series and dossier system in which groups were “established on the basis of their arrangement in accordance with a particular filing system, their subject matter or functional affinity, or the physical uniformity of their record types”), and file units (including folders, dossiers, and volumes). Together, these elements were said to “reflect to a greater degree than their European counterparts the organization and functioning of the administrative units that produced them.”128

At the National Archives, any discussion of order was also tied to how the groupings (once established) should be arranged among themselves and how that arrangement would be instantiated in physical space. In describing the logical relationship of subgroups to each other, Schellenberg provided rationales for when the order among subgroups should follow along hierarchical, chronological, functional, material, or geographical lines. By considering material type as one possible means of establishing and arranging subgroups, Schellenberg blurred the distinction between subgroups (representing the external context of records creation) and series (representing the records themselves).129 In tackling the question of internal order, Schellenberg agreed that the original arrangement could be altered under certain conditions, including in instances where the original filing system in the federal agency was inadequate. Moreover, his understanding that many federal records were preserved for their informational and not just their evidential value convinced him that such records should be maintained in whatever order served the needs of scholars and government officials.130 The effect of Schellenberg's work was to “de-emphasize the evidential status of records and made use more of the raison d'être.”131

In 1964, the modern instantiation of archival arrangement in the United States finally came to fruition in a classification model put forth by National Archives staff member Oliver Wendell Holmes.132 The model expanded the notion of arrangement, highlighting the fact that the work consisted of different operations, carried out in and among different groups of records within the holdings of an archives. These groups were expressed as a model consisting of hierarchical levels—depository, record group, subgroup, series, filing unit, and document. At the record group and subgroup levels, arrangement was seen as the practical instantiation of the principle of respect des fonds, while arrangement at the series level and below was tied to the principle of original order. In general, the record group and subgroup were seen as tied to function (the activities generating the records), while the series level and below were tied to the form that the documentation takes (as it exists within a recordkeeping system).133 Yet, the notion of what constituted the various levels of the classification model continued to evolve, with the concept of the subgroup causing particular vexation for the archival community. Richard Berner, for example, while advocating for the use of subgroups in the arrangement of personal papers, could only envision this level being used to document a person's involvement with a corporate entity (when the person acted in a corporate capacity, as an agent for another party), separate from his or her personal affairs.134 Thus, the opportunity was missed to highlight the fact that individuals, and the contexts that surround them, can also be understood on a structural (subgroups representing members of a family) and a functional (subgroups representing the major functions an individual carries out in life) level.

While it can be argued that Holmes's model marked a clear instantiation of an archival mindset (in this instance centered on classification and arrangement), the notion that a robust and independent profession with its own distinct body of knowledge was now in existence after sixty years of professional growth remained illusory. The reality of managing increased volumes of modern materials after World War II and the increasing relocation of manuscript materials from the repository of the library to that of the university archives gave greater credence to the notion that archival techniques, including collective control, could be applied to manuscript materials, with Theodore Schellenberg a convert in this regard.135 Yet, from the perspective of arrangement, the continued sway of the user orientation of librarianship helped perpetuate the debate over the meaning and the significance of original order, particularly in terms of its applicability and usefulness to personal archives. In a challenge to the Bemis report, the connection to librarianship and library science was also increasingly considered as archivists sought to burnish their professional persona. For Schellenberg, what librarianship possessed that the archival profession lacked was a formalized and standardized method that could be used to create a proficient national system of classification. Thus, in the absence of an archival classification system akin to that of Dewey or Cutter, librarianship was said to serve as an “object lesson” for archivists in how the profession could and should continue to evolve.136

The decades of the 1960s and 1970s continued the trend of “disciplinary fragmentation,” with records management solidifying its establishment as a separate profession and archivists grappling with the ongoing changes wrought by those entering the profession from the history discipline (with its new-found emphasis on social history) and that of library science (with its ideology of user-centered services).137 Even if a distinct archival science had in fact begun to emerge, archivists had been remiss in its propagation. Far from creating an expansive network of standardized training programs, archival education still existed primarily as an apprenticeship model of intermittent graduate courses and summer institutes run by contingent faculty.138 With the rapid growth in archival agencies in the 1960s and 1970s (including in the university and corporate realm) came a renewed emphasis on solidifying the nature and form of archival training. Yet, the expansion of archival education both within library schools and schools of public history merely intensified the debate over the proper relationship of archival science to its sister professions.139

Such differences in thinking were exemplified by talks given by Schellenberg and H. G. Jones at the 1966 SAA annual meeting.140 Both agreed on the foundational nature of historical training, with knowledge of American history seen as a prerequisite for archival work, including that of appraisal and arrangement. Along with subject matter expertise, knowledge of the historical method was also considered key to understanding and serving the needs of historians. Yet, Jones, echoing the Bemis report, was more firmly attached to the idea that archivists were best served by continuing to be, first and foremost, historians. Reinforcing a long-held skepticism that curators and private manuscripts could or should be brought into the archival fold, Jones rejected the notion that private manuscripts were so voluminous, and librarians were so often in charge of archival materials that education should be largely ceded in that direction.

Ideologically, Schellenberg also centered the work of the archivist on the needs of researchers, yet he viewed historical training (and the content knowledge that accompanied it) as just one component of the archivist's tool-kit alongside that of methodology and practice. He was “a strong proponent of methodological fusion” between the American archival and the library science professions.141 His philosophy was built upon an acknowledgment that this sister profession had played a key role in the development of archival institutions and methods of the profession, singling out the contributions of notable librarians and archival enthusiasts William F. Poole (1821–1894) and Justin Winsor (1831–1897) in this regard. Moreover, Schellenberg was able to look at the current state of archival work and extrapolate a vision for the “professional” archivist as part of an emerging information landscape populated by library scientists and the like. He viewed the two professions as facing similar challenges, most notably how to provide access to a growing proliferation of information, including manuscript and visual materials.142

With a clear sense of the nature and development of American archival repositories and the attendant educational needs of American archivists compared to their European counterparts, Schellenberg believed that the core training for archivists should consist of courses on archival methodology and courses that were technical in nature. From the perspective of archival arrangement, this entailed introductory coursework on the development and meaning of key archival principles and techniques, combined with advanced coursework outlining the methods by which arrangement could be instantiated in archival and in manuscript collections. When it came to supplemental training, Schellenberg understood that European archivists relied on knowledge of the auxiliary sciences of history to help manage ancient and medieval documents. In contrast, Schellenberg believed that further training in the fields of records management and library science suited American archivists given their responsibility to manage public and private records of more recent origin. Coursework relevant to archival arrangement figured prominently in this scheme, including on the principles and systems of library classification as it related to the filing and classification of modern records (classification principles, and filing systems, equipment, and supplies).

With archival methods at the core of Schellenberg's curriculum, he believed that primary responsibility for archival education should be left to the practitioners and methodologists, par excellence. While espousing some degree of skepticism, he believed librarians capable of acknowledging the overarching differences between library and archival materials, and of adapting their training accordingly. Any doubts Schellenberg may have had about ceding archival training to library educators were ameliorated by the knowledge that having archival courses taught in library schools would result in better management of records in the custody of libraries. Schellenberg was also cognizant that values that guided the work of librarians could be helpful to archival work, including their emphasis on public service and the availability and use of materials, as well as their general spirit of professional cooperation.143

In the first sixty years of its history, the connection of archives to administration and the discipline of history cemented within the American archival profession a concern that records be seen and managed as evidence, reified within a classification scheme that connected the records to a constellation of meaningful external and internal contexts. Yet, the notion of what form evidence takes (documentary, historical, etc.) and in what framework it is best protected and nurtured (through archivists' connection to administration and records management or to the history profession) remained contested as parties sought to bend principles to their own ideological goals. Concomitant, growing connections to library science served to undermine the appeal of both forms of evidentiary value. In their place was a fixation on the growing volume and use of archives and associated classification and arrangement methods that privileged information retrieval and the multitudes of ways people would subsequently reuse the materials.

After six decades of practice, respect des fonds and the notion of the fonds as a physical entity that could be captured and represented within the processes of classification and arrangement were well entrenched within the manuscripts and public records traditions. However, the concept of original order (internal provenance) continued to be frequently ignored by the former and treated as malleable by the latter. Indeed, various exigencies were established giving credence to the pliability or undesirability of the concept of original order for public and for private records. These circumstances involved the record (the assumption that the significance of records lies as much in their informational as their evidential value), the creator (the wish to avoid perpetuating poor recordkeeping practices; the notion that personal papers lack the kind of natural internal unity found in public records), the researcher (the call to realign classification schemes with researchers' perceived information needs and behaviors; with the associated notion that any subsequent use of the materials would be scholarly rather than administrative in nature, and, as such, that the researcher would be other than the creator), and the archivist (the need to give the archivist work that was “creative” rather than merely “restorative” in character).144

Overall, a picture emerges in which early notions of classification and arrangement were tied to the profession's identity and aspirations, associated with certain configurations of bureaucracy and technology, embodied in tacit and stated knowledge, accomplished and materialized through experiential practice, yet ever emergent and contested in response to changing social and political realities. But the story does not rest nor remain in the profession's distant past. The second part of this article continues to explore these ideas as they play out in the development of the American archival profession from the 1960s to today. Once again, this history is presented considering ongoing social, political, and technological transformations in the United States, decades in the making. In particular, this latter period reflects a world in which the old European order has been joined by newer influences from the Southern Hemisphere, with Australian approaches (particularly the series system and the records continuum) reshaping traditional notions of archival orthodoxy, including in the realm of archival classification and arrangement. Geographical influences are, in turn, shown to be giving way to new disciplinary ones, with the greatest harbinger of change coming from spheres of influence external to the profession. From the emergence of the field of social history, to the adoption and use of postmodern critical theory as a way of interrogating and transforming archival practice, to the rise of the iSchool movement as the most recent sublimation of archival identity, to the transformations that new technologies have wrought on the nature of work and work products, all are shown to have a profound impact on the meaning and value of classification and arrangement. All these facets are explored as part of the process of examining classification and arrangement as an interpretive act and of drawing attention to the most recent analytical shifts taking place at the core of this archival enterprise.

Ciaran B. Trace is an associate professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches courses on archives and records management. She holds a PhD in library and information science from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research is driven by an interest in studying what constitutes a literate society and the role that people play in creating and sustaining literate environments. Trace currently serves as editor of Information & Culture.

Ciaran B. Trace is an associate professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches courses on archives and records management. She holds a PhD in library and information science from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research is driven by an interest in studying what constitutes a literate society and the role that people play in creating and sustaining literate environments. Trace currently serves as editor of Information & Culture.

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My understanding of archival classification and arrangement as a labor process draws from Frohmann's work on scientific documentary practices and his synthesis of the work of Knorr-Cetina in this area. Bernd Frohmann, Deflating Information: From Science Studies to Documentation (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 2004); and Karin D. Knorr-Cetina, The Manufacture of Knowledge: An Essay on the Constructivist and Contextual Nature of Science (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1981).


Terry Cook, “Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community: Four Shifting Archival Paradigms,” Archival Science 13, nos. 2–3 (2013): 95–120,


The notion of the archival method is drawn from the work of Michetti. Giovanni Michetti, “Archival Method,” in Encyclopedia of Archival Science, ed. Luciana Duranti and Patricia C. Franks (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2015): 67–70.


For a detailed description of the differences between these two concepts and of the nature of classification itself, see Dallas Irvine, “Some Kinds of Classification,” American Archivist 31, no. 1 (1968): 13–22,; and Alain Giroux, A Theoretical and Historical Analysis of Pertinence- and Provenance-Based Concepts of Classification of Archives (MAS thesis, University of British Columbia, 1998).


Giroux, A Theoretical and Historical Analysis of Pertinence- and Provenance-Based Concepts of Classification of Archives, 14.


Elaine Svenonius, The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009), ix.


A thorough description of how the fonds and its parts are determined as part of the act of processing can be found in Heather MacNeil, “The Context Is All: Describing a Fonds and Its Parts in Accordance with the Rules for Archival Description,” in The Archival Fonds: From Theory to Practice, ed. Terry Eastwood (Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1992), 195–225.


Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008), 18.


Terry Cook, “Landscapes of the Past: Archivists, Historians and the Fight for Memory” (public lecture, Ministry of Culture for Spain and the National Historical Archives, Madrid, Spain, June 23, 2010).


David Bearman, “Diplomatics, Weberian Bureaucracy, and the Management of Electronic Records in Europe and America,” American Archivist 55, no. 1 (1992): 168–81,


By concealing the role of the archivist, the correctness of the classification and arrangement can also not be challenged. This despite the fact that in creating the arrangement, archivists can consciously or unconsciously overlook, overwrite, or obscure all manner of traces of the original order of the materials. For evidence of this, see Ciaran B. Trace and Andrew Dillon, “The Evolution of the Finding Aid in the United States: From Physical to Digital Document Genre,” Archival Science 12, no. 4 (2012): 501–19,; and Ciaran B. Trace and Luis Francisco-Revilla, “The Value and Complexity of Collection Arrangement for Evidentiary Work,” Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 66, no. 9 (2015): 1857–1882.


Cook, “Landscapes of the Past.


Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000), 33–34.


Stephen R. Barley and Beth A. Bechky, “In the Backrooms of Science: The Work of Technicians in Science Labs,” Work and Occupations 21, no. 1 (1994): 85–126.


George Bolotenko, “Archivists and Historians: Keepers of the Well,” Archivaria 16 (1983): 6.


The notion of a two-way stretch is taken from Wilcomb Washburn, “The Archivist's Two-way Stretch,” Archivaria 7 (Winter 1978–79): 137–43. The two-way stretch Washburn discusses is that of archivists (trained in history) and records managers.


Cornelia Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008), 47.


Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology.


Maynard Brichford, “The Provenance of Provenance in Germanic Areas,” Provenance: Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists 7, no. 2 (1989): 54–70,


Thea Miller, “The German Registratur” (PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 1997).


Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology, 97 and 91–101.


For an analysis of archival development following the French Revolution, see, for example, Ernst Posner, “Some Aspects of Archival Development since the French Revolution,” American Archivist 3, no. 3 (1940): 159–72,; Theodore Schellenberg, Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1956); and Judith M. Panitch, “Liberty, Equality, Posterity?: Some Archival Lessons from the Case of the French Revolution,” American Archivist 59, no. 1 (1996): 30–47,


Miller, “The German Registratur,” 97–98.


Shelley Sweeney, “The Ambiguous Origins of the Archival Principle of ‘Provenance’,” Libraries and the Cultural Record 43, no. 2 (2008): 193–213.


The relationship between classification and diplomatics is addressed in Giroux, A Theoretical and Historical Analysis of Pertinence- and Provenance-Based Concepts of Classification of Archives, 28–31.


Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen, “Leopold Ranke's Archival Turn: Location and Evidence in Modern Historiography,” Modern Intellectual History 5, no. 3 (2008): 425–53.


Sweeney, “The Ambiguous Origins of the Archival Principle of ‘Provenance’,” 197. Giroux, A Theoretical and Historical Analysis of Pertinence- and Provenance-Based Concepts of Classification of Archives, 43–44.


Jefferson Bailey, “Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives,” Archive Journal 3 (2013), Ludolini notes that the idea of storing archival materials according to original order has more ancient origins. An early written articulation of the principle is traced to Philipp Ernst Spiess's book, Von Archiven, dating from 1777. Elio Lodolini, “Respect des Fonds et Principe de Provenance: Histoire, Théories, Pratiques,” La Gazette des Archives 168 (1995): 201–12.


Bailey, “Disrespect des Fonds.


Jennifer Douglas, “Original Order, Added Value? Archival Theory and the Douglas Coupland Fonds,” in The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation, ed. Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead (London, UK: Routledge, 2013), 47.


Ralph Kingston, “The French Revolution and the Materiality of the Modern Archive,” Libraries & the Cultural Record 46, no. 1 (2011): 1–25; and Sue McKemmish, “Are Records Ever Actual?,” in The Records Continuum: Ian Maclean and Australian Archives First Fifty Years, ed. Sue McKemmish and Michael Piggott (Clayton, Victoria, Australia: Ancora Press, 1994).


Michel Duchein, “Theoretical Principles and Practical Problems of Respect des Fonds in Archival Science,” Archivaria 16 (Summer 1983): 64–82. For further information on the registry model, see Schellenberg, Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques; and Thea Miller, “The German Registry: The Evolution of a Recordkeeping Model,” Archival Science 3, no. 1 (2003): 43–63,


Terry Cook, “The Concept of the Archival Fonds in the Post-Custodial Era: Theory, Problems and Solutions,” Archivaria 35 (Spring 1993): 25.


Peter Horsman, Eric Ketelaar, and Theo Thomassen, Introduction, in Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives, S. Muller, J. A. Feith, and R. Fruin, (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2003), xvi.


Michetti, “Archival Method,” in Encyclopedia of Archival Science, 67–70.


Peter Horsman, Eric Ketelaar, and Theo Thomassen, “New Respect for the Old Order: The Context of the Dutch Manual,” American Archivist 66, no. 2 (2003): 249–70,


Peter Horsman, “The Last Dance of the Phoenix, or the De-discovery of the Archival Fonds,” Archivaria 54 (2002): 8.


Samuel Muller, J. A. Feith, and R. Fruin, Handleiding Voor Het Ordenen en Beschrijven van Archieven (Groningen: Erven B. van der Kamp, 1898).


S. Muller, J. A. Feith, and R. Fruin, Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2003), 19.


Muller et al., Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives, 19.


Posner, “Some Aspects of Archival Development Since the French Revolution,” 168.


Once original order was established, corrections could be made by the archivist including, for instance, in cases of filing mistakes or of short-lived changes to the recordkeeping system. In cases where the structure of the original arrangement was considered superficial, a supplemental order could also be imposed. Overall, the authors argued that any changes to the original order were to be based primarily on archival concerns and only secondarily on the interests of historical research. Muller et al., Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives.


Indeed, at the Congrès International des Archivistes et des Bibliothécaires held in Brussels in 1910, the principle of provenance (introduced by Dr. E. Wiersum, archivist of the City of Rotterdam) was unanimously declared as the best system to adopt for the classification and inventorying of a body of archives, from the standpoint of both the archivist and the historian. Echoing the Dutch authors, archivists were told to think of collections as the byproduct of living organisms, the structure and function of which the archivist must fully understand before locating documents in their proper place. Arnold J. F. Van Laer, “The Work of the International Congress of Archivists and Librarians at Brussels, August 28–31, 1910,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1910 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1912), 282–92; and Victor Hugo Paltsits, “Plan and Scope of a ‘Manual of Archival Economy for the Use of American Archivists’,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1912 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1914), 260.


Charles Johnson, The Care of Documents and Management of Archives (London, UK: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919); and Hilary Jenkinson, A Manual of Archive Administration including the Problems of War Archives and Archive Making (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1922). In their writings, Jenkinson and Johnson also provided concrete details of the mechanics of archival arrangement, highlighting the often item-level nature of their work. For instance, the physical work of arrangement was said to be facilitated by the creation of written slips for each document on which key arrangement metadata could be recorded. Slips provided a means to test classification schemes, with the final scheme summarized on paper as part of a descriptive inventory.


Hilary Jenkinson, A Manual of Archive Administration Including the Problems of War Archives and Archive Making (London, UK: Percy Lund, Humphries & Co. Ltd., 1966), 4.


Cook, “Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community, 106.


Cautioning that the fluid nature of English administration was such that not all collections were likely to have such stable “principal lines,” Jenkinson noted drolly that the Dutch manual did not seem to provide for “the case of the invertebrate.” Jenkinson, A Manual of Archive Administration, 106.


Jenkinson advised that archivists should always look to establish or reestablish original order, even in situations where “we think we could have done better ourselves.” Jenkinson, A Manual of Archive Administration, 82.


More about Brenneke's work can be found in Adolf Brenneke and Wolfgang Leesch, Archivkunde, Ein Beitrag Zur Theorie Und Geschichte Des Europäischen Archivwesens (Leipzig: Koehler und Amelang, 1953); Miller, “The German Registratur”; and Horsman, “The Last Dance of the Phoenix, or the De-discovery of the Archival Fonds,” 1–23.


This stands in contrast to the situation in Italy, where, as Ludolini notes, “the letter that reaches an office is registered and receives from that moment a ranking according to the titolario, or ranking framework, which reflects the skills, functions and structure of the office. Only then does it go to the employee or section who is to handle the case.” Lodolini, “Respect Des Fonds et Principe de Provenance,” 208.


Angelika Menne-Haritz, “Appraisal or Documentation: Can We Appraise Archives by Selecting Content?,” American Archivist 57, no. 3 (1994): 528–42,; Angelika Menne-Haritz, “Ernst Posner's Archives and the Public Interest,” American Archivist 68, no. 2 (2005): 323–32,; Angelika Menne-Haritz, Business Processes: An Archival Science Approach to Collaborative Decision Making, Records, and Knowledge Management (Berlin: Springer, 2005); and Regina Landwehr, The German Archival System 1945–1995 (MAS Thesis, University of British Columbia, 1996), 143–146.


Carlene Stephens and Steven Lubar, “A Place for Public Business: The Material Culture of the Nineteenth-Century Federal Office,” Business and Economic History 15 (1986): 166.


The nature of early recordkeeping systems of the American federal government is outlined in Helen L. Chatfield, “The Development of Record Systems,” American Archivist 13, no. 3 (1950): 259–67,; Mabel E. Deutrich, “Decimal Filing: Its General Background and an Account of Its Rise and Fall in the US War Department,” American Archivist 28, no. 2 (1965); 199–218,; and Stephens and Lubar, “A Place for Public Business, 165–79.


Stephens and Lubar, “A Place for Public Business, 165–79.


Stephens and Lubar, “A Place for Public Business, 173.


Stephens and Lubar, “A Place for Public Business, 165–79.


Jane Zhang, “Recordkeeping in Book Form: The Legacy of American Colonial Recordkeeping,” Information & Culture 49, no. 4 (2014): 486.


Chatfield, “The Development of Record Systems,” 259–67.


Chatfield, “The Development of Record Systems,” 263.


In particular, vertical filing supported the growth of alphabetical classification, a system useful for the organization and management of case files.


Bess Glenn, “The Taft Commission and the Government's Record Practices,” American Archivist 21, no. 3 (1958): 292,


Glenn, “The Taft Commission and the Government's Record Practices,” 297. For further information on the history of the Woodruff file holder, see Victor Gondos, “The Era of the Woodruff File,” American Archivist 19, no. 4 (1956): 303–20,


Frank B. Evans, “Modern Methods of Arrangement of Archives in the United States,” American Archivist 29, no. 2 (1966): 242,


The importance of understanding the differences among these traditions in a more holistic sense (both practice and theory, and mission and values) is articulated in Luke J. Gilliland-Swetland, “The Provenance of a Profession: The Permanence of the Public Archives and Historical Manuscripts Traditions in American Archival History,” American Archivist 54, no. 2 (1991): 160–75,


The history of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century classification practices in the public and private sectors is extensively documented in T. R. Schellenberg, The Management of Archives (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1988).


C. H. Lincoln, “Manuscripts in the Library of Congress,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 19 (1902): 102–5. John Y. Cole, “Part I: The Library of Congress, 1800–1992” in Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1992),


John Clement Fitzpatrick, Notes on the Care, Cataloguing, Calendaring and Arranging of Manuscripts (Washington, DC.: US Government Printing Office, 1913). Reissued (with minor revisions) in 1921 and 1928 (and reprinted in 1934), the LOC manual remained the only “national guide” to the classification of archival materials well into the 1930s. Robert D. Reynolds Jr., “The Incunabula of Archival Theory and Practice in the United States: J. C. Fitzpatrick's Notes on the Care, Cataloguing, Calendaring and Arranging of Manuscripts and the Public Archives Commission's Uncompleted Primer of Archival Economy,” American Archivist 54, no. 4 (1991): 480,


Gilliland-Swetland, “The Provenance of a Profession, 161. The original order of official papers was viewed as a vestige of their initial administrative context, a context deemed unhelpful for subsequent historical use. In dealing with personal papers, original order was valued in that it provided the archivist with an initial sense of the nature of the collection and helped to date and identify miscellaneous documents. However, once that information was uncovered, the archivist was free to rearrange the papers. Fitzpatrick, Notes on the Care, Cataloguing, Calendaring and Arranging of Manuscripts.


Reynolds Jr., “The Incunabula of Archival Theory and Practice in the United States,” 471.


This included an overall chronologic-geographic classification for the Americana collection, a chronological arrangement under the various departments and bureaus of government in the case of official papers, and a purely chronological arrangement by individuals in the case of personal papers. Tying classification to temporality had the advantage of abrogating the need to create many subordinate groupings in the form of series. In rejecting subject-based classification, Fitzpatrick notes, “nothing is more bitterly resented by the historical investigator than intervention of any kind between himself and his original sources.” Fitzpatrick, Notes on the Care, Cataloguing, Calendaring, and Arranging of Manuscripts, 17.


Reynolds Jr., “The Incunabula of Archival Theory and Practice in the United States,” 466–82.


Richard C. Berner, “Arrangement and Description: Some Historical Observations,” American Archivist 41, no. 2 (1978): 170, At the Minnesota Historical Society, the classification scheme for manuscript collections consisted of nine groups. The main classes were grouped by source or by form/materiality (personal papers, archives of organizations, miscellaneous source materials, transcripts and photostatic copies of materials in public depositories, calendars and field reports, secondary materials, broadsides, autographs, manuscript maps), and thereafter chronologically or occasionally by function, source, geography, topic, or alphabetically. Grace Lee Nute, The Care and Cataloguing of Manuscripts: As Practiced by the Minnesota Historical Society (Saint Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1936).


Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 287.


Gilliland-Swetland, “The Provenance of a Profession, 164.


Founded in 1884, the AHA acted as a forum for “the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical manuscripts, and for kindred purposes in the interest of American history and of history in America.” J. Franklin Jameson, “The American Historical Association, 1884–1909,” American Historical Review 15, no. 1 (1909): 13.


William F. Birdsall, “Archivists, Librarians, and Issues during the Pioneering Era of the American Archival Movement,” Journal of Library History 14, no. 4 (1979): 457–79.


Endowed in 1902 by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the Carnegie Institute of Washington was established as a center of scientific discovery and investigation.


More on Leland's career can be found in Waldo Gifford Leland, “Archival Principles: Selections from the Writings of Waldo Gifford Leland, March 1955” (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1975); Rodney A. Ross, “Waldo Gifford Leland: Archivist by Association,” American Archivist 46, no. 3 (1983): 264–76; John B. Hench, “Leland, Waldo Gifford (1879–1966),” in Robert Wedgeworth, World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services (American Library Association, 1993), 455–56; and Randall C. Jimerson, “American Historians and European Archival Theory: The Collaboration of J. F. Jameson and Waldo G. Leland,” Archival Science 6, nos. 3–4 (2006): 299–312,


Roy Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Age,” American Historical Review 108, no. 3 (2003): 735–62.


The firmness of his conviction was evident when Leland later weighed in on the issue of the establishment of a US National Archives. With a grounding in European archival theory, including from his reading of the Dutch manual and archival training received at the Ècole des Chartes, Leland decried the notion that the Library of Congress could take on the function of a national archives, having neither the understanding of the legal, administrative, and historical value of public records nor the associated methods to manage the materials as anything other than historical manuscripts. Jimerson, “American Historians and European Archival Theory.” In discussing the issue of classification, Leland also raised the issue of the proper nomenclature for series, arguing that the similarity in “origin” and “character” of state records would favor the adoption of uniform terminology. In an early nod to records management, Leland also suggested that archivists could also “take a hand in the original classification of records,” working with administrators in the records offices of origin. Waldo G. Leland, “American Archival Problems,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1909 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1911), 346.


Van Laer had archival training in the Netherlands and later worked as a librarian and archivist with the New York State Library, 1899–1915, and the Division of History and Archives, 1915–1939. Van Laer, “The Work of the International Conference of Archivists and Librarians at Brussels,” 292.


William F. Birdsall, “The Two Sides of the Desk: The Archivist and the Historian, 1909–1935,” American Archivist 38, no. 2 (1975): 159–73,


The idea for a manual of archival economy, similar to that of the Dutch manual, had first been raised by Leland at the first annual conference of archivists held in New York City, and at a special meeting of the public archives commission held in December 1911 authorization was given to start work on the project. “The Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Conference of Archivists,” in Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1912 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1914), 249–52.


Reynolds Jr., “The Incunabula of Archival Theory and Practice in the United States,” 466–82.


Paltsits, “Plan and Scope of a ‘Manual of Archival Economy for the Use of American Archivists’,” 253–63. However, as Dunbar Rowland (director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History) made plain, American acceptance and adoption of European principles did not always fully extend to that of respecting original order. Similar to LOC practice, Rowland took provenance as the main classification line, however, a subordinate chronological system of classification was seen as offering the most logical and systematic approach for further arrangement, especially because archival materials of the time were often filed in bound volumes. Dunbar Rowland, “The Adaption of Archives to Public Use,” in Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1912), 269–72.


Jimerson, “American Historians and European Archival Theory,” 299–312. The waning interest of historians is partly explained by a decline in the field of American history and in the study of American political and institutional history and its associated sources. Birdsall, “The Two Sides of the Desk,” 159–73.


See for example, Ethel B. Virtue, “Principles of Classification of Archives,” Annals of Iowa: A Historical Quarterly 12, no. 1 (1915): 1–10; Margaret Cross Norton, “The Archives Department as an Administrative Unit of Government,” in National Association of State Libraries, Papers and Proceedings, Thirty-Third Annual Convention (Los Angeles: June 23–27, 1930), 44–48; Howard H. Peckham, “Arrangement and Cataloguing Manuscripts in the William L. Clements Library,” American Archivist 1, no. 4 (1938): 215–29,; Charles M. Gates, “The Administration of State Archives,” American Archivist 1, no. 3 (1938): 130–41,; and Paul Lewinson, “Problems of Archives Classification,” American Archivist 2, no. 3 (1939): 179–90,


Rebecca Hirsch, “The Permanence of Provenance: The ‘Two Traditions’ and the American Archival Profession,” Journal of Archival Organization 8, no. 1 (2010): 54–72,


On a practical level, Norton was a vocal opponent of the long-standing library tradition of managing state records in the manner of historical manuscript materials. Yet, her views on librarianship were nuanced, with Norton herself holding degrees in both history and library science. While supporting the creation of a distinct archival profession, Norton was cognizant of the “similarities in the nature of the work performed by archivists and librarians,” similarities that she believed might lend the professions to train within the same graduate programs. Jacqueline Goggin, “That We Shall Truly Deserve the Title of ‘Profession’: The Training and Education of Archivists, 1930–1960,” American Archivist 47, no. 3 (1984): 248,


Berner, “Arrangement and Description: Some Historical Observations,” 171. See also Birdsall, “The Two Sides of the Desk,” 159–73; and Margaret Cross Norton and Thornton W. Mitchell, Norton on Archives: The Writings of Margaret Cross Norton on Archival & Records Management (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2003), 3–17.


Gilliland-Swetland, “The Provenance of a Profession,” 166.


Gilliland-Swetland, “The Provenance of a Profession,” 165.


“Letter from Margaret Cross Norton to William F. Birdsall, May 24, 1973,” The Margaret Cross Norton Working Papers, 1924–1973, vol. 3, image 1237 (Springfield: Illinois State Archives, 1993.


Norton and Mitchell, Norton on Archives, 5.


Adrian Cunningham, “Archival Institutions,” in Archives: Recordkeeping in Society, ed. Sue McKemmish, Michael Piggott, Barbara Reed, and Frank Upward (Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University, 2005), 34.


Randall C. Jimerson, “Margaret C. Norton Reconsidered,” Archival Issues 26, no. 1 (2001): 41. Yet, Norton differed from Jenkinson in that she was not working with closed archival groups. Thus, Norton favored a classification model that, recalling earlier European registratur systems, made room for retrospective (records already in the archives) and prospective records (records that had not yet reached the archives), while her understanding of the history and business of a rapidly growing state government led her to favor a functional rather than a structural approach to arrangement. Margaret Cross Norton, “Illinois State Library, Archives Division Report for May, 1940,” The Margaret Cross Norton Working Papers, 1924–1973, vol. 1, images 456–57 (Springfield: Illinois State Archives, 1993).


Berner “Arrangement and Description: Some Historical Observations,” 169–81.


For information about the hiring practices of the newly formed National Archives, see Donald McCoy, The National Archives: America's Ministry of Documents 1934–1968 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1978).


Early work of the division included research into the history, organization, functions, and classification systems of federal agencies; visits to various state (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois) and other archival repositories (including the McCormick Library at Chicago and the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania) to ascertain their classification practices; and creating plans of classification (with accompanying classification symbols) for various federal agency records. National Archives of the United States, First Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1935 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1936); National Archives of the United States, Second Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1936 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1937); National Archives of the United States, Third Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1937 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1938).


The importance of the work of the HRS in the context of an emerging archival profession is outlined in Margaret Cross Norton, “Some Legal Aspects of Archives,” American Archivist 8, no. 1 (1945): 1–11,; and Berner, “Arrangement and Description: Some Historical Observations,” 169–81.


The growth of the federal government and its recordkeeping responsibilities during this period is outlined in James Gregory Bradsher, “A Brief History of the Growth of Federal Government Records, Archives and Information 1789–1985,” Government Publications Review 13, no. 4 (1986): 491–505,


Victor Gondos Jr., “Retirement of Federal War Records,” American Archivist 9, no. 3 (1946): 198–213,


McCoy, The National Archives: America's Ministry of Documents, 167.


Emmett J. Leahy, “Reduction of Public Records,” American Archivist 3, no. 1 (1940): 13–38,


Lester J. Cappon, “The National Archives and the Historical Profession,” Journal of Southern History 35, no. 4 (1969): 481–82.


Berner, “Arrangement and Description: Some Historical Observations,” 169–81.


See National Archives of the United States, Fourth Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1938 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1939); National Archives of the United States, Fifth Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1939 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1939); and National Archives of the United States, Sixth Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1940 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1941).


Lewinson, “Problems of Archives Classification,” 180.


Lewinson, “Problems of Archives Classification,” 182.


Lewinson, “Problems of Archives Classification,” 183, 185.


Bradsher, “A Brief History of the Growth of Federal Government Records, Archives and Information 1789–1985,” 491–505.


McCoy, The National Archives: America's Ministry of Documents, 112.


Gondos gives the figure of a third of a million cubic feet, while Bradsher gives the figure of a half million cubic feet of records. Gondos Jr., “Retirement of Federal War Records,” 198–213; Bradsher, “A Brief History of the Growth of Federal Government Records, Archives and Information, 1789–1985,” 491–505.


Mario D. Fenyo, “The Record Group Concept: A Critique,” American Archivist 29, no. 2 (1966): 229–39 and Richard C. Berner, “Perspectives on the Record Group Concept,” Georgia Archive 4, no. 1 (1976): 48–55. In the process, claims from the library profession that archives (like library collections) should be valued solely for their secondary informational value, or that practices of serials cataloging should form the intellectual framework for working with record series, were firmly set aside. Arguments about the necessity of applying library methods to archives were articulated in an article by Randolph W. Church, “The Relationship between Archival Agencies and Libraries,” American Archivist 6, no. 3 (1943): 145–50, A rejoinder from the National Archives' perspective came from staff member Herman Kahn. See Herman Kahn, “Librarians and Archivists—Some Aspects of Their Partnership,” American Archivist 7, no. 4 (1944): 243–51,


Eighth Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1942 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1943).


Richard Cox, Charles Dollar, Rebecca Hirsch, and Peter Wosh, “Founding Brothers: Leland, Buck, and Cappon and the Formation of the Archives Profession” (Session 404), American Archivist 74, Supplement 1 (2011): 15.


Schellenberg, Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques, 181.


In doing so, an opportunity was lost to increase control over current records (an effort that would have fulfilled a nascent records management sensibility) and to plan for the specter of administrative change.


Samuel Flagg Bemis, “The Training of Archivists in the United States,” American Archivist 2, no. 3 (1938): 154–61,


As Jacqueline Goggin notes, this constituted somewhat of a change of view for Buck, who, in 1936, in writing to Austin P. Evans of the library school at Columbia University, had declared that the principles of librarianship and archives were practically the same. Goggin, “That We Shall Truly Deserve the Title of ‘Profession’,” 243–54.


Buck notes that the course that he ran in 1938–1939 for Columbia University Graduate School was the first in the United States designed specifically for archivists. This was soon followed by a course on archival economy at the Library School of Columbia University given by Margaret Cross Norton in the summer of 1940, and one by Buck and Ernst Posner on the History and Administration of Archives, taught both for the American University and the National Archives. The Washington partnership supplemented the National Archives' in-service training courses, and the program continued in an extended form thanks to a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Solon J. Buck, “The Training of American Archivists,” American Archivist 4, no. 2 (1941): 84–90,


Bradsher, “A Brief History of the Growth of Federal Government Records, Archives and Information 1789–1985,” 495.


McCoy, The National Archives: America's Ministry of Documents, 253–54.


Philip C. Brooks, “Archives in the United States during World War II, 1939–1945,” Library Quarterly 17, no. 4 (1947): 276,


Schellenberg, Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques.


Cook, “Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community, 107.


Information about the training program can be found in the foreword to T. R. Schellenberg, The Management of Archives (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1988).


Schellenberg, Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques, 182.


Theodore R. Schellenberg, Principles of Arrangement, Staff Information Papers, No. 18 (Washington, DC: National Archives, June 1951).


Schellenberg, Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques.


Frank Upward, “In Search of the Continuum: Ian Maclean's ‘Australian Experience’ Essays on Recordkeeping,” in The Records Continuum: Ian Maclean and the Australian Archives First Fifty Years, 118.


Oliver W. Holmes, “Archival Arrangement: Five Different Operations at Five Different Levels,” American Archivist 27, no. 1 (1964): 21–42,


Richard C. Berner, “Perspectives on the Record Group Concept,” Georgia Archive 4, no. 1 (1976): 48–55,


Richard C. Berner, “Arrangement and Description of Manuscripts,” Drexel Library Quarterly 11, no. 1 (1975): 34–54 and “Perspectives on the Record Group Concept,” 48–55. Berner's notion of the series as an arrangement level for manuscript collections was also limited in the sense that he promulgated the view that manuscript filing systems, and hence original order, came together mainly on the basis of form, a system that he felt could be tidied up as needed to meet perceived user needs. Richard C. Berner and M. Gary Bettis, “Description of Manuscript Collections: A Single Network System,” College and Research Libraries 30, no. 5 (1969): 405–16,


Robert L. Brubaker, “Archival Principles and the Curator of Manuscripts,” American Archivist 29, no. 4 (1966): 505–14,; and Robert Fisher, “In Search of a Theory of Private Archives: The Foundational Writings of Jenkinson and Schellenberg Revisited,” Archivaria 67 (Spring 2009): 1–24. By his 1965 publication, The Management of Archives, Schellenberg had embraced the notion that archival principles could and should apply to manuscript material. T. R. Schellenberg, The Management of Archives.


T. R. Schellenberg, The Management of Archives, 6. For a critique of archivists' embrace of library science as a means of professionalization, see Bolotenko, “Archivists and Historians: Keepers of the Well,” 5–25.


Richard J. Cox, “Forming the Records Professional's Knowledge: North American Archival Publishing in the 20th Century,” Records & Information Management Report 20, no. 3 (2004): 4.


By the late 1960s, the extent of archival training in the United States, as outlined by H. G. Jones, was as follows: “four universities offering in their liberal arts curriculum full-year courses in archival administration, four library schools and one extension division giving shorter courses during the regular year, and about a half-dozen institutions offering summer institutes of varying length and depth.” H. G. Jones, “Archival Training in American Universities, 1938–68,” American Archivist 31, no. 2 (1968): 135–54,


Richard J. Cox, Elizabeth Yakel, David Wallace, Jeannette A. Bastian, and Jennifer Marshall, “Archival Education in North American Library and Information Science Schools,” Library Quarterly 71, no. 2 (2001): 141–94,


Jones, “Archival Training in American Universities, 1938–68,” 135–54; and T. R. Schellenberg, “Archival Training in Library Schools,” American Archivist 31, no. 2 (1968): 155–66,


Bolotenko, “Archivists and Historians: Keepers of the Well,” 16.


Schellenberg, The Management of Archives.


Schellenberg, The Management of Archives and “Archival Training in Library Schools,” 155–66.


Carl Gustaff Weibull, cited in Theodore R. Schellenberg, European Archival Practices in Arranging Records, Staff Information Paper 5 (Washington, DC: [U.S.] General Services Administration, National Archives and Records Service, 1975): 13. See also, Posner, “Some Aspects of Archival Development since the French Revolution,” 159–72; Kahn, “Librarians and Archivists,” 243–51; Kenneth Munden, “The Identification and Description of the Record Series,” American Archivist 13, no. 3 (1950): 213–27; and Berner, “The Arrangement and Description of Manuscripts,” 395–406,