The word “archive”

There is a problem of language in the archival world.  And that first sentence has already run upon it, and it is both an internal community problem and an external, general problem.  We have lost control of the term “archive;” or, perhaps, we’ve never had control of it in the first place.

There are two different aspects of the archival community itself, the manuscripts/personal papers meaning of the term and the records management meaning of the term.  Both of them get lumped under the term archival, which causes some confusion.  I’ve been developing a series of tutorials for the Southern Historical Collection, and in trying to explain concepts and build “archival intelligence,” we’ve run into a problem of defining what an “archive” is.  A description of an archive as a place where manuscripts and personal papers are held doesn’t really describe the the form and function of University Archives.

I may be late to this, but it seems like this quote  “Archival is an approach rather than a quality” is how we should really began to describe what makes an archival repositories actually archival.  Archival materials are not manuscripts, books, diaries, photographs, etc.  They are not business records or records that an organization is required to keep by law. Archival materials are manuscripts, books, diaries, photographs, business records, or records that an organization is required to keep by law when these materials are selected, arranged, described, housed, and preserved in an archival repository.

This is not even to mention the appropriation of the word “archive” by people in general.   But I’ll talk a little bit about that in another post.

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