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- 1 For their very helpful comments during the preparation of this presentation, I would like to thank (...)
- 2 A. de Tocqueville, De la Démocratie en Amérique, Paris, Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1990, volu (...)
1I am very grateful that you permit me to offer some observations about the subject of this colloquium from the other side of the Atlantic, from the American state of Michigan1. By way of introduction, I come from an area of Michigan to which your esteemed historian Alexis de Tocqueville traveled so many years ago. He arrived in the territory of Michigan at almost the same time as my family, in 1831. He described the individual homes in this area of Michigan as “l’arche de la civilisation perdue au milieu d’un océan de feuillage”2. Tocqueville has enriched the lives of us in Michigan with his early observations and he remains one of the finest observers ever of the American mentalité. He gathered his impressions both by first-hand experience of travel and conversation and by a personal accumulation of printed documents. The observations in his De la Démocratie en Amérique are still of interest to Americans. His name is frequently invoked by politicians, historians and journalists in the United States.
- 3 J. O’Toole, “Democracy - and Documents - in America”, The American Archivist, n° 65, 1, Spring/Summ (...)
- 4 R. J. Cox, “Declarations, Independence, and Text in the Information Age”, First Monday, http://firs (...)
2Some, if not all, American archivists are particularly aware of Tocqueville’s interest in the written record and its appearance in print, especially the printed documents he gathered in America. In fact, this year the Society of American Archivists awarded author James O’Toole its annual prize for outstanding essay of the year, for his article on “Democracy-and Documents-in America”3. O’Toole has written a review essay on the newest translation into English of Tocqueville’s work. As O’Toole observes, Tocqueville had a remarkably modern notion of the connection of documents to democracy. The American practice of widely circulating printed documents as facsimiles of records soon after they were created suggested to Tocqueville a democratic energy at work. He saw, at the same time, that there was an easy movement beyond any fixed set of documents, an ease in creating and distributing new records in print and abandoning old in America. Archivist Richard Cox’s recent article on “Declarations, Independence, and Text in the Information Age” reaffirms Tocqueville’s observations as he, Cox, reviews the original, intensive distribution of our Declaration of Independence through print and through public readings of it, and even the relative neglect of it as a physical object until the twentieth century4. Tocqueville marveled at the creation and circulation of ideas and their printed versions as records, or proto-archives, and, conversely, he wondered that he was at liberty to take home to France an abundance of them.
- 5 E. Posner, “What, Then, Is the American Archivist, This New Man ?”, The American Archivist, 20, n° (...)
3The perceived distinction of a primary and immediate purpose of a record and a potential, secondary purpose of the same record in the archives has, after considerable delay, become a hallmark of American historical repositories and archives in the twentieth century. The first, functional purpose of records gives way to, or is supplemented by, a secondary, historical curiosity about the record in the archives. During his time, the same sources Tocqueville treasured for his analysis were of little interest to the relatively new United States, where he noted “no methodical system is pursued, no archives are formed, and no documents are brought together when it would be easy to do so”5. Tocqueville sensed the American distinctions of original purpose and secondary roles of documents — first for governance and then for historical interest — well before they were articulated by twentieth-century archivist Theodore Schellenberg and one hundred years before the establishment of the United States National Archives, in 1934. As we recognize this today, through articles such as those by O’Toole and by Ernst Posner, we can see that this alone signifies an important, if indirect, inheritance of observations for American archivists today from a man born in Paris, raised in Verneuil, educated in Metz and introduced to legal practice in Versailles, before he set out on his travels.
4Tocqueville is more than a token, isolated and almost mythical figure in what I hope to present. He is one patron in a lineage of scholars in France who have had an affect on the American appreciation for history over time, on the formation of modern historical research, and even on l’archivistique chez nous. This appreciation is significant even if these influences on understanding and appreciating archives are much more indirect than direct, inspirational rather than operational.
- 6 E. Posner, op. cit., p. 9.
5I would like next to explore the archivistique of northwestern Europe further by the results it has witnessed in more recent historical research, and the reach of that to the United States. Then I will proceed to consider the formation of the archivistique of this region and its own transfer to the United States. And finally I will consider the contemporary role of a geographically-defined archivistique in an international context. In all of this, I would submit that the ideas and practices originating in this particular area of northwestern Europe have been important in themselves and they have lent themselves to adaptation and reinterpretation in points far away. They have lost some of their precision or original practicality, but they have gained a patina and a viability elsewhere. They have been a good catalyst for what Ernst Posner identifies in American records management as an “elasticity of thinking” or flexibility to develop, or borrow, and apply systems according to their context and need6.
6My interest in the subject of this colloquium is partly inspired by the personal memories of when I started my graduate studies of history and archives at the University of Michigan just over twenty years ago. I had the happy opportunity to learn about what is called ‘proto-industrialization’ of exactly this area of France, with such guest professors as Emmanuel Le Roy-Ladurie and Pierre Deyon as my teachers. While I cannot claim any long-term devotion to the study of ‘proto-industrialization’ of Roubaix and its environs, I must say that what was appealing for me as a student of history and a student of archives administration was the emphasis of Le Roy-Ladurie and Deyon on a large definition of what constitutes evidence for historical research. Le Roy-Ladurie and Deyon were masters at discovering a secondary, or historical, use for the records as archives of the state of France and other French source material. They and their fellow Annalistes inspired a whole new way of thinking among doctoral students of French history in America. Their message was delivered just as computer technology, in the 1970s and early 1980s, was allowing for the ability, especially in the United States where the mainframe computer was so present at universities, to gather, manipulate and interpret vast amounts of evidence of the past. The conceptual and technical expansions of historical research went hand in hand. They were furthering the inclusiveness of source material in their focus on local genres de vie and longue durée. This modern notion of a reciprocal relationship of land and man over time had of course originated even before Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre in the work of Vidal de La Blache and had parallel investigations among other luminaries of French academia such as sociologist Maurice Halbwachs. Through the lens of these French academics, American historians and sociologists, too, began to examine location and collective experience after generations of histories that had been devoted in the United States to “Great White Men”, the military, and national politics. In my education in history and archives administration, and the education of other American archivists now in the middle of their careers, there was new attention given to the exciting transformation of the very nature of historical research, thanks in part to what we imported from France.
- 7 E. Ketelaar, “Archives of the people, by the people, for the people”, in The Archival Image, Collec (...)
- 8 P. René-Bazin, “The Influence of Politics on the Shaping of the Memory of States”, paper presented (...)
7I suspect that by now two developments have made that particular French influence on American archivists less obvious. The much larger definition of valid sources of interest to historians is by now so successful and so permeating that it has been normalized so that it is no longer an exotic or radical departure from common practice among American historians themselves. Of course there remain other important French voices for us to read from the mid and late twentieth century, namely Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Pierre Nora and Jacques Derrida. But it is fair to say that their reach as authors is different since the identity of the American archivist has evolved, too, within the past generation. New archivists in the United States are information specialists, not historians. If they read a Barthes or Foucault or Nora or Derrida, it is as students in university courses on cultural studies or archives and social memory within the context of information studies rather than as students of history. Another radical transformation in all this redefining of historical research vis-à-vis the archives is that the archives themselves have changed. In America, one can by now find a wealth of archives far removed from the state, created by individuals and organizations with any number of agendas and identities. If only Tocqueville could return ! In fact there are those who would argue that the greatest vitality in archives is at the greatest remove from the state in America. I would cite as examples the exciting music archives of Jimi Hendrix in Seattle, the archives of Coca Cola in Atlanta and the archives of Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh. These are the mirror of America, “the archives of the people, by the people, for the people” in the concept alluded to by Eric Ketelaar in his serious consideration of archives as a fundamental element of democracy7. (I mention these colorful contrasts to state archives in America being mindful of French archivist Paule René-Bazin’s recent comment that “in France, the memory of State is privileged with regard to any other form of memory for it perhaps more than elsewhere coincides with the collective memory of the French”)8.
- 9 M. Foucault, L’Archéologie du Savoir, Paris, Gallimard, 1969, p. 171.
8Thanks in part to French academics and in part to the successful penetration of archives into so much of America’s decentralized culture, we have reached the point where the identity and raison d’être of archives have become a new area of academic discourse. Foucault and Derrida really led the academic practice of contesting the very nature of “archives”, with Foucault clinically characterizing archives as “le système général de la formation et de la transformation des énoncés”9. Others, including England’s Carolyn Steedman, with her clever but problematic volume on archives entitled Dust, The Archives and Cultural History now pursue further the agenda to redefine and even destabilize “the archives”.
- 10 As cited in C. Steedman, Dust, The Archive and Cultural History, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers (...)
9Archivists, at the same time as this deconstruction is underway, breathe new life into the archives. In doing so, we repeat what Michelet himself claimed when he wrote, “j’ai donné à beaucoup de morts trop oubliés l’assistance dont moi-même j’aurai besoin. Je les ai exhumés pour une seconde vie... Ainsi se fait une famille, une cité commune entre les vivants et les morts”10. We continue to “enlarge the family” by expanding rather than reducing, by collecting, describing and promoting an incredibly vast array of source materials at the same time as at least some of us, too, question the very nature of what it is we promote and preserve. One may call this fecundity of both content and ideas in the archives, with all due respect to Nora, “les luxes des mémoires”.
- 11 E. Posner, op. cit., p. 5.
10In this current era of archival abundance (in contrast to all earlier eras of archival privilege and scarcity), there is also a tremendous specialization and diversification of the profession of archivists in America. Ernst Posner pointed out already half a century ago that archivists in the United States include a “bouillabaisse” (his term) of “noncatalogable” types11. It is the voluntary organization of the Society of American Archivists, and many other regional and local organizations of archivists, that through their conferences and publications give this wide variety of working archivists a collective identity in my home country, rather than a uniform education or any close alliance with the state or centuries of tradition. But, you may ask, beyond a general inclination to join forces voluntarily (which is something Tocqueville also observed as particularly American !), what is it that more specifically gives American archivists their commonality ?
- 12 L. Duranti, “The Concept of Appraisal and Archival Theory”, The American Archivist, n° 57, p. 328-3 (...)
- 13 F. Boles and M. Greene, “Et tu [sic] Schellenberg ? Thoughts on the Dagger of American Appraisal Th (...)
- 14 La Gazette des Archives, p. 172, and The American Archivist, n° 59, p. 4.
- 15 B. Brothman and R. Brown, “Archives and Postmodernism, To the Editor”, The American Archivist, 1996 (...)
11In considering our identity, we look to our neighbors and at our heritage for comparison and contrast, for validation and for differentiation. The best of this effort allows for nuance and new insight. I will now list three such instances of this sort of review. First, in 1996, American authors Frank Boles and Mark Greene explored what they see as the “contrast of American pragmatism with continental diplomatics”, as they resist any attempt by Luciana Duranti to sell diplomatics wholesale in the contemporary American marketplace of ideas12. As they stated, in their challenge to her very important article on diplomatics from ten years ago, “archives is an applied discipline. The test of a theory is not its pedigree but its utility... American archivists, true to their society’s tradition of pragmatism, ask not what is theoretically correct, but rather what works”13. This very tension between classic diplomatics, as codified and packaged in Duranti’s thorough publication on the one hand and the contemporary archival enterprise on the other hand, is what intrigued a group of us from the University of Michigan to work with a group of faculty at the École des chartes to probe more deliberately together the ongoing viability of diplomatics. I was a member of the American team and I came away from the project not only with a tremendous admiration for the work of Olivier Guyotjeannin, Bruno Delmas and especially Bernard Barbiche, but also a conviction that one could, in fact, selectively apply the principles of diplomatics to contemporary archives, in particular to a typology of photographic archives in my examination. We wrote about the results of that collaboration both in La Gazette des Archives and also in the journal entitled The American Archivist14. We backed away from any definitive privileging of classic diplomatics and instead we found our views harmonizing more with what Brien Brothman and Richard Brown wrote, coincidentally, in the opening pages of our volume of The American Archivist. They differentiated the classic task of “identification” of documents, through diplomatics, from “justification” methodologies, otherwise known as appraisal and concluded that, “when understood as consisting of methods of authentication or verification, then diplomatics, though obviously necessary, is by no means necessarily sufficient for addressing contemporary archival problems of justification. It is simply one component of appraisal”15.
- 16 T. Cook, “What is Past is Prologue : A History of Archival Ideas since 1898 and the Future Paradigm (...)
- 17 B. Brothman, “The Limit of Limits : Derridean Deconstruction and the Archival Institution”, Archiva (...)
12This refinement for contemporary archivistique has happened in other instances, wherein a time-honored author or legacy theory has come into question, undergone fresh review and yielded new refinements. For example, Sir Hilary Jenkinson suffers today from his “purist notions of the impartiality of innocent archives as repositories of “truth” and irrefutable evidence guaranteed by unbroken custody and unmediated meaning”. In contrast to Jenkinson, archivists in the United States have identified the act of archival appraisal as a primary role and obligation. Records become archival through a process of appraisal, not simply by direct inheritance ; they gain an archival status through selection. However, as Canadian archivist Terry Cook points out, Jenkinson’s writings are still relevant, since they do remind us of the notion of evidence in the archives16. They remind us as much of the risk on the part of archivists of assuming an unquestioned faith in the archives in their keep if they rely too easily on “evidence” without reservation. There is a persistent, positivistic reliance on records to be what they present themselves to be. There is also for some, by now, a reserve if not a skepticism, especially among those of us who prefer to regard archives as much a “process” as a “product”, to borrow from Cook’s article on the paradigm shift in archival ideas since 1898. We have Barthes, among others, to thank for this heightened awareness of the so-called “reality effect” in the staging of objectivity through institutions such as archives17. Jenkinson enforces for us the contrasts of positivism and post-modern deconstruction. We can still employ his notions of evidence, especially if we turn the evidence around, as we “read against the grain”, for evidence not intended. This animated dialogue between archivist and archives reminds me of a favored book on the reading lists of many courses on archives. It further illustrates this notion of engagement and process by its very title of The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid.
- 18 M. Duchein, “Theoretical Principles and Practical Problems of Respect des Fonds in Archival Science (...)
- 19 N. Bartleet, “Respect des Fonds : The Origins of the Modern Archival Principle of Provenance”, Prim (...)
- 20 L. Moore, Restoring Order : the École des chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in (...)
13The third example of an ongoing engagement with earlier archivistique is the most French and the most anonymous for Americans. It is our ongoing loyalty to the concept of “le respect des fonds”, and all that evolves from there. Most accept at face value what Michel Duchein wrote twenty years ago that, “by its practice, the archivist is most clearly distinguished from the librarian on the one hand, and from the professional researcher or documentalist”18. The word “fonds” is a part of our vocabulary in English — even if we do not pronounce it as you do ! — and we readily apply it to the context of our work, whereby we identify and respect the provenance of individual record groups in the archives. There is a certain irony to our ignorance about the details of its origins, as I discovered twenty years ago when I decided to explore the original conditions that led to the concept of “le respect des fonds”19. As many if not all of you most likely know, the circular of April 24, 1841, authored by Natalis de Wailly had an immediate, precise and practical application as instructions to French departmental archives on how to organize pre-revolution records in their keep. This was not abstract theory, it was administrative decree and it had a particular target, specific to a time and set of locations. It was not universal and it was not evolutionary. It was an ordering mandate applied to inherited Ancien Régime records out of order. De Wailly himself was both particular and flexible about how he chose to understand “fonds”. Witness, for example, how he in 1861 answered the question of how to define “fonds” at the Bibliothèque nationale. He responded that there they were “des recueils encylopédiques”. His 1841 decree, as precise as it was in its instruction and as flexible as its concept was in terms of defining the “fonds” at hand, was the greatest gift of archivistique from France to America. It is a powerful concept ; it allows for much interpretation, much context if you will ; it accommodates without degradation an ignorance of its origins ; it endures into new technologies and it does not per force contradict other appraisal, arrangement and description considerations which have more than ever considered function as much as origin. Simply put, it travels well. The provenance of “le respect des fonds” has been the subject of recent research, most notably a doctoral dissertation by a Ph.D. student, Lara Moore, who unfortunately died last year, shortly after she had completed her very impressive dissertation at Stanford University, entitled Restoring Order : the École des chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-187020. Would that there were more studies of her type, whereby we could learn much more about the context of the concept of origin and its organizing effect as expressed through the term “fonds”.
- 21 O. Kolsrud, “The Evolution of Basic Appraisal Principles : Some Comparative Observations”, The Amer (...)
- 22 J. Kilkki, “Bearmania : Frosting Finnish Archival Practice with Imported Archival Theory”, Comma 20 (...)
- 23 V. Lapin, “Hesitations at the Door to an Archive’s Catalog”, Comma, 2002, 3/4, p. 49-61.
14In conclusion, I would like to consider briefly and more generally the role of geography, of place, in contemporary archivistique. I am an avowed internationalist when it comes to the profession of archivists. In my role as co-editor for the international section of The American Archivist and as editor-in-chief over the past four years of the relatively new journal entitled Comma of the International Council on Archives, I witnessed time and again the natural inclination to “place” writings about archives in particular physical settings, and to cluster such writings into thematic publications focusing on archives of China, of Russia, of the Nordic countries, of Europe. Ours is such a contextual profession that it makes sense to base one’s view of it on one’s own location and to examine that view by looking to other contexts, other locations. By location, I mean institution, country, language and even time. Information technology and globalization in my opinion serve to reinforce this contextualization as a way of “making sense” of our work. And sometimes distance lends clarity. It took Norwegian Ole Kolsrud, at the edge of Europe, to write one of the most edifying articles about the history of appraisal in Europe and the contrasts in English and German appraisal models, in his article “The Evolution of Basic Appraisal Principles : Some Comparative Observations”21. Jaana Kilkki of Finland, in her recent article in Comma, helps demystify and legitimize some of American David Bearman’s emphasis on records as evidence of business transactions by stating that this concept is a perfect fit for the Finnish context of archives administration22. His theory at home was practice abroad. Not all journeys of archivists yield appreciation from afar. A recent visiting stagiaire chez nous from France was asked at the end of her month-long visit, “what do you think of the American archival system” ? Her response demonstrated for us that “system” is a matter of perception. She answered, “there is no system”. Russian archivists, and historians, know full well the counter-systems of a totalitarian state and are now, years after perestroika, more at ease in sharing decades of double-entrées in their Stalinist catalogings, as one can see in the pages of the Russian issue of Comma as well23. They probably understand better than most other archivists or historians the complexities of evidence in the archival realm.
15In closing, I would make mention of the obvious, that thanks to the Internet, our curiosity about archives and l’archivistique far from home does not have to rely solely upon the pages of our relatively few archival journals or the occasional, wonderful meeting such as this. Within that obvious observation, I’d like to add more specifically that one of my absolute favorite websites is actually closely associated with where we find ourselves today. It is the website of the Tour de France. I have not seen elsewhere such an impressive website as that of the Tour de France, which celebrates within itself all of its earlier versions as a website. One can relive not only the history of the time-honored race itself but one can also view with an archivist’s appreciation the history of the websites associated with the race since 1995. The archival record of each year’s race itself lives on in the site, preserved as it was presented that year with additional archival commentary about its original creation, long after the race is over and the sportsmen have left for home. This exceptional preservation of content and presentation, along with archival analysis, in the parlance of diplomatics of caractères externes and caractères internes, enables a wonderful virtual journey back in time, through the marriage of Internet and archives, to year after year of one of the world’s most enjoyable athletic events as well as the communication about that event. The content and the conveyor are together preserved in virtual place. An intervention with sympathy towards diplomatics occurs here. It is the newest in inspirations for archives from your area of the world, for which I am personally grateful as a “devotée” of the Tour ! These “archival” versions of so many past tours through France reach with ease what Tocqueville referred to as the “petit monde” of the inhabitant of Michigan, enriching the lives of those of us who live there, in “l’éternelle forêt”, toujours “au milieu d’un océan de feuillage”.
For their very helpful comments during the preparation of this presentation, I would like to thank Teresa Brinati, Francis Blouin, Perrine Canavaggio, Nancy Deromedi, Anna Svenson, Jens Topholm, Joan van Albada and Brian Williams.
A. de Tocqueville, De la Démocratie en Amérique, Paris, Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1990, volume 2, p. 298. For an English translation, see G. W. Pierson, Tocqueville in America, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins, 1996, p. 287.
J. O’Toole, “Democracy - and Documents - in America”, The American Archivist, n° 65, 1, Spring/Summer 2003, p. 107-116.
R. J. Cox, “Declarations, Independence, and Text in the Information Age”, First Monday, http://firstmonday.org/issues/issues4_6/rjcox/index.html.
E. Posner, “What, Then, Is the American Archivist, This New Man ?”, The American Archivist, 20, n° 1, January 1957, p. 7.
E. Posner, op. cit., p. 9.
E. Ketelaar, “Archives of the people, by the people, for the people”, in The Archival Image, Collected Essays, Hilversum, Verloren, 1997.
P. René-Bazin, “The Influence of Politics on the Shaping of the Memory of States”, paper presented in Winter 2000 at the Sawyer Seminar, International Institute, University of Michigan.
M. Foucault, L’Archéologie du Savoir, Paris, Gallimard, 1969, p. 171.
As cited in C. Steedman, Dust, The Archive and Cultural History, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 2001, p. 71.
E. Posner, op. cit., p. 5.
L. Duranti, “The Concept of Appraisal and Archival Theory”, The American Archivist, n° 57, p. 328-344.
F. Boles and M. Greene, “Et tu [sic] Schellenberg ? Thoughts on the Dagger of American Appraisal Theory”, The American Archivist, 1996, n° 59, p. 298-310.
La Gazette des Archives, p. 172, and The American Archivist, n° 59, p. 4.
B. Brothman and R. Brown, “Archives and Postmodernism, To the Editor”, The American Archivist, 1996, n° 59, p. 389.
T. Cook, “What is Past is Prologue : A History of Archival Ideas since 1898 and the Future Paradigm Shift”, Archivaria, n° 43, p. 17-63. The Society of American Archivists republished Jenkinson’s selected writings in 2003. See R. H. Ellis and P. Walne, ed., Selected Writings of Sir Hilary Jenkinson, Chicago, Society of American Archivists, 2003.
B. Brothman, “The Limit of Limits : Derridean Deconstruction and the Archival Institution”, Archivaria, n° 36, p. 214.
M. Duchein, “Theoretical Principles and Practical Problems of Respect des Fonds in Archival Science”, Archivaria, n° 16, p. 65.
N. Bartleet, “Respect des Fonds : The Origins of the Modern Archival Principle of Provenance”, Primary Sources and Original Works, I, 1, p. 107-115.
L. Moore, Restoring Order : the École des chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870, Stanford University, Ph.D. dissertation, 2003.
O. Kolsrud, “The Evolution of Basic Appraisal Principles : Some Comparative Observations”, The American Archivist, n° 55, 1, p. 26-40.
J. Kilkki, “Bearmania : Frosting Finnish Archival Practice with Imported Archival Theory”, Comma 2004, 1, p. 43-55.
V. Lapin, “Hesitations at the Door to an Archive’s Catalog”, Comma, 2002, 3/4, p. 49-61.Haut de page
Pour citer cet article
Nancy Bartlett, « « Archives, archivistes, archivistique dans l’Europe du Nord-Ouest ». Considerations from Afar », in Martine Aubry, Isabelle Chave et Vincent Doom (dir.), Archives, archivistes, archivistique dans l'Europe du Nord-Ouest du Moyen Âge à nos jours, Villeneuve d'Ascq, IRHiS (« Histoire et littérature de l'Europe du Nord-Ouest », no 36), 2007, p. 9-17.
Nancy Bartlett, « « Archives, archivistes, archivistique dans l’Europe du Nord-Ouest ». Considerations from Afar », in Martine Aubry, Isabelle Chave et Vincent Doom (dir.), Archives, archivistes, archivistique dans l'Europe du Nord-Ouest du Moyen Âge à nos jours, Villeneuve d'Ascq, IRHiS (« Histoire et littérature de l'Europe du Nord-Ouest », no 36), 2007 [En ligne], mis en ligne le 12 octobre 2012, consulté le 30 avril 2017. URL : http://hleno.revues.org/135Haut de page