- A History of Archival Practice by Paul Delsalle
Originally published in 1998 as Une historie de l'archivistique, this compact volume provides a readable and well-organized synthesis of the ways in which archives were managed across much of the globe from the dawn of writing to the close of the 20th century. Margaret Procter received Paul Delsalle's support as she translated the text into English for the first time, adding recently published research and modifications to the bibliographies (conveniently placed at the end of each chapter) to accommodate English-language sources where possible. The revised text ought to be essential reading for anyone seeking the nearest approximation of a "global archival history" currently available in English (p. 231). Advanced undergraduates and graduate students in history and library science programs in particular will benefit from the easily digestible, numbered sections.
It may be prudent at the outset to acknowledge the author whose ideas and arguments are primarily reflected in the text, even one that has undergone both revision and translation. Paul Delsalle, an expert in the early modern era during which the Hapsburgs ruled Franche-Comté (1493–1678), is a professor of modern history at the Université de Franche-Comté, Besançon, France. Also a holder of a degree in archival science, Delsalle lectured on that subject for a number of years, and has published on the history of archives in France and Quebec. His deep knowledge of francophone archival history still comes through in this revision – even though Procter incorporated "more examples of historical English practice" (p. xvi). [End Page 197]
Delsalle's book, however, is not partial to any single country's archival experiences. The geographic coverage of the book is remarkably expansive and contributes to a corrective of the usual narrative of the origins of archives as a practice and a profession. Rather than solely arguing that "archival practice has its origins in Mesopotamia, developed in Greece and the Roman empire, spread throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and expanded globally (particularly in the English-speaking world) in the twentieth," Delsalle makes a concerted effort to include Ibero-Lusophone archives, as well as those in other areas of Africa, Asia, and the Americas (p. 231). His research lacunae are acknowledged to be the result of his inability to read Russian, Chinese, and Japanese, along with the fact that research on early archival practices in Scandinavian, Russian, and Arabic institutions is underdeveloped within the profession (p. 232).
While Delsalle acknowledges in his introduction to the 1998 French edition his goal "to avoid a wholly European concept of archives," some readers may find his account insufficiently global (p. 231). Indeed, many of the important transformations in the practices performed by archives and archivists that Delsalle emphasizes are largely European in origin. To cite just one example, Delsalle's claim – represented well in Procter's translation, one hopes – is that "radically new archival practices put in place by" Philip II in Spain "were to have a significant global impact on archival practice over the subsequent centuries," given that "Spain and Portugal already controlled … not just Europe, but much of coastal Africa, the trading posts of Asia and, especially, the New World of the Americas" (pp. 114, 106). In fact, one could read the extent of Ibero-Lusophone rule as rather limited and conclude that its archival practices influenced only parts of Europe, coastal Africa, a few posts in Asia, and some areas of the Americas.
Other major trends that Delsalle highlights could be cast as similarly Eurocentric: (1) the rise of respect des fonds (which Delsalle situates in 14th-century Barcelona and Sardinia); (2) the symbolic association of administrative archives with royal power or religious authority; (3) the spread of "manuals and methods" throughout continental Europe in the 16th century (p. 135); (4) the opening of national archives to the public during the Napoleonic era; (5) the rise of archival education in the 19th century in Italy, France, Bavaria, and Spain; or (6) the expansion of historians...