Remembering the Future: Appraisal of Records and the Role of Archives in Constructing Social Memory
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Appraisal occurs primarily today on the records of yesterday to create a past for tomorrow. What kind of past should the future have? This essay represents in part a narrative about archival appraisal, that function that selects for long-term preservation as society’s memory roughly 1–5 percent of the total documentation of major institutions and considerably less from private citizens . In keeping with the internationalism of these seminars , which featured voices from many countries, this essay is perhaps more a postmodern story from Canada than an exposition of appraisal strategy and criteria or a detailed critique of various other narratives (schools of thought?) about appraisal. Appraisal imposes a heavy social responsibility on archivists . As they appraise records, they are doing nothing less than shaping the future of our documentary heritage. They are determining what the future will know about its past, which is often our present. As a profession, we archivists need to realize continually the gravity of this task. We are literally creating archives. We are deciding what is remembered and what is forgotten, who in society is visible and who remains invisible, who has a voice and who does not. In this act of creation, we must remain extraordinarily sensitive to the political and philosophical nature of documents individually, of archives collectively, of archival functions, of archivists’ personal biases, and especially of archival appraisal. That process deanes the creators, functions, and activities to be included in archives by selecting which documents become archives and thus enjoy all subsequent archival processes (description, conservation, exhibition, reference, and so on) and, just as starkly and with anality, which documents are destroyed, excluded from archives, forgotten from memory. Appraisal is thus central to the archival endeavor—indeed , it is the only archival endeavor, a continuing activity without end, the heart of archives. And it is controversial . Pioneering archivists and some writers still believe that appraisal is unarchival, wrenching records from their original context of creation. For the majority of archivists , who recognize the necessity of selecting some part from an unmanageable whole, differences abound on the principles or concepts (or theories) that should animate appraisal or that deane the “value” or “signiacance” or “importance” of records—all terms used in archival legislation and by archivists, usually without deanition or rebection. “What makes the good?” the Greeks long ago asked. What makes something have value, be worth preserving and remembering? Not surprisingly, without clear arst principles, the resulting strategies and methodologies have achieved no consensus. Both parts of this essay’s title, “Remembering the Future : Appraisal of Records and the Role of Archives in Constructing Social Memory,” might alarm, even frighten, many archivists and indeed historians and other users of archives. Both halves are contrary to archival orthodoxy . Both clash with the stereotype of the archivist’s widely accepted role in society. Archivists remember the past, not the future. They deal with history, not current or future events. They do not construct social memory— that is the role of historians and other users of the archive who, through their works, create the stories and 169 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Remembering the Future Appraisal of Records and the Role of Archives in Constructing Social Memory Terry Cook ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ narratives, the myths and memories, that underpin our collective identities. Archivists are rather a kind of invisible bridge, or honest broker, between creators and users of records. Archivists are guardians of the past, not its interpreters. Archivists are in the preservation business, not the memory one. Indeed, until the 1980s, archivists, at least in Canada, often described themselves—proudly—as “the handmaidens of historians.” In retrospect, that phrase is astonishing for its servility and its gender connotations. Until recently, women remained largely invisible in social and historical memory, relegated as the silent and usually unrecognized supporters of male accomplishment; so too, archivists have remained invisible in the construction of social memory, their role also poorly articulated and rarely appreciated. I might go further and say that just as patriarchy required women to be the subservient, invisible handmaidens to male power, historians and other users of archives require archivists to be neutral, invisible, silent handmaidens of historical research.1 I will return to this point later in the essay. My message is simple. Archivist are active agents in constructing social and historical memory. In so doing, they have an obligation to remember or consider the needs and expectations of the future as much as to conserve or remember the past. Furthermore, in so doing, archivists must rebect society’s “values...


pdf