The Great and Powerful…

By MooreAbstract

Do you remember the Wizard of Oz? I hope so, or else this will not make sense to the ones who do not. Dorothy and her friends went on a journey to see the great and powerful Oz to ask a certain request. This process can be translatable to those who go to the archives for answers. The archives, in a way, can be seen as the great and powerful Oz. The people of the town go to Oz for answers; he is all knowing. However, Oz magnificence was an illusion, he was merely a man.


Oz, and the archive have very similar purpose and position in society. The archive is a place and idea that holds power in the ways we preserve and shape knowledge and memory. But with this power comes great responsibility (thank you spider-man), in other words, where there is power of selection there is the power to exclude and silence.


The archive is a truly powerful and political domain. The archive has the ability to not only persevere, and organize information; this domain essentially shapes our knowledge and memory of the past. Yet, the power of selection can also be countered with omission. “Archives are ‘how we know ourselves as individuals, groups, and societies,’” (Carter, 2006) it helps shape one’s identity. However, amongst all the resources that is collected, how does the archivist determine what shall be preserved or forgotten? This question is closely knitted into the issue of archival alienation and silence. Archivist Rodney G.S. Carter notes, “the power to exclude is a fundamental aspect of the archive. Inevitable, there are distortions, omissions, erasures, and silence in the archive,” (2006) not everyone’s voices are heard, especially the marginalized. If the records of these groups are manipulated and destroyed, or excluded, [their narratives] cannot be transmitted across time, the records about this group may ultimately disappear from history (2006).


There are three types of powers that are possessed by the archive: control over collective memory, control of preservation, and specifically to the archivist, the interpretation and meditation between records and users. This amount of power is astounding, and scary. These powers shape what and how we learn. It was interesting that archivist Randall Jimerson, suggested archivist to embrace this power. However, there was a catch. We should embrace the powers, in order to use them for greatness. I believe this can be applied to reference librarians as well. Librarians hold somewhat power in the community, because we provide access to service and information that our residents interests or needs. By embracing this power, we can keep ourselves in check in terms of what to record and materials to exclude, how to intercept and provide access to the user.


However, the power to exclude materials can, and often leads to archival silence. Archival silence is gaps of information that are not present in a collection. These gaps are often records that connect or represent marginalized groups. Archival silence are gaps in preserved texts such as written, visual, audio-visual, and electronic which are “currency of archives” (2006) These text are often not representable of society. Oftentimes, the history accounted for are from the viewpoint of those in power or privileged, this act can leave a void in the collective memory because it excludes the viewpoints of the minorities or underprivileged. This silence can lead to a lack of identity. Most importantly, these gaps can lead to a history being forgotten or distorted.


The duty to be mindful of the gaps within the archive should be accepted by librarians and archivists. There are several tactics that were suggested by numerous archivists that will be helpful in the profession. The first is using a feminist critique to listen to the silences. This is done by listening to the omissions and interrogating the powerful (Carter, 2006). Secondly, archivist Randall Jimerson suggests embracing the power of the archive. By doing so, we can use the power for good, to use our power of knowledge preservations and memory formation to protect the public interest (2005). In addition, it is best, I believe, for anyone in the research profession, to eliminate as much bias in our process mainly neutrality. The act to not take a stance is a loose form of indifference. In addition, by acknowledging bias we avoid using power indiscriminately, or accidentally (Carter, 2006). Lastly, acquiring a social responsibility will help foster awareness and activism to address this type of archival discourse. These tactics will not solve this issue but will hinder the possibility of future gaps.


For those who wish to pursue the life of an archivist, or a librarian for the matter, be aware of this issue. Be conscious of your selection of material and look for ways in which you can be inclusive. It is a part of our social responsibility in a democratic society to notice alienation in our collection whether it is the library or archives. This awareness can enable information professionals to vocalize those who are misrepresented; this inclusion can lead to proper representation, positive formation of memory and identity.




Carter, R. (2006). Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in       Silence. Archivaria, 61(61). Retrieved October 22, 2014,             from


Jimerson R. C. (2005). Embracing the Power of Archives. Society of American        Archivist. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from   


Jimerson, R. C. (2009). Archive Power: Memory, accountability, and social justice.            Chicago: The Society of American Archivist.

Protected: Lessons from the Lesbian Herstory Archives

By bgavlin

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Protected: Does there exist work that is not work?

By termitetheory

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A Monument to Memory

By Rachel O'Neill

Control of the archive – variously defined – means control of society and thus control of determining history’s winners and losers.1

Or, as Hollywood would have it:

While we must, and will, win this war, we must also remember the high price that’ll be paid if the very foundation of modern civilization is destroyed.

So opines George Clooney in the wonderfully melodramatic trailer for the hotly anticipated movie: The Monuments Men

Based on Robert M. Edsel’s book novel The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, this is the remarkable true story of six men, handpicked to rescue the art masterpieces of the world from Nazi thieves under direct orders from Hitler during World War II.

In total, there were 345 men and women from thirteen nations who joined the MFAA – Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives, of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Section of the Allied armies. Established in June 1943, members of the MFAA came from a variety of arts based backgrounds, art historians, curators, artists, architects and educators and went on to illustrious careers at America’s top Arts Institutions. Many spent up to six years in Europe during and post WWII protecting monuments, locating artworks, and in the years following the end of the war, handling the restitution of works of art and cultural works stolen by Hitler and the Nazis.

While it may be all too obvious why the recovery and restitution of paintings, sculptures, artifacts and documents stolen during WWII was so important to the Allies, it is worth stressing how vitally important having these works restored to their rightful owners and places is, in terms of serving to reconnect those people, torn apart by war on a scale never before experienced, to their cultural past. While Schwartz and Moore raise questions and concerns throughout their essay: Archives, Records, Power, in their conclusion there can be no doubting the importance of archives:

Memory, like history, is rooted in archives. Without archives, memory falters, knowledge of accomplishments fades, pride in a shared past dissipates. Archives counter these losses. Archives contain the evidence of what went before. This is particularly germane in the modern world…the archive remains as one foundation of historical understanding. Archives validate our experiences, our perceptions, our narratives, our stories. Archives are our memories. 2

The drive to collect, organize and conserve materials from the past seems an innately human one. As does the converse: the desire to destroy, limit access to, or hoard, in order to exert some sort of power or control over others is equally a uniquely human characteristic.

Marlene Manoff, in her essay Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines looks to the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, who, she states:

…claims that Freudian psychoanalysis offers us a theory of the archive premised on two conflicting forces. One is a death drive and the other is a conservation or archive drive that is linked to the pleasure principle. In this formulation, the archive affirms the past, present, and future; it preserves the records of the past and it embodies the promise of the present to the future.13 3

Manoff goes on to point out:

The stakes in this struggle can be very high. In 1992, during the war between Abkhazia and Georgia, four Georgian members of the National Guard threw incendiary grenades into the Abkhazian State Archives resulting in the destruction of much of the history of the entire region.17 According to Derrida’s formulation, such destruction represents the failure of the present in its responsibility to the future. Similar losses have recently occurred in Iraq. In the aftermath of the U.S. led “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Iraq’s National Museum, National Library, National Archives, and other repositories have been looted and burned. A chorus of voices has declared this a cultural disaster of immense proportion.4

One of those voices was journalist Adam Goodheart whose article in the New York Times Missing: A Vase, a Book, a Bird and 10,000 Years of History, Mannoff cites, was informed of the devastating significance of the Iraq’s cultural losses by John Malcolm Russell, Professor of Art History and Archeology at Massachusetts College of Art.

In his own, eloquent essay, Why Should We Care?, Russell explains how he found himself responding to western media with the cover-all response: “Because Iraq is the cradle of civilization” 5 when media asked why the world should care about the looting of the Iraq museum in April 2003. But for Russell and his Iraqi born colleagues on site, the significance of the loss went even deeper than the fact that artifacts had been stolen or destroyed. He describes one of his most profound experiences in the days immediately following the looting of the Iraq Museum was participating in an NPR recorded discussion via satellite phone with Ahmed Abdullah Faddam, professor of sculpture at Baghdad’s College of Fine Arts:

Professor Ahmed was very eloquent about what the losses at the museums and libraries meant for the future of the Iraqi people… But his most chilling comment transcended nationalism: “What can you do with a man who is ignorant and doesn’t have any culture? He is just like a dead man.”6

Russell goes on to comment:

He is also a very dangerous man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled with dross. Having a past, having a sense of who we are, allows us to measure our-selves against what political demagogues or market forces say we should be.7

In terms of an on-going commitment to protect the world’s cultural heritage in 2006 the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield was formed, and in September 2008, the U.S. finally ratified the 1954 Hague Convention (Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict), the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. Between the USCBS and Clooney’s homage to the Monuments Men perhaps there is hope yet for the world’s memories!

1.Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook: Archives, Records, PowerArchival Science 2: 1–19, © 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers
3.Marlene Manoff: Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines, 2004 portal: Libraries and the Academy 4(1): 9-25
5.John Malcolm Russell,Why Should We Care? Art Journal, Vol. 62, No. 4 (Winter, 2003), pp. 22-29.

Issues of Responsibility and Opportunity in Digital Archiving

By rbron246

Thinking a great deal lately about the concept of the archive and specifically digital archiving, I recently spent a morning in the Condé Nast Research Library and was interested to see how/where these issues might be at play. In conversation, the senior librarian informed me that the library operates separately from the archive and described the difference as such: the archive serves as the center for preservation while the library provides access to information. While this sounds like a simple and practical divide, the idea was further complicated when I asked about articles published only online. Who handles the preservation of these articles that must make up a huge contribution to the collection of these media brands? She smiled somewhat ruefully and said she wasn’t sure. Not only did the library have no involvement with this process but the librarian actually said she was too apprehensive to even ask questions. With only three librarians, and one other part-time staff member, she said they didn’t have the resources to tackle that issue if it was raised. I was interested in this division between the archive and library and asked some further questions about photo requests, receiving yet another vague response. The librarian informed me that they had “some photo records” and could respond to “some” requests leading me to believe that the divide between the two departments isn’t quite as strict as was originally portrayed. The interaction got me thinking about issues of responsibility in terms of digital archiving.

Condé Nast has digitized the entirety of Vogue from the very first issue, an expensive undertaking that was outsourced to a different company. Currently, a yearly subscription costs $3,250. Digitizing is expensive and time-consuming and corporations like Condé Nast must decide what paper materials to digitize while also considering how to incorporate born digital materials into their archive. As of now, it is quite unclear how that is being handled.

The archive as a physical collection and theoretical concept forms a basis for much of scholarly research and when examined brings up issues of authority, authenticity, ownership, and policy. Attempts to define these objects of study get at the very nature of the disciplines they serve. Associate head of the humanities library at MIT, Marlene Manoff names various concepts of the archive such as the “social archive, the raw archive, the imperial archive, the postcolonial archive, the popular archive, the ethnographic archive, the geographical archive, the liberal archive, archival reason, archival consciousness, archive cancer, and the poetics of the archive”—a list which speaks to the way this concept has permeated many fields (11). Derrida in his influential Archive Fever, claims that the archive produces as much as it records the event. “The archive has always been a pledge, and like every pledge [gage], a token of the future. To put it more trivially: what is no longer archived in the same way is no longer lived in the same way” (18). Within this context the structure of the archive also determines what can be archived, and history and memory are then shaped by the technical processes of “archivization”.

These technical processes have seen huge transformations with recent advances in information technology. Manoff claims that the methods for transmitting information shape the nature of the knowledge that can be produced, and points to social theorist Adrian Mackenzie’s claim that the centrality of the archive to cyberspace stems from the fact that existence in virtual culture is premised on a live connection. In Mackenzie’s phrasing, “to die is to be disconnected from access to the archives, not jacked-in or not in real time” (10). In this culture of connectedness, there is a new kind of instant archivization where the moment of production and preservation happen at once.

This situation leads to two potential opposing issues. On the one hand we are producing very vulnerable digital records at an alarming pace, however; if digital archiving efforts prove effective we could end up with a more complete historical record than ever before, an information overload.

Information consultant, Terry Kuny, commented on this situation fifteen years ago,

As we move into the electronic era of digital objects it is important to know that there are new barbarians at the gate and that we are moving into an era where much of what we know today, much of what is coded and written electronically, will be lost forever. We are, to my mind, living in the midst of digital Dark Ages; consequently, much as monks of times past, it falls to librarians and archivists to hold to the tradition which reveres history and the published heritage of our times.

Kuny places the responsibility for this future preservation work on librarians and archivists, and it seems that in terms of the opposing dilemma—information overloadthese same professionals would take center stage. Manoff points out that archival work is “about making fine discriminations to identify what is significant from a mass of data. These kinds of distinctions are also central to the work of librarians and archivists” (Manoff 19). However issues of digital preservation have far-reaching implications relevant to almost every discipline, and one of the biggest issues currently facing digital archiving is a lack of a clear path or a defined sense of responsibility as I saw at Condé Nast.

In Scarcity and Abdundance: Preserving the Past in a Digital Era, Roy Rosenzweig points to an absence of process in digital archiving. “Over centuries, a complex (and imperfect) system for preserving the past has emerged. Digitization has unsettled that system of responsibility for preservation, and an alternate system has not emerged. In the meantime cultural and historical objects are being permanently lost” (745). He discusses historians’ lack of attention to these issues, in part due to an assumption that these are “technical” problems outside of the purview of scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Manoff points out that, “archival discourse has also become a way to address some of the thorny issues of disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge production and the artificial character of disciplinary boundaries” (11). The most important and difficult issues of digital preservation are social, cultural, economic, political, and legal—issues humanists should excel at. Yet this professional division between historians and archivists leads to a confusion of responsibility that seems to go beyond solely this historian/archivist split. Within the discourse surrounding archives, libraries, museums and archives are often conflated and there is confusion not only concerning the overarching questions of how and what to save but also who will be doing it. Digital documents are disrupting our traditional system of publication, dissemination, and preservation. Digitization challenges our notion of ownership, who owns the materials and thus who is responsible for their preservation. Licensed and centrally controlled digital content erodes the library’s ability and responsibility to preserve the past. Why preserve something you do not own?

Rosenzweig ends his discussion, pointing to “one of the most vexing and interesting features of the digital era…the way it unsettles traditional arrangements and forces us to ask basic questions that have been there all along” (760). Digital preservation and the challenges it presents open up an opportunity to re-think disciplinary boundaries, to potentially form greater cross-disciplinary connections, and in doing so strengthen our own field. One thing is for certain, there isn’t time to wait for a perfect solution and if seen as an opportunity for joint action, this recreation of the processes of preservation can be an exciting opportunity. Let’s not avoid asking the questions that need to be asked.


Derrida, J. & Prenowitz, E. (1995). “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression” Diacritics 25(2): 13

Manoff, Marlene. “Theories Of The Archive From Across The Disciplines.”portal: Libraries and the Academy 4, no. 1 (2004): 9-25.

Rosenzweig, R. (2003). “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era” The American Historical Review 108(3)


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