archives

pl. n. records created or received by a person, family, or organization and preserved because of their continuing value inactive records of continuing value the organically created records of continuing value, particularly when the organization itself maintains the records non-record material selected, preserved, managed, presented, and used in the same manner as archives sing. n. an institution’s or individual’s entire preserved body of interrelated and interdependent records; a fonds a selection of digital records or digital surrogates of records made available as a curated online collection a collection of manuscript collections managed as a thematic unit and representing a collecting specialization of an archival repository an organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations; a collecting archives (usually construed as sing., earlier treated as pl.) the division within an organization responsible for acquiring and maintaining the organization’s records of continuing value; institutional archives (capitalized and usually preceded by the) the official repository of a nation, state, territory, or institution’s records of continuing value the building, buildings, or portion thereof housing records of continuing value the professional discipline, practice, and study of administering such collections and organizations; archivy adj. (sometimes capitalized to note reference to a particular archival organization) related to archives; archival

Notes

The most central term to the field of archives is also the most fraught. The word “archives” carries within it twelve commonly used and sometimes overlapping meanings. Archivists generally recognize only three senses of the word (the records, the facility where they are stored, and the organization responsible for both), but Richard Pearce-Moses’ Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (released in 2005) identified six. Archivists, including Terry Cook and William Maher, have decried both the plethora of senses for “archives,” and the non-archivist’s urge to create yet more senses that do not confine themselves to the canonical senses. In this regard, Solon J. Buck wrote, “It is not only, as an assistant of mine once said, that many people when they encounter the word ‘archives’ do not know whether one is supposed to eat them or to use flit [an insecticide] on them! More serious is the fact that so many different conceptions or misconceptions of the meaning of the word prevail among those who are aware that it has some relation to records or documents.” [“‘Let’s Look at the Record,’” American Archivist 8, no. 2 (April 1945): 110.] Frank Evans in 1964 examined the triple meaning of “archives,” yet uniquely suggested “the close relationship among them suggests that a single account encompassing all three will produce a series of more realistic and thus more readily recognizable pictures.” [“The Many Faces of the Pennsylvania Archives,” American Archivist 27, no. 2 (April 1964): 271.] Yet what does the field make of the number twelve? Roscoe R. Hill’s solution to these overlapping senses was to suggest new words to replace some of the senses, but his best creation “archivology” was already covered by the existing neologism “archivy.” [“Archival Terminology,” American Archivist 6, no. 4 (October 1943): 206–211.] Even given these many senses identified in this dictionary, archivists still also employ others. For instance, Hilary Jenkinson, famously (to archivists, at least) claimed that government records could not be considered archives if a continuous chain of custody had not been maintained, thereby reducing the definition of “archives” to its narrowest possible state. Otherwise, he asserted, the records could not be treated as evidence, and they were, essentially, null and void—though a nongovernmental body might take them in, as a curiosity, we assume. Early use of the term made a clear distinction between records (always active) and archives (always inactive), causing writers to use “records and archives” to clarify they were referring to records currently in use by their creators and those that had passed over into the archives for secondary use. Similarly, writers in the first half of the twentieth century drew a line between archives (permanent institutional or, especially, public records received by repositories) and manuscripts (permanent records of people, families, and institutions collected by repositories). The end of the twentieth century tended more to demonstrate the profession’s attempts to erase the lines between the field of archives and the historical manuscripts tradition—and to recognize the essential similarity between historical records regardless of their source or manner of acquisition. Archivists occasionally combine “archives” with another word to clarify its meaning, as in “archives facility” or “archives organization.” They also employ the adjective “archival” before other words to provide the clarity that the word “archives” sometimes cannot. Such usages include “archival institution,” “archival records,” “archival profession,” and so on. To be sure, sometimes a reader or listener cannot definitively tell which sense the writer or speaker intended, yet we manage to communicate with one another despite this polysemy. The term “archive” overlaps significantly but not precisely with this term, sometimes serving as a singular form of it, yet at other times sharing the same sense merely without the addition of a final “s.”