black box

n. a conceptual model used to simplify the representation of a process by indicating only the inputs and outputs of a device without regard to its internal functions or mechanisms


In archives, the term usually refers to Frank Boles’ and Julia Marks Young’s article, “Exploring the Black Box: The Appraisal of University Administrative Records,” American Archivist 48, no. 2 (Spring 1985), 121–140. The authors argue that for too long the actual process of making archival appraisal decisions (what factors are considered, how much weight they are given, etc.) was implicitly viewed as an impenetrable mystery. Boles and Young defined specific elements that should go into making an appraisal, and argued that these could be refined to a mathematical model. In object-oriented programming, an object is an example of a black box. The object’s methods that return a property or transform an input are designed to reveal as little as possible about its internal code.