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The Canadian Distinctiveness into the XXIst Century - La distinction canadienne au tournant du XXIe siecle

 | 
Chad Gaffield
, 
Karen L. Gould

The Place of Canada in the World of the Twenty-first Century / Le rôle du Canada sur la scène internationale au vingt et unième siècle

A Communications, Technology, and Societal Memory: A Distinct Canadian Archival Voice in the Global Village

Terry Cook

Note de l’auteur

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Conference of the International Council for Canadian Studies, held 18 to 20 May 2000 at the University of Ottawa. The conference theme of “Canadian Distinctiveness into the twenty-first Century” shaped the following remarks about Canadian archives. The paper intentionally retains the conversational tone of the original presentation, though some limited reference notes have been added to introduce non-archival readers to the discipline of archival studies. I thank Jean-Pierre Wallot and Chad Gaffield for their kindnesses that made this paper possible.

Texte intégral

1 To have an archival topic solicited as part of an international symposium on the nature of Canadian distinctiveness in the twenty-first century is a pleasant surprise. Archives are important to Canadian Studies in two ways: in the familiar sense as the primary source documents that underpin research about Canada in many disciplines and, in a less appreciated sense, as a focus of study themselves that can shed light on the Canadian character and ideal.

  • 1 T.H.B. Symons, To Know Ourselves: The Report of the Commission on Canadian Studies, 2 vols. (Ottaw (...)
  • 2 The Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) was created in 1975 in Edmonton as the national profe (...)

2This essay analyses the second aspect of the archival voice, and thus will not emphasize archives as essential sources for Canadian Studies. But as this year 2000 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of the two-volume Report of the Commission on Canadian Studies, we should at least recall that Tom Symons therein devoted a chapter to archives, where he declared archival records to be the foundation of Canadian Studies.1 By that report, Symons became the inspirational godfather, if not founder, of Canadian Studies as a recognized university discipline here in Canada. He also served as a kindly uncle to the legitimization of archives as a professional activity for, in the year of his report, the Association of Canadian Archivists was established.2 For Symons, the underlying purpose of Canadian Studies was reflected in the title he gave his report: To Know Ourselves. It was – and remains – not a bad raison d'être for archives as well.

3There can be no distinctiveness for Canada and Canadians if we do not know ourselves, if we do not have the capacity to explore our origins, evolution, and characteristics as individuals, groups, communities, and nation. As Symons noted, archives are the underlying bedrock of such self-knowledge, the documentary evidence of past actions and ideas, and the primary sources for research in many disciplines relating to Canada and its peoples.

4Without archives, Harold Innis and Donald Creighton could not have written about the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) as they did, in ways that fundamentally changed academic perceptions of our past. Without Innis and Creighton, and yet more archives, Pierre Berton could not have written as he did about the CPR that in turn changed popular perceptions of that same past. And without Berton, the various documentaries and docudramas, the high school textbooks and other learning media, the numerous coffee-table books, the novels and stories, the plays and poems, about the great railway itself or reflecting its role as part of other Canadian narratives, simply would not have been the same. Archives are not just the foundation of Canadian Studies and other academic disciplines, they are – by this trickle-down and popularizing process – the roots of our various identities, the fount of our memories, the core reference points by which we come to know ourselves. John Ralston Saul, in his address to the conference, focused on two archival documents fundamental to his analysis of Canada, one of which he says he uses in every speech he gives, to add authority, legitimacy, proof, and evidence for his assertions about Canadianism. Such is the power of archives!

  • 3 A. Doughty, The Canadian Archives and Its Activities (Ottawa: F.A. Acland, 1924): 5.

5In 1924, National (then Dominion) Archivist Sir Arthur Doughty said, in a phrase that appears on posters and mugs found in many archivists' offices – it is also carved into the base of the only statue ever officially raised in Ottawa to honour a civil servant – that, “of all national assets, archives are the most precious. They are the gift of one generation to another, and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization.”3 In this essay, I want to focus less on Doughty's archival ‘assets’ – the actual records that form the foundation of Symons's Canadian Studies or the trickle-down impact on Canadian identity – and more on Doughty's notion of ‘care’ and his concept of archives as a ‘gift.’ What is the nature of this ‘care’ of records by archivists? What do archivists actually do to ‘care’ for records and, perhaps most importantly, how do they choose the archives in the first place to place under such ‘care?’ And what is the collective nature of this ’gift’ of memory that is communicated across generations with various technologies? How does the present choose the past by which the future will ‘know itself?’ And in so doing, has Canada developed approaches that are distinctive? And are these, in turn, likely to have an impact internationally in the twenty-first century? Here, then, the issue is not the archives as a warehouse of documents that scholars use to interpret the past, but archives as an active agent in constructing society's memory, deciding who is to be remembered and celebrated and who is to be marginalized and forgotten.

  • 4 J.-P. Wallot, “Building a Living Memory for the History of Our Present: Perspectives on Archival A (...)
  • 5 P. Nora, as cited in the “Introduction,” ed. J.R. Gillis, Commemorations: The Politics of National (...)
  • 6 See H.A. Innis, The Bias of Communication (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951); and Empire (...)

6Another National Archivist, and now past president of the International Council of Archives, Jean-Pierre Wallot, has set the inspiring goal for archivists of “building a living memory for the history of our present.” In his words, the resulting “houses of memory,” will contain “the keys to the collective memory” that the world's citizens can use to open doors to the personal and societal well-being that comes from experiencing continuity with the past, from a sense of roots, of belonging, of forming their various identities.4 In the rootlessness of the wired global community, where the speed of life makes yesterday recede quickly into the distant past and tomorrow approach with so much uncertainty, French historian Pierre Nora has asserted that “modern memory is, above all, archival. It relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image.”5 Here there are resonances to pioneering Canadian work on communications and technology by Marshall McLuhan and especially Harold Innis. Control of recording media and the technologies of communication have formed powerful empires in the past, based on monopolies of knowledge, and the consequent conquest of space or time. All such media have a built-in bias of communication, Innis noted, leading to McLuhan's famous aphorism that the “medium is the message.” Archives are the material traces of just such media, the concrete fragments that form our memories, the way we conquer time across generations – as Doughty said, the way our society legitimizes and memorializes itself. What then, in Innis's phrase, are the “biases” of archives as a collective communication medium between the past and the future?6

7Perhaps readers are now convinced, in theory at least, that archives as institutions and activities should be a subject of Canadian Studies, quite aside from archives as records being the research foundation for Canadian Studies. At this point I want to explore the distinctive Canadian archival voice and its broader ramifications for international affairs, but first I have to set forth, as a background, the traditional thinking about archives, both by archivists and by their traditional major clients, academic historians – and, I dare say, by most other users of archives were they to think consciously about the archival institutions in which they are researching. I then want to look at radically new formulations about archives – what for shorthand might be called “the postmodern archive” – and, with a couple of examples, suggest why Canada has taken the lead in its articulation on a world-wide basis. I will then briefly conclude by suggesting that Canadian distinctiveness in this area has global significance in our new century of networked communications, where the realization of McLuhan's “global village” threatens to homogenize all distinctiveness into a universal blandness.

  • 7 See T. Cook, “What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas Since 1898, and the Future Par (...)

8Archival theory and professional practice was first articulated in nineteenth-century Europe, after centuries of informal development, and then was exported around the world, including to Canada.7 This development parallelled the emergence of history as a university-based discipline and profession. Most of the early professional archivists were trained as historians at such universities.

9Just as much of the early professional history focused on the political, legal, and economic character of the nation state, so too were the first articulations of archival principles strongly biased in favour of the state. Almost all the classic tomes about archival methodology were written by staff members of national archives. Most, not surprisingly, focused on government, public, or state records and their orderly transfer to archival repositories to preserve their original order and classification; and most likewise relegated private and personal archives to the purview of libraries and librarians. Indeed, to this day, archives in Europe, the United States, and Australia generally look after only the official records of their sponsoring governments; national, regional, or university libraries take custody of personal manuscripts. Moreover, these early archival authors lived in an era of document scarcity, where their experience was based on dealing with limited numbers of medieval documents susceptible to careful diplomatic analysis of each page or form, or with records found in well-organized departmental file-registry systems within stable, centralized administrations that exhibited classic Weberian hierarchical structures. Most ignored the appraisal and selection of modern archives as these terms are now understood, where a small percentage alone (typically 5 per cent, and approaching in some jurisdictions, 1 per cent) is preserved as archives from a much larger information universe. Indeed, to the early pioneers of archival thinking, such appraisal and selection activity by archivists was strongly discouraged as nonarchival.

  • 8 Sir Hilary Jenkinson of Britain's Public Record Office, who flourished there in the first half of (...)
  • 9 B. Brothman, “The Limit of Limits: Derridean Deconstruction and the Archival Institution,” Archiva (...)

10Clearly influenced by Darwinian thinking and metaphors, the pioneers believed that records coming to archives from state departments were simply the natural, organic residue from administrative processes which the archivist then kept in pristine order – archivists in Britain are still called ‘keepers’ reflecting that earlier mindset. State officials rather than archivists would thus decide which records were to survive. The records themselves were viewed as value-free vessels reflecting the acts and facts that caused them to be created. The archivist kept the records “without prejudice or afterthought,” in the words of one influential pioneer writer, and was thus seen (and self-defined) as an impartial, neutral, objective custodian: this same writer asserted that the archivist is “the most selfless devotee of Truth the modern world produces.”8 Such notions of the objective archive were reinforced by historians of the time undertaking what they assumed (in the von Rankean tradition) to be objective, scientific history. On the objectivity question, one archival commentator has suggested that archivists and historians shared “a peculiar form of disciplinary repression or blindness,” one that was mutually reinforcing.9

11Traditional approaches to archives, as just outlined, sanction the already strong predilection of archives and archivists to support mainstream culture and powerful records creators. It privileges the official narratives of the state over the documented stories of individuals and groups in society. Its rules for evidence and authenticity favour textual documents from which such rules were derived, at the expense of other media for experiencing the present, and thus of viewing the past. Its positivist and ‘scientific’ values inhibit archivists from adopting and then documenting multiple ways of seeing and knowing. An original order is sought or re-imposed, rather than allowing for several orders or even disorders to exist among records in archives, and thus in descriptions of them presented to researchers. And so, as a result, researchers see a rationalized, monolithic view of a record collection that may never have existed in reality. And this traditional view seriously hobbles archivists trying to cope with the new technology of electronic records, where active intervention by archivists ‘up front’ in the creation process of records, rather than passive receipt of records long afterwards, is the only hope that today's computer-based history will be able to be written tomorrow. Moreover, the massive volumes of modern paper records, and the electronic record, require the archivist to appraise records in order to choose the typically 1 to 5 per cent that will be designated as archival; this active construction of the past is of course completely at odds with the notion of a passive (and objective!) keeper of an entire body of records handed over by the records creator. An even greater absence of order or system is present in the recordkeeping habits of private individuals and voluntary associations, upon which archivists impose their various orders, rules, and standards.

  • 10 This paragraph reflects my central argument in “What is Past is Prologue.” See also E. Ketelaar, “ (...)

12In addition to these changes in recording technologies, there has been in recent decades a marked change in the very reason why archival institutions exist – or at least in public and publicly funded archives; admittedly, private business archives do not share fully in these changes. There has been a collective shift during the past century from a juridical-administrative justification for archives grounded in concepts of the state, to a socio-cultural justification for archives grounded in wider public policy and public use. Simply stated, it is no longer acceptable to limit the definition of society's memory solely to the documentary residue left over (or chosen) by powerful record creators, whether Richard Nixon or George Bush, state police in South Africa or Olympic Games officials in Tokyo, Canadian military officers posted in Somalia or doctors working with tainted blood products for Health Canada. Public and historical accountability demands more of archives, and of archivists.10

  • 11 See I.E. Wilson, “Reflections on Archival Strategies,” American Archivist 58 (Fall 1995): 414-29. (...)

13As a result, some archivists have begun to think in terms of documenting the process of governance, not just of governments governing.11 ‘Governance’ includes cognizance of the dialogue and interaction of citizens and groups with the state, the impact of the state on society, and the functions or activities of society itself, as much as it does the inner workings of government structures. In this newer approach, the archivist, in appraisal and all subsequent actions, should focus on appraising and 'caring' for the records of governance, not just government, when dealing with institutional records. This perspective also better complements the work of archivists dealing with personal papers or private ‘manuscript’ archives.

14All these changes make the archivist an active mediator in shaping the collective memory through archives. Because of the need to research and understand the nature of function, structure, process, and context of institutions and citizen interaction with them, and to interpret the relative importance of these (and other) factors as the basis for modern archival appraisal and description, as well as for making choices for preservation, exhibitions, and website construction, the traditional notion of the impartial archivist is no longer acceptable – if ever it was. Archivists will inevitably inject their own values into all such activities: thus they will need to examine very consciously their choices in the archive-creating and memory-formation process; they will need to leave very clear records explaining their choices to posterity.

  • 12 For a summary, see T. Cook, “Archival Science and Postmodernism: New Formulations for Old Concepts (...)

15In this rethinking of the traditional, state-centred, and positivist framework for archives, and substituting for it, in ways just suggested, a distinctively postmodern alternative, Canadians have led the way internationally. I would estimate that at least 75 per cent of the world's published writing in English, by archivists on the new postmodern archive, has been by Canadians, and much of the remaining 25 per cent has spun off or been inspired by, initially at least, such Canadian writing.12 These Canadians have repeatedly challenged the five central principles of the archival profession: 1) that archivists are neutral, impartial custodians of ‘Truth’; 2) that archives as documents and as institutions are disinterested or ‘natural’ by-products of actions and administrations; 3) that the origin or provenance of records may be found in a single office rather than situated in the complex processes and discourses of creation; 4) that the 'order' and language imposed on records through archival arrangement and description are value free re-creations of some prior reality; and especially 5) that archives of government are the passively inherited metanarrative of the state.

  • 13 J. Derrida, Archives Fever: A Freudian Impression E. Prenowitz, trans., (Chicago and London: Unive (...)
  • 14 J. Le Goff, History and Memory, S. Rendall and E. Claman, trans., (New York: Columbia University P (...)
  • 15 Feminist scholars are keenly aware of the ways that systems of language, writing, information reco (...)
  • 16 As but two stark examples, for mediaeval times, see P.J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory an (...)

16Some of these generalizations about the postmodern archive are supported by a growing literature on the history of archives, as well as by the wave of multidisciplinary writing that has appeared in academic journals over the past couple of years in the wake of French philosopher Jacques Derrida's recent Archive Fever. All show the archive to be extremely problematic as loci for memory.13 Historian Jacques Le Goff, for example, notes that “the document is not objective, innocent raw material but expresses past society's power over memory and over the future: the document is what remains.” What is true of each document is true of archives collectively. By no coincidence, the first archives were the royal ones of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and pre-Columbian America. The capital city in these and later civilizations becomes, in Le Goff's words, “the center of a politics of memory” where “the king himself deploys, on the whole terrain over which he holds sway, a program of remembering of which he is the center.” First the creation, and then the control of memory, leads to the control of history, thus mythology, and ultimately power14 Feminist scholar Gerda Lerner convincingly demonstrates that such power behind the very first documents, archives, and societal memory, was remorselessly and intentionally patriarchal: women were 'de-legitimized' by the archival process in the ancient world, a process that has continued well into this century15. Many examples are coming to light of archives collected – and later weeded, reconstructed, even destroyed – not to keep the best juridical evidence of legal and business transactions, as traditionally supposed, but to serve historical and sacral/symbolic purposes, but only for those figures and events judged worthy of celebrating, or memorializing, within the context of their time.16 But who is worthy? And who determines worthiness? According to what values? Historical examples, in summary, suggest that there is nothing neutral, objective, organic or ‘natural’ about this process of remembering and forgetting.

  • 17 The key thinker here is Hugh A. Taylor, a three-time provincial archivist and influential director (...)
  • 18 On the importance of the historical and contextual dimension of archival work, two early advocates (...)

17Why have Canadian archivists taken this distinctive lead? I think the influence of McLuhan and Innis cannot be discounted: their concern with non-print media, communications technologies, and the bias these carried in shaping past civilizations (and our own) were important insights that were consciously transported to the world of archives and that stimulated thinking by archivists about how records and media shape the past.17 In their studies of the history of records and the contemporary (and historical) French and English dualism of Canada with its multicultural and First Nations layers, the current generation of senior archivists – trained as historians and who are doing most of this new theoretical writing – perceived the existence of different stories, mixed narratives, and varying interpretations about similar past events, even the same past's texts, that generated doubts about ‘Truth’ and objectivity in recorded memory.18 Not just history, but the recording of it, was filled with dissonance and ambiguity, as Jocelyn Létourneau said at this conference. If John Ralston Saul is right, that Canada invented long ago the first postmodern nation, one respecting diversity, complexity, and a culture of minorities rather than insisting on a monolithic national myth, then perhaps it is appropriate that Canada has also invented the postmodern archive.

  • 19 For the key conceptual statements, see T. Cook, The Archival Appraisal of Records Containing Perso (...)

18This Canadian approach to archives has manifestations in working reality; it is not just an academic exercise in definition. Three broad manifestations may be mentioned briefly. The first is appraisal – the most controversial archival activity that determines the tiny trace of all recorded documentation that will survive as society's memory. A decade ago, the National Archives of Canada developed the concept and practice of ‘macroappraisal.’19 Macroappraisal finds sanction for the archival 'value' of determining what to keep and what to destroy – not in the dictates of the state as was traditionally the case, nor in the latest trends of historical research as is more recently so but in the reflection of society's values through a functional analysis of the interaction of citizen with the state. It focuses on the functions of governance rather than the structures of government; emphasizes the citizen and group as much as the state; encompasses all media rather than privileging text; searches for multiple narratives and hot spots of contested discourse rather than accepting the party line; and deliberately seeks to give voice to the marginalized, to the ‘other’ to losers as well as winners, through new ways of looking at case files and electronic data. Moreover, macroappraisal is increasingly seen as essential to appraising successfully the electronic record of the automated office. This distinctive Canadian approach to appraisal has caught fire and has already been adopted internationally by several countries and their internal states.

  • 20 The classic statement is W.I. Smith, “‘Total Archives’: The Canadian Experience” (originally 1986) (...)

19As a second dimension, Canada, alone of first-world nations, formally developed the 'total archives 'approach, where virtually all public archives in the country – provincial, territorial, city and town, university, and regional – acquire as part of their mandate, within one archival institution, a ‘total’ archive of a roughly equal proportion of both the public or sponsoring institution's records and related private-sector records; and take into their archives the 'total' record in every recording medium (including film, television, paintings, and sound recordings which in many countries are divided among several other repositories).20 In effect, the separated public archives and historical manuscript maintenance traditions of Europe and the United States are combined in one institution. While there are many reasons why the 'total archives 'concept evolved in Canada from the nineteenth century and is now exported to some other countries, and admired in more, this integration of the public and private reflects a wider vision of archives, one sanctioned in and reflective of society at large, of the total historical experience, rather than one limited to being custodians of official state records.

20A final example is the Canadian Archival System, a national network of archives that is unique, and the envy of every nation that knows about it. First called for by Tom Symons in 1975, and made actual by the leadership of Jean-Pierre Wallot in the mid-1980s, the system is a means of co-ordinating archival activity, standards, and funding by determining local and community archival priorities, and of ensuring that the always too-limited funds go to those projects that reflect a local consensus hammered out in the provincial and territorial councils into a national system. These local perspectives are brought to the national Canadian Council of Archives where such national priorities are then set. Over its first decade, the Council has spearheaded collective lobbying efforts with politicians and the media on behalf of archival issues. More concretely, it has disbursed millions in new-money grant funds to support processing projects of accumulated backlogs in scores of archives across the country, to establish a national conservation initiative, and to develop bilingual, descriptive standards as the backbone of a national, on-line, always-updated inventory of the nation's archives that will allow access to the collective memory of Canada as never before. Creating a national network of archival institutions and soon archival sources adds another dimension to ‘total’ archives – that of having the total country involved in archives in a co-ordinated, but not monolithic, way. This approach is emphatically not about using standards to impose an Ottawa-based view, but about developing standards to allow our localities and many diversities to be shared more widely. This national system is the archival equivalent of the Canadian tradition of building national canals, railways, airlines, and broadcasting facilities – building, in short, communications technologies and networks for national cohesion across our regions and geography. Perhaps in the archival instance, it is to encourage better communication between our present and future with the past.

  • 21 Of many possible works, see Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), and Understanding Media (...)
  • 22 As examples, merely, from a wide range of literature, see, for the more pessimistic viewpoint, L.A (...)

21Can this Canadian archival distinctiveness contribute internationally in the twenty-first century? I believe the quick answer is yes, and on several levels. A generation ago, Marshall McLuhan wrote optimistically about communication technology creating a global village uniting humanity; at the same time, George Grant lamented the homogenization and eventual destruction of local cultures under the impact of the same technology and its connected American way of life.21 Those twin attitudes survive as perceptions about the Internet – and the increasingly wired and global village we now inhabit. Some see the Web as a means to think locally and act globally, as a powerful means to rally interests against those very homogenizing forces of global market capitalism, as a flattening of hierarchy and a return to genuine democracy. Others see in the Web the “twilight of sovereignty.” Its undermining of the nation state that has protected distinctive cultures and traditions, combined with its Big Brother violations of personal privacy, and, once the global corporations take control of this medium, the emergence of a bland universal commodification and commercialism from its present youthful exuberance – all portend an electronic version of bread and circuses for the masses.22

  • 23 W.J. Mitchell, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era (Cambridge, MA: MIT (...)

22If this conference seems to have developed over these first two days a consensus about the benefits of the Canadian way of diversity, ambiguity, tolerance, and multiple identities as embodied by Saul's postmodern state, then the Canadian parallel way of remembering – of approaching the creation and preservation of memory in archives, will speak strongly to this century's citizens who are concerned about the homogenizing and globalizing ‘bias’ of the new media and record-creating technologies. Those who desire to construct memory based on celebrating difference rather than monoliths, multiple rather than mainstream narratives, the personal and local as much as the corporate and official, may find in Canada's distinct approach to archives useful tools for their task. William J. Mitchell, media and information technology guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has observed about photography that ‘we make our tools and our tools make us: by taking up particular tools we accede to desires and we manifest intentions,’ an observation that is applicable to all archival media of memory.23

  • 24 Lubar, “Information Culture and the Archival Record,” 15, original emphasis.

23But what intentions and desires do we archivists have? What is the nature of Doughty's 'gift' to subsequent generations? That question itself is essentially cultural. Steven Lubar, a specialist in the culture of information technology for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, reminds us, and indeed all heritage professionals, that “we must think of archives as active, not passive, as sites of power, not as recorders of power. Archives don't simply record the work of culture; they do the work of culture.”24 Archives are not just the foundation of Canadian Studies; they reflect and create, by their very choices and activities, the culture and character of Canada.

Notes

1 T.H.B. Symons, To Know Ourselves: The Report of the Commission on Canadian Studies, 2 vols. (Ottawa, 1975).

2 The Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) was created in 1975 in Edmonton as the national professional and scholarly body for English-speaking archivists in Canada. Before that, archivists had formed a special interest group within the Canadian Historical Association. The ACA began publishing of Archivaria in 1975 as a twice-yearly scholarly journal; Archivaria has since become the foundation of archival theory, strategy and practice in Canada and is recognized world-wide as a leader in its field.

3 A. Doughty, The Canadian Archives and Its Activities (Ottawa: F.A. Acland, 1924): 5.

4 J.-P. Wallot, “Building a Living Memory for the History of Our Present: Perspectives on Archival Appraisal,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 2 (1991): 282.

5 P. Nora, as cited in the “Introduction,” ed. J.R. Gillis, Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994): 15.

6 See H.A. Innis, The Bias of Communication (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951); and Empire and Communications (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950). For interesting commentaries of McLuhan in terms of memory and communications, see P.H. Hutton, History as an Art of Memory (Hanover VT: University Press of New England, 1993): 13-17; and P. Levinson, Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium (London: Routledge, 1999). For a new assessment of Innis against postmodern sensibilities, see C.R. Acland and W.J. Buxton, eds., Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2000).

7 See T. Cook, “What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas Since 1898, and the Future Paradigm Shift,” Archivaria 43 (Spring 1997): 17-63. At the risk of charges of self-promotion, this is perhaps the best place to start for non-archivists wishing to explore the history and evolution of archival thinking generally and for Canada.

8 Sir Hilary Jenkinson of Britain's Public Record Office, who flourished there in the first half of the twentieth century and who wrote the first major text in the English language of archival theory and practice, A Manual of Archive Administration (London, 1922, rev. 2d ed. 1937, reprinted 1968). For a discussion and citations, see T. Cook, “What is Past is Prologue,” 23-26.

9 B. Brothman, “The Limit of Limits: Derridean Deconstruction and the Archival Institution,” Archivaria 36 (Autumn 1993): 205-20, especially 215.

10 This paragraph reflects my central argument in “What is Past is Prologue.” See also E. Ketelaar, “Archives Of the People, By the People, For the People,” South Africa Archives Journal 34 (1992): 5-16, reprinted in E. Ketelaar, The Archival Image: Collected Essays (Hilversum, 1997): 15-26.

11 See I.E. Wilson, “Reflections on Archival Strategies,” American Archivist 58 (Fall 1995): 414-29. For archivists merely (and meekly) to do what they think their government sponsors want regarding their own institutional records, or what archivists think will please these sponsors and thus show that archivists are good corporate ‘players’ worthy of continued funding, is, as Shirley Spragge says, too easy (and too irresponsible) an abdication of the archivist's cultural mission and societal responsibilities. See her “The Abdication Crisis: Are Archivists Giving Up Their Cultural Responsibility?” Archivaria 40 (Fall 1995): 173-81.

12 For a summary, see T. Cook, “Archival Science and Postmodernism: New Formulations for Old Concepts,” Archival Science 1 (1) (2001): 3-24. The first mention of postmodernism (at least in English) by an archivist in an article title was by T. Cook, in “Electronic Records, Paper Minds: The Revolution in Information Management and Archives in the Post-Custodial and Post-Modernist Era,” in Archives and Manuscripts 22 (2) (November 1994): 300-29. The themes were continued in his “What is Past is Prologue,” already cited. Two pioneering postmodern archivists before Cook were also Canadian, B. Brothman and R. Brown. Among other works, see B. Brothman, “Orders of Value: Probing the Theoretical Terms of Archival Practice,” Archivaria 32 (Summer 1991): 78-100; “The Limit of Limits: Derridean Deconstruction and the Archival Institution,” Archivaria 36 (Autumn 1993): 205-20, and his probing review of Jacques Derrida's Archive Fever, in Archivaria 43 (Spring 1997): 189-92, which ideas are very much extended in his “Declining Derrida: Integrity, Tensegrity, and the Preservation of Archives from Deconstruction,” Archivaria 48 (Fall 1999): 64-88; and R. Brown, “The Value of ‘Narrativity’ in the Appraisal of Historical Documents: Foundation for a Theory of Archival Hermeneutics,” Archivaria 32 (Summer 1991):151-56; “Records Acquisition Strategy and Its Theoretical Foundation: The Case for a Concept of Archival Hermeneutics,” Archivaria 33 (Winter 1991-92): 34-56; and “Death of a Renaissance Record-Keeper: The Murder of Tomasso da Tortona in Ferrara, 1385,” Archivaria 44 (Fall 1997): 1-43. Two recent and incisive analyses are by P. Mortensen, “The Place of Theory in Archival Practice,” and T. Nesmith, “Still Fuzzy, But More Accurate: Some Thoughts on the'Ghosts'of Archival Theory,” both from Archivaria 47 (Spring 1999): 1-26,136-50. Some other Canadian archivists reflecting postmodernist influences, at least in published form in English, include B. Dodge, “Places Apart: Archives in Dissolving Space and Time,” Archivaria 44 (Fall 1997): 118-31; T. Rowatt, “The Records and the Repository as a Cultural Form of Expression,” Archivaria 36 (Autumn 1993): 198-204; J. Schwartz, ‘“We make our tools and our tools make us’: Lessons from Photographs for the Practice, Politics, and Poetics of Diplomatics,” Archivaria 40 (Fall 1995): 40-74; and L. Koltun, “The Promise and Threat of Digital Options in an Archival Age,” Archivaria 47 (Spring 1999): 114-35. Non-Canadian postmodern archivists include the Netherland's E. Ketelaar, “Archivalization and Archiving,” Archives and Manuscripts 27 (May 1999): 54-61; and South Africa's V. Harris, “Claiming Less, Delivering More: A Critique of Positivist Formulations on Archives in South Africa,” Archivaria 44 (Fall 1997): 132-41; as well as his complementary “Redefining Archives in South Africa: Public Archives and Society in Transition, 1990-96,” Archivaria 42 (Fall 1996): 6-27; and his and S. Hatang's, “Archives, Identity and Place: A Dialogue on what it (Might) Mean(s) to be an African Archivist,” ESARBICA Journal 19 (2000): 45-58. Planned symposia and publications during the next year to investigate archives and the construction of social memory will do much to expand the numbers and nationalities of archivists involved in considering the implications of postmodernism for their profession.

13 J. Derrida, Archives Fever: A Freudian Impression E. Prenowitz, trans., (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996, originally in French in 1995, from 1994 lectures). Two issues of the journal, History of the Human Sciences 11 (November 1998) and 12 (May 1999), are devoted to essays by almost twenty scholars on “The Archive.” For a fine introductory appreciation of the significance of Derrida on archives and archivists, see S. Lubar, “Information Culture and the Archival Record,” American Archivist 62 (Spring 1999): 10-22.

14 J. Le Goff, History and Memory, S. Rendall and E. Claman, trans., (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992): xvi-xvii, 59-60, and passim.

15 Feminist scholars are keenly aware of the ways that systems of language, writing, information recording, and the preserving of such information once recorded, are social- and power-based, not neutral, both now and across past millennia. For example, see G. Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986): 6-7, 57,151, 200, and passim; and R. Eisler, The Chalice & The Blade (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1987): 71-73, 91-93. Lerner's more recent study, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-seventy (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), details the systemic exclusion of women from history and archives, and the attempts of women, starting from the late nineteenth century, to correct this by creating women's archives. See especially chapter 11, “The Search for Women's History.” See also B.G. Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1998).

16 As but two stark examples, for mediaeval times, see P.J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994): 86-87,177, especially chapter 3, “Archival Memory and the Destruction of the Past;” and for the First World War, see D. Winter, Haig's Command: A Reassessment (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), especially the final section, “Falsifying the Record;” and R. Mcintosh, “The Great War, Archives, and Modern Memory,” Archivaria 46 (Fall 1998): 1-31. For other examples and citations, see Cook, “What is Past is Prologue,” 18, 50. We have the sad case in our own time of the deliberate records destruction in Kosovo and Bosnia to efface memory and marginalize peoples.

17 The key thinker here is Hugh A. Taylor, a three-time provincial archivist and influential director (now director general) in the 1970s of the National Archives of Canada. For but five examples of his important articles bringing McLuhan and contemporary social and cultural theory to bear on archival perspectives, see “The Media of the Record: Archives in the Wake of McLuhan,” Georgia Archive 6 (Spring 1978): 1-10; “Information Ecology and the Archives of the 1980s;” Archivaria 18 (Summer 1984): 25-37; “Transformation in the Archives: Technological Adjustment or Paradigm Shift?” Archivaria 25 (Winter 1987-88): 12-28; “My Very Act and Deed: Some Reflections on the Role of Textual Records in the Conduct of Affairs,” American Archivist 41 (Fall 1988): 456-69; and “Opening Address,” in Documents That Move and Speak: Audiovisual Archives in the New Information Age. Proceedings of a symposium organized for the International Council of Archives by the National Archives of Canada (München: K.G. Saur, 1992). For aspects of Taylor's major impact, see T. Nesmith, “Hugh Taylor's Contextual Idea for Archives and the Foundation of Graduate Education in Archival Studies,” in B. Craig, ed., The Archival Imagination: Essays in Honour of Hugh A. Taylor (Ottawa, 1992), as well as many of the essays by Taylor's disciples and admirers in this festschrift in his honour. The volume also contains a bibliography of his work to that date. An annotated collection of his best archival essays is now being prepared.

18 On the importance of the historical and contextual dimension of archival work, two early advocates were T. Nesmith, “Archives from the Bottom Up: Social History and Archival Scholarship,” Archivaria 14 (Summer 1982): 5-26; and T. Cook, “From Information to Knowledge: An Intellectual Paradigm for Archives,” Archivaria 19 (Winter 1984-85): 25-50; both reprinted in T. Nesmith, ed., Canadian Archival Studies and the Rediscovery of Provenance (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1993). Nesmith's introductory essay to this volume, “Archival Studies in English-speaking Canada and the North American Rediscovery of Provenance,” is the best description of this fundamental change in archival thinking.

19 For the key conceptual statements, see T. Cook, The Archival Appraisal of Records Containing Personal Information: A RAMP Study With Guidelines (Paris: UNESCO, 1991); “Mind Over Matter: Towards a New Theory of Archival Appraisal,” in B. Craig, ed., The Canadian Archival Imagination; and ‘“Many are called but few are chosen’: Appraisal Guidelines for Sampling and Selecting Case Files,” Archivaria 32 (Summer 1991): 25-50; and R. Brown, “Records Acquisition Strategy and Its Theoretical Foundation,” and his “Macro-Appraisal Theory and the Context of the Public Records Creator,” Archivaria 40 (Fall 1995): 121-72. See as well Wallot, “Building a Living Memory for the History of Our Present: Perspectives on Archival Appraisal.”

20 The classic statement is W.I. Smith, “‘Total Archives’: The Canadian Experience” (originally 1986), in Nesmith, Canadian Archival Studies. For a supportive but critical view, see T. Cook, “The Tyranny of the Medium: A Comment on Total Archives’,” Archivaria 9 (Winter 1979-80): 141-50; and “Media Myopia,” Archivaria 12 (Summer 1981): 146-57. For a careful analysis of its historical context and more recent developments, see L. Millar, “Discharging Our Debt: The Evolution of the Total Archives Concept in English Canada,” Archivaria 46 (Fall 1998): 103-46; and “The Spirit of Total Archives: Seeking a Sustainable Archival System,” Archivaria 47 (Spring 1999): 46-65.

21 Of many possible works, see Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964); also George Grant, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965), and Technology and Empire: Perspectives on North America (1969).

22 As examples, merely, from a wide range of literature, see, for the more pessimistic viewpoint, L.A. Pal, “Wired Governance: The Political Implications of the Information Revolution,” in The Communications Revolution at Work: The Social, Economic and Political Impacts of Technological Change, ed. R. Boyce (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999): 11-38, especially 18-19; or N. Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1993); or more narrowly S. Birketts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1994); and more optimistically, J.D. Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999): 138,143, and passim; or P. Levinson, Digital McEuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium (London: Routledge, 1999); or indeed Bill Gates, The Road Ahead (New York: Viking, 1995).

23 W.J. Mitchell, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), as cited in Schwartz, “‘We make our tools and our tools make us’: Lessons from Photographs for the Practice, Politics, and Poetics of Diplomatics,” 40.

24 Lubar, “Information Culture and the Archival Record,” 15, original emphasis.

Auteur

Visiting Professor in the Master's Programme in Archival Studies, Department of History, University of Manitoba, as well as an international archival consultant, freelance editor, and writer. He worked at the National Archives of Canada from 1975 to 1998 and was involved in initiating several influential national archives policies and strategies on regional records, appraisal, sampling, and electronic records. At the time of his departure, he was director responsible for the appraisal and disposal of government records in all media formats. A former general editor of Archivaria (1982-84), his writings have focused on archival theory in general, the historical evolution of records relating to the Canadian West and North, the history of archival ideas, and electronic records

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