What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas Since 1898, and the Future Paradigm Shift

  • Terry Cook


This essay analyzes the history of archival thought since the publication of the Dutch Manual a century ago and suggests that from this inspiring past a new conceptual paradigm is emerging for the profession. Ideas of leading or symbolic thinkers within the European, North American, and Australian archival traditions are considered within the context of their times. The focus is on those theorists able to recognize and articulate radical changes in the nature of records, record-creating organizations, record-keeping systems, record uses, and in the wider cultural, legal, technological, social, and philosophical trends in society, as well as the impact of these changes on archival theory and practice. That articulation forms our collective discourse, the metatext or narrative that animates our professional practice, and from it five broad themes are seen to emerge from the evolution of archives over the last one hundred years. For the future, the trends of the century suggest the need to reconceptualize traditional archival principles from a product-focused to a process-oriented activity, to preserve in the best manner the collective memory of nations and peoples.


Cet essaie analyse l'histoire de la pensée archivistique depuis la publication du Manuel hollandais il y a un siècle. Il suggère qu'un nouveau paradigme émerge au sein de la profession sur la base de ce passé inspirant. Les idées des principaux penseurs des traditions archivistiques d'Europe, d'Amérique du Nord ou d'Australie sont considérées dans le contexte de leur époque respective que leurs contributions aient été de premier plan ou symboliques. L'accent est mis sur ces théoriciens qui ont su reconnaître et articuler les changements radicaux affectant la nature des archives, les créateurs d'archives, les systèmes de gestion des documents, l'utilisation des archives, ainsi que les mutations de société à survenir dans les domaines culturel, juridique, technologique, social et philosophique qui ont eu une influence sur la théorie et la pratique archivistiques. Tout cela s'imbrique aujourd'hui dans les différents types de discours qui sous-tendent la pratique professionnelle. Des lors, on voit cinq thèmes émerger de l'évolution de l'archivistique au cours des cent dernières années. Les tendances actuelles suggèrent qu'il faut revoir les bases conceptuelles des principes archivistiques traditionnels pour mettre davantage l'accent sur le processus plutôt que sur le produit en vue de mieux protéger la mémoire des nations et des personnes.

Author Biography

Terry Cook
Terry Cook will join the faculty of the Archival Studies Programme at the University of Manitoba in 1998 on a part-time basis, as well as undertake archival consulting and freelance writing. He leaves the National Archives of Canada after twenty-three years, for the last five as Director of the Records Disposition Division, with responsibility for the appraisal and disposal of all records in all media for the Government of Canada. A former General Editor of Archivaria (1982-84), he was also Editor of the Canadian Historical Association's Historical Papers (1978-82) and of its Historical Booklets series (198294). His publications focus on the historical evolution of records, "total archives," the fonds concept, the history of archives, electronic records, and especially appraisal, including a book in the ICA's RAMP series, as well as on themes in Canadian social and intellectual history. He has presented workshops and seminars on electronic records, appraisal, and archival ethics across Canada and around the world, including extended invitational tours of Australia and (twice) South Africa, lectures in England and Brazil, and a plenary address to the ICA in Beijing. He is a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists and the Society of Canadian Office Automation Professionals, and has received a special Merit Award from the Canadian Historical Association and the South African Society of Archivists Prize. And he still searches for the ghost of Elvis.
How to Cite
Cook, Terry. 1997. “What Is Past Is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas Since 1898, and the Future Paradigm Shift”. Archivaria 43 (February), 17-63. https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/12175.

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