"Control through Communication" in a Comparative Perspective

  • Eric Ketelaar


In the United States between 1870 and 1920, in The Netherlands and in Germany between 1880 and 1930, business and government agencies adopted new technologies for the production and reproduction of documents, their storage and retrieval. New technologies and genres of downward communication, upward reporting, and internal correspondence were introduced to enhance control through communication. The office became an “innovation junction” of technologies, creating new functions and a new office hierarchy that was reflected in office buildings, lay-out, and furnishing. Technology was an enabling and promoting actor, but not the primary cause of innovation. Committed managers played an important role in introducing new communication technologies. National and international networks of records management specialists and providers of office technologies were equally important. Recognition of the history of control through communication may contribute to understanding current and future adaptation and innovation of record-keeping technologies in their social and cultural contexts.

Aux États-Unis entre 1870 et 1920, aux Pays-Bas et en Allemagne entre 1880 et 1930, les organismes gouvernementaux et les entreprises adoptent de nouvelles technologies pour la production, la reproduction, l’entreposage et la recherche de documents. On introduit de nouvelles technologies et styles de communication descendante, de reddition de comptes hiérarchique et de correspondance interne, dans le but de renforcer le contrôle au moyen de la communication. Le bureau devient un nœud d’innovation technologique, créant de nouvelles fonctions et une nouvelle hiérarchie qui se reflètent dans les édifices à bureau, leur aménagement et leur ameublement. La technologie joue un rôle de facilitation et de promotion, mais ne constitue pas la cause première des innovations. Les gestionnaires impliqués jouent un rôle important dans l’introduction des nouvelles techniques de communication; les réseaux nationaux et internationaux de gestionnaires de documents et de fournisseurs de technologie pour le bureau se révèlent tout aussi importants. La reconnaissance de l’importance historique du contrôle par la communication permet de mieux comprendre les innovations présentes et futures des technologies de gestion des documents dans leurs contextes social et culturel.

Author Biography

Eric Ketelaar
Eric Ketelaar is Professor of Archivistics in the Department of Media Studies of the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam (since 1997), and Honorary Professor in the School of Information Management and Systems of Monash University, Melbourne. His current teaching and research are concerned mainly with the social and cultural contexts of records creation and use. In 2000–2001 he was The Netherlands Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan (School of Information). He was General State Archivist (National Archivist) of The Netherlands from 1989–1997. From 1992–2002 he held the chair of archivistics in the Department of History of the University of Leiden. During twenty years he served the International Council on Archives (ICA) in different capacities. In 2000 ICA elected him Honorary President. He lectured and conducted seminars, in all continents, on archival legislation, appraisal, ethics, and archival management. He wrote some 250 articles mainly in Dutch, English, French, and German and he wrote or coauthored several books, including two general introductions on archival research and a handbook on Dutch archives and records management law. He is one of the three editors-in-chief of Archival Science. International Journal on Recorded Information.
How to Cite
Ketelaar, Eric. 2006. “"Control through Communication" In a Comparative Perspective”. Archivaria 60 (September), 71-89. https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/12515.