Trusting Records in a Postmodern World

  • Heather MacNeil

Abstract

Underpinning the archival profession's commitment to the protection of records as reliable and authentic evidence of action is a philosophical ideal of truth, whose roots can be traced back to the ideas of John Locke and others concerning the relationship between probability and evidence. Out of these ideas there emerged a set of inferences and generalizations about what makes a record reliable and authentic, which were absorbed into, and remain firmly embedded in, modern archival theory and methodology. The validity of these inferences and generalizations has been challenged by postmodern thinkers who point out that such inferences and generalizations privilege a particular conception of the relationship between records and the world, to the exclusion of alternative ways of looking at that relationship. Postmodern theory serves to remind archivists that reliability and authenticity are historical constructs, not eternal verities, and need to be revisited as new ways of looking at the relationship between records and the world present themselves.

RÉSUMÉ
La responsabilité de la profession archivistique de protéger des documents d'archives fiables et pouvant servir de témoignages authentiques est fondée sur une vision idéale et philosophique de la vérité, laquelle tire ses racines des idées de John Locke et autres concernant les relations entre probabilité et évidence. Ont émergé de ces idées des séries de déductions et de généralisations à propos de ce qui rend un document d'archive fiable et authentique qui furent intégrées et restent enchèssées fermement dans la théorie et la méthodologie de l'archivistique moderne. La validité de ces déductions et généralisations a été remise en question par les penseurs post-modernes qui ont démontré qu'elles privilégient une conception particulière de relation entre les documents d'archives et le monde à l'exclusion de toute autre. La théorie post-moderne doit servir à rappeler aux archivistes que la fiabilité et l'authenticité sont des constructions historiques et non des vérités éternelles et qu'elles doivent être revues alors que des nouvelles façons de voir la relation entre les documents d'archives et le monde émergent. 

Author Biography

Heather MacNeil

Heather MacNeil is an Assistant Professor of archival studies in the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies, University of British Columbia. She holds a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies (Law, History, Archival Science) and is the author of Without Consent: The Ethics of Disclosing Personal Information Held in Public Archives (Scarecrow, 1992) and Trusting Records: Legal, Historical, and Diplomatic Perspectives (Kluwer, 2000). She currently chairs the Authenticity Task Force of the International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems (InterPARES) Project.

Published
2001-01-01
How to Cite
MacNeil, Heather. 2001. “Trusting Records in a Postmodern World”. Archivaria 51 (January), 36-47. https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/12793.
Section
Articles

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