American Archivist (Vol. 62, No.2 / Fall 1999)

Abstracts and Author Bios


1999 Pease Award Paper—Retrieval of Archival Finding Aids Using World-Wide-Web Search Engines

Kathleen Feeney


This article describes a study of the retrieval of on-line archival finding aids by two Internet search engines. The study was conducted to assess the value of electronic full-text finding aids as tools for locating archival collections. Topical subject headings and personal name headings were chosen from on-line inventories produced by the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Keyword, phrase, and Boolean searches were developed using the topical subject headings; keyword and phrase searches were conducted for each personal name. The first one hundred documents retrieved by each search were examined to determine the number of SHC finding aids retrieved. The study found that searches often retrieved unmanageably large result sets and that the majority of SHC finding aids containing the search terms were not among the first one hundred documents retrieved. These results suggest that on-line archival descriptions are often not accessible through common methods of Internet searching and that archivists must continue to develop means to help researchers locate their collections.

Literacy, Documents, and Archives in the Ancient Athenian Democracy

James Sickinger


This article examines some trends in studies of ancient literacy, especially as they relate to the archives and inscriptions of classical Athens. While granting the symbolic significance of many ancient documents, it argues that the recent studies of ancient literacy have been overly pessimistic in their assessment of the practical uses of written texts. A focus on the documents that lay behind Athenian inscriptions on stone shows that writing was used far more widely for both administrative purposes and for the preservation of official texts than the new model of ancient literacy allows.

The Impact of Grantsmaking: An Evaluation of Archival and Records Management Programs at the Local Level

David M. Weinberg


This study examines the effectiveness of local government programs created or revitalized with funding provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. With the multitude of local government archival and records management programs throughout the United States, this assessment is undertaken to help evaluate why some programs survive and thrive, while others wither and cease functioning. By examining evidence of program activity, this study reports on the number of local government programs that make a contribution to their governments (warranting ongoing general fund appropriations) and those that do not and whose programs end when grant monies expire. This study concludes by suggesting how local government archives and records administrators can leverage support from their governments and alternatives for federal funding agencies to appropriate funds that will deliver the greatest impact to local governments nationwide.

Preserving Anthropology's Heritage: CoPAR, Anthropological Records, and the Archival Community

Nancy J. Parezo


Unpublished anthropological records contain a vast array of information about historic and contemporary human diversity as well as information on the history of anthropology and related humanistic and scientific disciplines. The rapidity of worldwide socio-cultural change renders such information irreplaceable. This article describes the efforts of the Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records-a group of anthropologists, historians, archivists, and librarians-to ensure that this singular body of information is preserved and made accessible to present and future researchers. It ends with suggestions on how the archival community can help anthropology preserve primary cultural knowledge of the world's peoples.

Archives in Controversy: The Press, The Documentaries and the Byrd Archives

Raimund E. Goerler


One of the major news stories of 1996 was the discovery and analysis of Richard Byrd's diary and notebook for his North Pole flight of 1926. Byrd's claim to be the first to fly to the North Pole was challenged by his contemporaries and by later historians. The diary provided new evidence, and the news of its existence and meaning fueled stories that reached every part of the globe. Interest in Byrd also inspired producers of three documentaries. The archivist who dealt with reporters and producers discusses the media coverage, the challenges of working with reporters and producers of documentaries, and the impact of the publicity upon an archival program.

Abstractions of Justice: The Library of Congress's Great Manuscripts Robbery, 1896-1897

Aaron D. Purcell


In the fall of 1897, the Library of Congress opened the Thomas Jefferson Building and left behind an unfortunate chapter in its history. During the spring of that year two employees were brought to trial and lightly punished for stealing rare materials from the Library, then still located in the United States Capitol. Fred Shelley's 1948 American Archivist article discusses this incident, but is incomplete in both content and sources. This essay fully describes the events surrounding the Library of Congress's first major recorded theft of materials and reviews the present status of security at the Library. In the process, this article also discusses general security concerns for modern libraries and archives.