American Archivist (Vol. 63, No.1 / Spring 2000)

Abstracts and Author Bios


Meeting the Challenge of Contemporary Records: Does It Require a Role Change for the Archivist?

Luciana Duranti


Recent archival literature reflects a number of diverse definitions of the role of the archivist. Many older assessments stress a more cohesive definition: the need for archivists to be all to all archives, equally representing users and administrators, creators and researchers. The challenge created by contemporary records is not to change this fundamental role, first expressed over two hundred years ago during the French Revolution, but to create new ways to fulfill it. The task requires making three crucial distinctions: between the archivist's methods and the archival mission, between the archivist's work and archival functions, and between professional issues and archival science issues. Only by learning how to strike a balance between the needs of archivists as individuals and the collective identity of the archival profession can the challenges of contemporary records be met.

Author Bio

Luciana Duranti is a professor in the Master of Archival Studies Program at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies of the University of British Columbia, Canada, and occupied the position of Associate Dean Research for the Faculty of Arts from 1997 to 1999. She is also presently directing an international interdisciplinary research project on the permanent preservation of the authenticity of electronic records, InterPARES. Prior to joining UBC in 1987, she was a Researcher-Professor in the Special School for Archivists and Librarians at the University of Rome, Italy (1982-87); served as State Archivist in the State Archives of Rome (1978-82); and was Project Archivist for the Italian National Research Council (1974-77). She holds a Doctorate in Arts (1973) and graduate degrees in Archival Science from the University of Rome (1975), and in Archivistics, Paleography, and Diplomatics from the School of Archivistics, Paleography and Diplomatics of the State Archives of Rome (1979). Duranti served as President of the Society of American Archivists from 1998-1999.


The Beginnings of the NHPRC Records Program

Frank G. Burke


In 1974, federal legislation enlarged the scope and function of the National Historical Publications Commission (NHPC) by providing authority for the Commission to support archival projects in public and private institutions. The first six years of the newly formed National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) were devoted to the development of state structures to assist in the program?s implementation, and national priorities that could address questions of documentary preservation and enhanced researcher use. The debates within the Commission and among archivists nationwide during the start-up period centered on three questions: how much appropriated funding would be provided to the Commission for grants?; what role should the states play in shaping and implementing the program?; and what priorities should be established in order to advance the solution to national research needs? The staff, the Commission members, the Archivist of the United States, the state archivists and the professional archival organizations all became important contributors to the initiation of the first national effort to improve archival processes and the condition of documentary resources in the United States.

Author Bio

Frank Burke was executive director of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission from 1975 to 1988, except for the period from April 1985 to December 1987 when he was Acting Archivist of the United States, and, therefore, Acting Chairman of the NHPRC as well. On his retirement from federal service in 1988, he was appointed professor of archival studies in the College of Library and Information Services at the University of Maryland, from which he retired in 1996 as professor emeritus. He continues to publish professional articles such as the one presented here.


The Concept of a National Records Program and Its Continued Relevance for a New Century

Richard A. Cameron


Using a twelve-point statement of National Records Program Elements, this article examines the concept of a national records program as it was endorsed and has been adapted by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission from 1988 to the present. It provides the background and context for the Commission's endorsement of this statement and lists the elements adopted. In each of the areas defined, the article reviews and assesses NHPRC-supported efforts and reflects selectively on the progress made by the archival profession in the United States. Finally, noting the NHPRC's role as a collaborative mechanism, the article concludes that the concept of a national records program has continued relevance, if the archival profession and its partners can define and work together on three or four focused goals.

Author Bio

Richard A. Cameron has worked at the National Historical Publications and Records Commission since June 1988 and is currently the NHPRC's Director for State Programs. Prior to joining the NHPRC Cameron was the Field Director in the Division of Library and Archives of the Minnesota Historical Society from 1980-1988. During that time period he took a year's leave to serve as a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities in the Research Resources. He began his archival career in 1976 as the University Archivist and Curator of the Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Cameron received his B.A. and M.A.T. from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and continued his graduate education in American Literature and Library Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received his archival training at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.


The NHPRC in the New Records Age

Ann Clifford Newhall


This article examines the NHPRC's records programs, particularly its electronic records program, its efforts to strengthen the national archival infrastructure through collaboration with the states, and its support for archival continuing education and the documentation of ethnic, racial, gender-based and other groups representative of diversity within the United States. It discusses ways in which the NHPRC, created during the 1930s, is rising to the challenges of a new records age, an age defined not only by the new records formats which began emerging in the latter decades of the twentieth century, but also by the political realities confronting archivists at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Author Bio

Ann Clifford Newhall is the executive director of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a position she has held since August 1998. Previously, she headed the archives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Ford Foundation. She began her career in the Department of Manuscripts and Archives at Yale University's Sterling Memorial Library, where she worked on archival and documentary editing projects. She holds graduate degrees in history from Southern Connecticut State University and in American Studies from Yale University.


Insights from the Outside: The NHPRC at Twenty-Five

Paul McCarthy


The three articles on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission by Frank Burke, Richard Cameron, and Ann Newhall present different views of the history and activities of the NHPRC. Taken together, however, they provide a detailed look at the history of the Commission's records program and the challenges and opportunities it faces in the new millennium. Much has been achieved with relatively little funding in the past twenty-five years, and this is attributable to the talents and energies of the key players during this time. This record of accomplishment should give the archival profession hope that greater things can be achieved in the next quarter century.

Author Bio

Paul McCarthy recently became director of Libraries and Information Technology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.


Looking at Archives in Art

Barbara L. Craig and James M. O'Toole


Studying the depiction of records, documents, books, reading, and writing in art is more than an aesthetic exercise for archivists. The authors examine a selection of British and American portraits and genre paintings, discussing their presentation of records as well as the contexts in which the paintings were created and the importance of the records depicted. Archivists can use this "iconography of archives" to understand contemporary perceptions of records by artists, sitters, and viewers, thereby placing textual records more fully in their historical context. Features 16 color illustrations.

Author Bios

Barbara L. Craig is an associate professor of archives in the Faculty of Information Studies of the University of Toronto. She has a Ph.D. in Archives Studies. Prior to joining the University of Toronto in 1993, she worked as university archivist and head of Archives and Special Collections at York University, and from 1970 to 1989 she was an archivist at the Archives of Ontario.

James M. O'Toole is visiting associate professor of history at Boston College. For fifteen years, he directed the M.A. program in history and archival methods at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.


We Are What We Collect, We Collect What We Are: Archives and the Construction of Identity

Elisabeth Kaplan


This essay considers the role of archives and archivists against a backdrop of the contemporary debate on identity, illustrated by research on the establishment and early years of the oldest extant ethnic historical society in the United States-the American Jewish Historical Society-and the construction of American/Jewish identities. Recent intellectual debate has examined questions of national, ethnic, gender, class, and community identities, of individual and group identity, and of the formation of identity. A spectrum of positions has emerged from this debate. On one end, identity is viewed as "real," intrinsic to individuals and communities or even biologically based. On the other, identity is conceived of as social fiction, constructed culturally for political and historical reasons. However, on the whole, serious scholars have rejected the former view. Archivists should be cognizant of this fact because they are major players in the business of identity politics, whether they are conscious of it or not. Archivists appraise, collect, and preserve the props with which notions of identity are built. In turn, notions of identity are confirmed and justified as historical documents validate their authority.

Author Bio

Elisabeth Kaplan is the archivist at the Charles Babbage Institute for the History of Information Processing at the University of Minnesota. She has worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Archives, the audiovisual department of the John F. Kennedy Library, and the archives and special collections department at Iowa State University.


Appraising Public Television Programs: Toward an Interpretive and Comparative Evaluation Model

Thomas Connors


Archivists working with public television materials are faced with a pressing problem. Given the thousands of hours of extant programming recorded on obsolete videotape formats, and given the uniqueness of public television programming as compared to commercially produced fare, how do archivists decide which programs should be brought into archival custody and what critieria should guide their selection for preservation and access duplication? Developing evaluation standards for public television programs requires a historical understanding of the complex organizational structure of the American public broadcasting system, a sense of the political issues underlying its programming, and a feeling for the institutional culture of the system. These considerations along with traditional and more recent archival appraisal theory inform an interpretive and comparative evaluation model, which is demonstrated on four different types of public television programs.

Author Bio

Thomas Connors has been archivist and curator at the National Public Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland since 1993.


Official Publications at Texas A&M University: A Case Study in Cataloging Archival Material

Beth M. Russell and Robin L. Brandt Hutchison


Institutional reorganization and staffing changes at Texas A&M University's Cushing Library, which houses the university's archives, made necessary the cataloging of a substantial number of publications produced by different university agencies and departments, publications which had previously been largely inaccessible. The authors designed and implemented a plan to catalog thousands of pamphlets, reports, newsletters, conference proceedings and other material; a project that resulted in increased exposure and usage. This article outlines the development and ongoing refinement of the project. Undertaken in a cooperative spirit aimed at creating an integrated catalog of information resources, this project illustrates ways in which local practices can be improved through the use of technology.

Author Bio

Beth M. Russell is s currently head of Special Collections Cataloging at the Ohio State University Library. Previously, she was original cataloging librarian at the Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University. She earned an M.A. in history from the University of Kansas in 1994 and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Texas in 1996.