Selected Themes in the Literature on Memory and Their Pertinence to Archives
Barbara L. Craig
The Book of Memory: A Study of Medieval Culture.
By Mary Carruthers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. xiv, 393 pp.
Index. Cloth (out of print). $59.95. ISBN 0-521-38282-3. Paper. $28.00. ISBN
How Societies Remember
By Paul Connerton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. vi, 121 pp.
Index. Cloth. $55.00. ISBN 0-521-24948-1. Paper. $19.00. ISBN 0-521-27093-6.
Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas about the Mind
By Douwe Draaisma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xiii, 241 pp.
Illustrations. Index. Cloth. $30.00. ISBN 0-521-65024-0.
Social Memory (New Perspectives on the Past)
By James Fentress and Chris Wickham. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1992.
xii, 229 pp. Index. Cloth. ISBN 0-6311-6618-1. Paper. ISBN 0-6311-6619-X.
The Collective Memory
By Maurice Halbwachs. Introduction by Mary Douglas. Translated from the French
by Francis J. Ditter, Jr. and Vida Yasdi Ditter. New York: Harper and Row,
1980. vi, 186 pp. Paper. $5.95. ISBN 0-06-090800-9. (First published in France
History as an Art of Memory
By Patrick H. Hutton. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England,
1993. xiv, 229 pp. Bibliography. Index. Cloth. $23.00. ISBN 0-87451-637-4.
History and Memory
By Jacques LeGoff. Translated by Steven Rendall and Elizabeth Claman. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1992. xxiii, 265 pp. Index. Bibliography. Cloth.
$44.00. ISBN 0-231-07590-1. Paper. $20.50. ISBN 0-231-07591-X.
Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory
By Deborah Lipstadt. New York: Plume Penguin Books, 1994. xxi, 278 pp. Index.
Cloth. $24.95. ISBN 0-02-919235-8. Paper. $15.00. ISBN 0-452-27274-2.
Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past
By Pierre Nora. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. New York: Columbia University
Press. Vol. 1: Conflicts and Divisions, 1996. Cloth. $45.50. ISBN 0-231-08404-8.
Vol 2: Traditions, 1997. Cloth. $45.50. ISBN 0-231-10634-3. Vol. 3: Symbols,
1998. Cloth. $45.50 ISBN 0-231-10926-1.
Logic and the Art of Memory: The Quest for a Universal Language
By Paolo Rossi. Translated and with an introduction by Stephen Clucas. London:
The Athlone Press, 2000. 2nd edition. xxviii, 333pp. Index. Appendices. Cloth.
$32.00. ISBN 0-22672-826-9.
Theatres of Memory
By Raphael Samuel. Volume 1: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture. London:
Verso New Left Books, 1994. xiv, 479 pp. Index. Illustrations. Cloth. $65.00.
ISBN 0-86091-209-4. Paper. $23.00. ISBN 1-85984-077-9.
Assassins of Memory: Essays in the Denial of the Holocaust
By Pierre Vidal-Naquet. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. Index. xxv,
205 pp. Cloth. $34.50. ISBN 0-231-07458-1. Paper. $22.00. ISBN 0-231-07459-X.
The Art of Memory
By Frances A. Yates. London: Pimlico, 1994. Index. 425 pp. Paper. $24.95. ISBN
0-7126-5545-X. (First published by Routledge & Kegan Paul 1966.)
Review essay published in American Archivist (Vol. 65,
No.2, Fall/Winter 2002)
At some point in their careers, all archivists will probably be grateful for
the useful comparison between archives and memory. Faced with the inevitable
question"Just what is an archives and what do archivists do?"the
ready equation with memory quite magically transforms a puzzled look into a
smile of understanding. The anxious archivist is reprieved from the task of
making explanations that are hopelessly difficult without a common background
to summon. We frequently use the power of metaphor to leap awkward barriers
of definition. The human capacity to remember words and things, information
and actions, and then to recall these for contemplation or for adjustment,
is understood universally to be our memory. Parts of it may be hidden from
us, to be recalled unselfconsciously, perhaps by sights or in settings or by
an aroma, like Swann, in Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, who
was transported back in time by a memory summoned by the taste of a biscuit
dipped in a sweet decoction of flowers. Most often it is through conscious
effort that we summon ideas and words, and with them the disturbing emotions
that can accompany memoriespleasurable floods of happiness or perhaps
rushes of anger that come unbidden with the recollection of events. We share
a common understanding about our memory: it is the remembrance of the past,
its aromas and gatherings, its happy times and moments of bleak despair.
Archivists sense that memory is a powerful concept for justifying their mission.
Part of the attraction lies in the evident aptness of the analogy; nevertheless,
perhaps surprisingly, most of the details of this comparison have yet to be
worked out. Up to now we have been grateful for such a useful metaphor and
have trusted that its implications are self-evident by the context in which
it is employed. The grounds for this trust are now being explored: many have
begun to ask questions about the archivists' role in arbitrating the claims
of conflicting perspectives. Compared to the depth and long history of inquiry
into memory by philosophers, historians, anthropologists, and psychologists,
discussions of its specific manifestations in archives are recent, and much
of the discussion is by people with no first-hand experience with archival
work. However, the novelty of connecting archives with memory is, of course,
in one important respect, misleading.
"The horror of that moment, I shall never never forget it," said the King
in Lewis Carroll's quixotic tale, Through the Looking Glass. Perhaps
the king was so affected that he was convinced that the memory would be indelible.
However the Queen, with perhaps more experience, was sceptical: "You will ...[forget]
if you don't make a memorandum of it!" Freud, too, often distrusted his memory: "When
ever I [do] I can resort to pen and paper. Paper then becomes an external part
of my memory...safe from possible distortions to which it might have been subjected
in my actual memory."
All archives originate in the conscious act of memorializing some thing by
the giving, receiving, and keeping of documentary records. The remembrance
of documents, used either by us or by our successors in the generations to
come, is one skein in the vast tapestry of memory that embraces groups with
what they share and what they contest. The importance of memory in our culture
was recently underscored by numerous public events held in Europe and North
America throughout 1994, 1995, and 1996, commemorating the end of World War
II. These ceremonials confirmed a resilient public memory of the war that extends
beyond the generation that experienced it. Public parades on VE and VJ days,
special community events for veterans and their families, and television histories
of the war were a celebration for most and a provocation for some because these
events restoked sensitive political issues related to war responsibilities.
The attentive reader and viewer will detect a role for archives in national
memorial events, documentary films and books, and, ubiquitously, on the Biography
and History television channels. Notes in texts and credits as trailers to
films are terse recognition of the profound role of archival materials in history
products. As the providers of images, text, language, and voices from the past,
archives have a palpable quality of authenticity. This has a powerful influence
on popular public memories of events in the recent past and, more generally,
on the public's perceptions of history in general. The archives' role in shaping
a public's memory can only become stronger. New generations, with no personal
recollection of events can only experience the past indirectly. Their understanding
of it will be shaped by community traditions and memories, nourished largely,
it seems, by a growing buffet of popular historical books, films, and television
programs. All of these venues sell views of the past: some are offered as history,
some as experience, and some as the truth. All of these commercial products
will draw, in some way, upon archival materials. No archives will be untouched
by the reuse of its materials for public consumption and performances beyond
its control. The passing of a generation that experienced the traumas of both
World Wars and lived to bear witness to the horrors it experienced in concentration
and death camps emphasizes one finalitythat our personal memory, with
all its subtlety nurtured by recollection of direct experience, will pass irrevocably
with our death.
As a result, social memory, that which we share with communities of experience
and history, eventually is elevated to a commanding position because it exceeds
and transcends the life of any given individual. Consequently, the notion of
memory is not private and simple, but rather extraordinarily complex. What
is memory? Is it recollection or is it remembrance? Is it the wellspring of
reflection and imagination? Is it the ground we contest in struggles for dominanceof
peoples, politics, and ideas? Is it natural to us as beings or is it better
seen as an artifice, constructed much like we would build any other social
structure? The issue of what should receive priority in our beliefpersonal
witness or documentsis a vital question for archivists. The inherent
tension between these two fundamental ideas of memory is provided by Pierre
Vidal-Naquet's Assassins of Memory: Essays in the Denial of the Holocaust,
and Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth
and Memory. These volumes address many of the arguments and prejudices
embodied in Holocaust denial, especially the use of documents to support claims
that are disputed by the evidence of the personal experiences and the memory
of those who were affected. Both books raise the important issue of the relationship
between personal experience and its retelling as the remembered witness of
events, and the memory embodied in documentary evidence.
The personal and social processes of making some things memorable and the
instruments of this remembrance are topics on which there are many perspectives.
Historians are prolific contributors to the growing discourse on memory, but
they are not the only occupants of the turf of memory studies. Cultural anthropologists,
critics of art and literature, poets, novelists, and, inevitably, philosophers
all have particular concepts of memory. Perhaps it is memory as a physical
phenomenon, or as psychology; perhaps as a psychic place, or as a cultural
space; perhaps as a political agenda or as a special social geography. But
overall, and perhaps most tellingly, these conceptual differences highlight
the complexity of memory, which is not a unitary thing. There are personal
memories, group memories, memories of tribes and localities. In fact, memory
has multiple and conflicting manifestations that jostle for accommodation and
The concept of memory should have special resonance for archivists, and not
only because it is a convenient shorthand to explain the purpose of archives
to audiences unfamiliar with our work. The memorial metaphor is a powerful
conceptual lens through which to view archives, as documents and as institutions,
and to understand the inevitable and the potential effects of our professional
economy on both. Presumably archivists have their own definite ideas about
the memory embodied in archiveshow it is formed and used, and how it
is related to personal experience and to public credos. These ideas, as yet
only just beginning their welcome appearance in our literature, might be enhanced
by considering some of the recurring themes in the broader area of memory studies
and research. I have chosen to reflect briefly on three ideas of memory: that
it is a special place or a location; that it is a thing or object that can
be measured and managed; and, that it is a process or activity, akin to a technology,
machine, or performance. These ideas are quite obviously related, and it is
the nature of that relationship that should be of interest to archivists. The
works referred to in this review are texts that usefully introduce the broad
area of memory studies. But they are only a few of the key sign posts in a
vast landscape whose exploration, not unexpectedly, has a history as long as
Memory begins in human psychology, that which defines our personhood, perhaps
even our sense of being a separate and distinct person. Memory has a social
role as well, shaping our sense of the group through its shared experiences.
Because of memory's importance to our humanity, thinkers of many hues seek
to understand it. Personal memory, the nature of its existence in the mind
and in the body, and the process of memory formation and recollection, are
interconnected problems that engaged ancient thinkers as much as they intrigue
contemporary ones. Philosophers, human psychologists, their offspring in cognitive
psychology, neuropsychiatry, biology and computer engineering all ask: What
is memory? and, perhaps more importantly, in the light of what it is, How does
An enduring idea of memory likens it to a box or storage area or some like
structure, which corresponds to the idea of a special container located in
a place. According to this view, memory has a location in the mind, one that
occupies a space and is the site of the memorial process. There are variations
on this general theme. Plato, in Theatetus (368 B.C.), asks the reader:
Imagine...that our minds contains a block of wax...[a] gift of the
Muses' mother, memory...whenever we wish to remember something...we hold this
wax under the perceptions of ideas and imprint on them as we might stamp the
impression of a sealing ring.
St. Augustine, in referring to memory in his Confessions, described
a vast landscape whose endless fields and deep caves he could neither visit
nor catalogue. The Aristotelian psychology of human memory conceived it in
terms of a blank tablet that received the impressions of experience. These
were stored as an archives that was revisited. Aristotle also distinguished
memory from recollection; the latter being largely dependent on the association
of ideas. Descartes saw memory as having a dual nature, part physiological,
or "animal," and part intellectual. Recent research into the physiology of
the brain, using Post-Emission Tomography, scanned specific sites in the brain
to record physiological activities when the mind was thinking and remembering.
Ancient writers and modern scientists agree that humans need to have a healthy
memory in good working order if we are to pursue a normal personal and social
life. Damaged memories, those that are dysfunctional or in some way injured
so they are unable to work, affect our concept of time and our ability to remember
and recollect ideas and thoughts, habits and people, places and things. Remembering
has its complement in forgetting. Both are opposites on a balance wheel, which
keeps the machine of remembrance in fine tune. Any alteration to the balance
of this polarity affects our minds and our physical well-being. "I sit beside
my lonely fire/And pray for wisdom yet:/For calmness to remember/Or courage
to forget," wrote the poet Charles Hamilton Aidé, who understood that
both qualities of memory are important but are not achieved without a struggle.
Whether memory and its alter ego, the "forgettery," are conceived as places
of storage or as chemical triggers, scholars have been seeking to understand
their power and their pathologies. Modern communications technology gives a
new edge to memory, from its analog in computers, to the idea of memory control,
damaging loss of information and deep social anomie.
Ancient thinkers and modern researchers alike distinguish memory from recollection.
At the same time, they emphasize that both are intimate and that their relationship
is not only reciprocal but also necessary. The ancient view of memory was much
influenced by its role as a store for accumulated knowledge. Texts were expensive
and not widely distributed nor easily duplicated so that the power of memory
to recall was cherished as an indispensable skill in science, law, the professions,
and the church. Mnemonic schools flourished. Each promoted a view of memory
and touted the virtues of special mental exercises that supporters claimed
would enhance a person's mental powers. Many of these systems involved techniques
for classifying information and indexing remembered things. Modern research
into memory and how it works is largely grouped into two areas of special interest.
The brain's chemical and electrical channels of memory are studied by the hard
sciences, while memory's social and interpersonal roles are the particular
concern of those in the humanities and social science. From the archivists'
point of view, historians of literacy and texts, cultural anthropologists,
and art historians occupy an important niche in memory studies because they
investigate the nexus between memorial ways and the idioms and conventions
of texts and visual representations.
Memory formation and its role in culture and history have been subjects for
extended exploration and study since the late nineteenth century, although
modern interest has surged in the last twenty years. For the purposes of this
essay, it is important to acknowledge the seminal work of Dame Frances Yates,
who inaugurated the scholarly interest of this generation in memory, its meanings,
forms, and mechanics. Her original and unique volume, The Art of Memory,
first published in 1966 and followed by numerous reprints, is an extended treatise
on the workings and uses of memory as developed by the ancients, and later
by medieval and late-Renaissance philosophers. Yates combined history, textual
criticism, and art to analyze memory as a method, as a means of retrieval,
and as an arbiter in learning. It was her insight into the role of memory in
literature, science, and knowledge that established the commanding position
of the memory metaphor. Her unusual approach rehabilitated the metaphysical
side of early science and revealed the importance of memory in pedagogy, and
ultimately, in knowledge production. Yates resurrected the magical side of
early science and, along the way, exposed the richness in the history of the
concept. All contemporaries are Yates's successors, even if most have taken
exception to her particular enthusiasms and conclusions. Her book still has
the power of originality. Its sheer inventiveness coexists happily alongside
profound erudition and a wide knowledge of texts. A companion volume is the
second edition of Paolo Rossi's Logic and the Art of Memory, first published
in Italy in 1982. Rossi's interests in Renaissance philosophy and the scientific
method, among other interests, are parallel to those of Yates, but his discussion
of ancient and renaissance texts and ideologies is more cautious in its claims.
As a result, Rossi's discussion of history and traditions is more nuanced.
His approach is less that of a convert to a new vision, and more that of a
knowledgeable and contemplative observer of a natural history of ideas.
Even the study of fossils...can teach us how ideas that were once
vital and living can become culturally extinct, and how the present can carry
the past within it, without anyone being aware of it.
Mary Carruthers' The Book of Memory: A Study of Medieval Culture,
shares Yates's and Rossi's interest in memory as a method of knowledge formation,
but includes evidence from the practice of reading as well as from the texts
themselves. Her focus is on the relationship between reading and thinking in
the medieval world. Carruthers' knowledge of medieval society and the nuances
of its languages is profound. Her focus on the text as object is broadly conceived,
integrating these with material culture and with reading. Carruthers argues
that memory and recollection were moral activities. From these deep wells the
mind drew its own readings of authoritative texts to demonstrate prudence in
judgement rather than novelty by innovation. Memory emerges as the condition
for acts of imagination, not just the source for serried recall of a rote type.
She is skeptical of the rift between the memorial and the logical, arguing
that thought and argument were constructed in the same way by oral cultures
and by those that give special faith to written texts. Carruthers uses the
luxurious evidence provided, perhaps paradoxically, by books. Her focus is
on texts (particularly as objects that were integrated with the process of
memory building and knowledge production through glosses), those in the book
and those virtual glosses made by the mind on its store of remembered texts
The themes of memory mechanisms, knowledge formation, and cultural sustenance,
pursued by Yates, Rossi, and Carruthers for the ancient and medieval world,
are taken up by Jacques Le Goff and Patrick Hutton, but in relation to the
discipline of history as it has been developed since the seventeenth century.
They are especially interested in the relationship of the memory shared by
groups about their collective experiences to the practices of historical research
and writing. What is the connection between history and memory? Are these reciprocal
or not? What distinguishes the methods and practices of one from the other?
What does memory do for society and what is history's role? Le Goff's volume,
originally prepared as separate essays for publication in Italy in 1977, and
later collected for this volume in 1986 (Italian), 1988 (French) and translated
into English in 1992, is a multi-faceted reflection on the connections between
memory and history. LeGoff explores the roles of narrative history in memory
making and the moral obligations of the historian as a memorialist to pursue
a larger "truth" about the past. Hutton's volume locates the roots of contemporary
interest in memory and pursues the connections between history and memorial
recollections and practices. His volume is the most comprehensive historical
review of the re-emergence of memory into contemporary society and history.
Moments of repetition in acts of remembrance are among the areas he points
to for further study.
Both ancient thinkers and modern science seek memory in a place and a location,
the one using the analogy of a store, the other describing webs of circuitry
or chemical reactions through receptors. Is there a connection between a physical,
or geographical location and remembering and memorializing? The answer seems
to be "yes." The influences of place and of situated performance on remembering
as a process are problems that interest historians, anthropologists, and psychologists.
Two volumes by historians provide contrasting approaches to examining the relationship
of memory to location. The three-volume book of essays, prepared by scholars
of French history and edited by Pierre Nora focuses on post-revolutionary France.
These essays restore the fullness of the physical contexts in which national
experiences first were formed and later recalled for continuing use. Raphael
Samuel's volume, by contrast, is a poetic and imaginative exploration of "landscapes" conceived
as places or "theatres" whose structures we invest with meaning. Samuel is
less interested in received national history and its sources in memory and
more in the multiple connections of people to their landscapes and townscapes.
These are not neutral backdrops for self-conscious activities, but participants
with us in structuring and restructuring the typical, common, and unique activities
of daily life and life-course rituals that were internalized as a form of play
Memory as places where information and knowledge are stored or from which
ideas, concepts, and knowledge are recalled is paralleled by the equally resilient
theme of memory as a mechanism that fixes items for later recall at will. Both
concepts are mutually supporting -- you need the space for storage and the
mechanism for placing memories in the store correctly and for getting these
back clearly and in a useable form. This brings us to the idea of memory as
a construction or a "work in progress" and not as a thing received. Exponents
of this social idea emphasize the role of the group in shaping each person's
memory and recollection. Time, in the form of chronology, knits the fabric
of shared experiences into a common memory or history. Aristotle claimed,
It is impossible to remember the future, [which is an object of
conjecture or expectation...[and that] all memory...implies a lapse of time.
Aristotle drew distinctions between memory and recollection and further located
both as dependent upon our innate sense of time. But the Queen in Lewis Carroll's Through
the Looking Glass had another view. "It's a poor sort of memory that only
works backwards," she declared to Alice on the subject of human memory.
Just how are the parts of time knit into a fabric of memory and recollection?
Is the process one that we can analyze? Or is it driven by other, more powerful,
engines, by commanding ideas or paradigms, for example?
Collective Memory, by the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, first
published in 1950, but written earlier, is the pioneer study in the workings
of group memory. Halbwachs was a follower of Durkheim and was inspired by Bergson.
The ideas of both can be detected in his argument that memory cannot be separated
from the conditions in which it is formed and recalled. This leads to a conclusion
that the past only exists in recollection mediated by the experiences of the
group. The existence of an objective past independent of ourselves is an illusion.
Nevertheless, the illusion is strong and persistent. It is nurtured by our
ability to articulate, more or less accurately, what comprises the past and
to agree on some of its major components. We may sense that we are the creators
and proprietors of our personal memories, but Halbwachs argues that this sense
of possession is misleading. Personal memory is mediated by the spaces and
places in which people interact. For Halbwachs, written texts only have supporting
roles in the on-going drama of memory conceived, which he concluded was a "script" written
by contemporary social interaction.
Halbwachs's ideas are echoed by the pioneer English psychologist, Frederick
Bartlett, whose Social Memory (1932), connected individual memory to
that of the group. The process of memory, for Bartlett, involves schema, details,
and attitudes. Remembering is an active process of reconstruction that is shaped
by schema that direct recall to things that we have concluded from personal
experience - we organize or classify experience into typical schema and then
use these schema to pattern memory. Social Memory, by the anthropologist
James Fentress and the historian Chris Wickham, discusses many of Halbwachs'
concepts of the "collective," but situates these in concrete social practices
and activities that reflexively shape individual memory and shared remembrances.
Their book distinguishes between memory as action and memory as a form of representation.
Fentress and Wickham are not interested in their relative truths, but rather
in understanding their social meaning, which is not related to truth but to
belief and usefulness. Their rich book emphasizes the importance of context-dependency
in the transmission of memory. Paul Connerton's How Societies Remember further
develops the role of traditions in social memory by focusing on the importance
of performance as a form of ritual assurance. His particular interest is exploring
how practices that are not written or "inscribed" are transmitted to new generations.
Halbwachs' interest in memory as social theatre continues to be pursued by
scholars in a number of directions: some working to classify memory into its
semantic, sensory, and factual parts; others investigating its history and
its workings in literate, oral, and non-industrial cultures; still others following
its iconography; and finally, a growing group exploring the memorial role of
the new heritage industries. The social aspect of memory has expanded to become
a large territory with provinces for specialists in neuroscience, anthropology,
and psychology. In this crowded room, space has been made for discussion of
the archives, as a metaphor for knowledge, as an adjunct to power, and as a
particular form of memorial inscription. However, only a few have begun to
explore the archives as it is shaped by those that build its internal structures.
The area is wide open and inviting. The language of ancient and modern memory
that uses the analogies to information storage, retrieval, and use suggests,
ultimately, that we might find it useful to explore the archival ideas inherent
in that language, and, reciprocally, the sources of the language we use in
our lexicon of technical terms. There is no better place to begin than with
Douwe Draaisma's Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas about the Mind,
an unusual volume that explores the representation of memory from the point
of view of the metaphors employed for it. Although Draaisma's interest is in
the use made of these metaphors for memory, each one taps ideas that were abroad
in society about human physiology, scientific knowledge, computation, imagery
and recording, and artificial thinking machines.
The idea that archives are a physical space for memory and a site in which
it is recalled, or "made" in the social-construction sense, has the potential
to profoundly affect our services to users. While it is a commonplace truth
that "you can't turn back the clock," an archives brings together a physical
space with documents that, in a mimetic way, gives us the potential to do just
thatto turn back the clock. Time, space, and process are focused in archives
and achieve there a form of relativity that users can experience. From their
point of view, the activity of meditation upon a subject or idea, like religious
or spiritual exercises, may be entirely consonant with visiting the archives
as a place and using it as a surround for active reflection and thought. Recollection
has many manifestations and these affect us in different ways. Perhaps most
commonly, in relation to ourselves, memory creeps upon us as a nostalgia. But
it also may be structured as reminiscence, when time and change has created
a sufficient difference for there to be a contrast upon which to reflect. Memory
also may be used dispassionately to search for the knowledge it contains and
the truths it may hold. Archives unite the contrasting parts of memory that,
at one and the same time, can appear as both thought and feeling.
The usefulness of the memory recalled by archives is affected by two conditions:
the qualities of the documents as credible evidence and the transparency of
the contextual envelope that encloses them. Together these work to transmit
clear intent that provides a stable foundation on which users can begin to
create their own meanings. The importance of clearly marked contextual boundaries
is particularly striking the further back in time we explore. Archives are
eventually removed from the supports to understanding that come automatically
from a shared experience with their creators. Once time has divorced us sufficiently
from the past, a territory that the historian David Lowenthal has called "a
foreign country," a cultural context can only be one that is reconstructed
or reconstituted in some way. Among the materials required for it are accurate
descriptions of sources and a variety of complementary records. These twin
supports provide knowledge of the form and genre in which documents appeared,
of their language and its usages, and in particular, of the recordkeeping systems
and conventions that shaped a group's documentary habits. All of these pieces
of information vicariously reconstruct a virtual group memory that we can join.
The archivist and the user both have jobs in this rebuilding.
This leads us to consider the selection of archives in the light of memory
as a conceptual ideal. Memory highlights anew the tension between two ideas
of the archivist. At one end is the keeper who preserves the memory formed
by others in documents, maintaining their qualities as useful sources intact.
At the other extreme is the documenter who inscribes memory and actions by
actively documenting ideas, institutions, and groups according to a contemporary
plan or interpretation. These distinctions highlight a central problem in the
selection of archives, that of declared roles in their accumulation and, as
a consequence, of the dependencies these create. In dealing with the moral
obligation we have to dependents, including our successors in the profession
and our users, appraisal emerges as the foremost responsibility of the archivist.
Our efforts to develop appropriate methods and frameworks for appraisal, reflected
in discussions of documentation strategies, functional analysis, and macro-appraisal
accompanied by disposition plans, manifest our sensitivity to the importance
of archives in making public memory and in its nourishment. A memorial model
for acquisition has the potential to complement the documentation model by
providing us with a holistic framework in which to adjudicate institutional
and cultural roles, which at times may be in conflict. There are several possible
levels of conceptualization in this model, allowing it to be flexible in the
areas it can embrace and the methods it can accommodate. The memorial model
has particular pertinence to our ideas about the archivist's responsibility
for acknowledging those with no documentary voice. Nevertheless, regardless
of what theory an archives or archivist adopts to ground their methods, especially
those for appraisal, the act of selection gives archivists an important role
as a creator or author of their archives. Decisions of choice need to be explicit.
Once these have been declared, they become part of the larger memorial process,
as the archivist's florilegia, in this case not on individual documents, but
more profoundly, on the large archival "text" we shape in appraisal. These
texts, like any other, are then available for critical assessment by others.
A memorial ideal and its potential models return us to the centrality of
memory and witness in documents. Archives are objects formed by a will to action
and given their special qualities by being "used" in a certain way and in certain
circumstances. They are objects at the borders between personal and social
memory. As a result, they are rarely stable or fixed. The essential duality
in archival documents, being things that not only "say" but also "do," spans
the gulf between meanings that are declared and those that are implied by the
contexts beyond the text. Documents always participate in a technique or a
manner of doing as a part of a specific material culture and social practice.
They are presented to us in several dimensions, in their material substance,
in their aesthetic qualities, in their formal composition, and (especially)
in their rhetorical effects. None of these can be fixed, but are subject to
continuing interpretation in the light of experience. Documents also are integral
parts of larger cultural communities, those of explicit ideas and actions,
implicit assumptions, and available technologies, which are joined in the concept
and system of recordkeeping. The nature of documents as information objects
cannot fully be grasped without placing them within a series of increasingly
wider contexts, of communications, competencies, and intent, which comprise
their totality, much like the layers of skin in an onionpeel away these
layers to get at the heart and eventually you have nothing left. But the layers,
taken together, constitute the nature of the object. These layers, the assumed,
the declared, and the practical, comprise a large part of the memory that is
bound up in the document.
The origin of archives as written acts for remembrance is the reason for
their immediate usefulness and later, for their timelessness as cultural sources.
Documents, like beads of water on a web or the pulses recorded by Post Emission
Tomography, are each like the other but at the same time are distinct in the
space they occupy and in their relationship to the others. The unique meaning
of documents in context underscores the importance of provenance conceived
as richly as possible, as source, as transmission over time, as locations,
and as the locus of all of these aspects. Archival documents are something
more than two-dimensional containers of information from the past. Because
they bind people to intentions and actions, archives, in their natural state,
are a large-scale map of society's documentary relationships as these are woven
over time. The archivist's role is to ensure that archives remain true to the
realities of their witness so these can be used in the courts of history and