11 Replies to “It’s Time for an Arrangement Democracy”

  1. Hi Rosemary,

    I’m glad you brought you brought up the point about imperialism and its effects on fonds that Drake presented in his article. You mention how the “colonizing didn’t mix with the colonized” which I agree is an interesting way to view how our modern archival organization system was created. I think my favorite quote from the Drake article was when he said “Moreover, one can imagine the ease of determining a clear creator or owner when just a sliver of Western society had 1) the legal privilege to create and own, and 2) the legal protection of that privilege.” Mallory mentioned this quote in her blog post as well, but I think it bears repeating because it’s so important for archivists to realize that we only captured a sliver of societies actions before, and we must ensure that we don’t repeat these same mistakes again. Going back to the articles from 2 weeks ago that discussed participatory appraisal for multicultural collections and archiving social activism such as Black Lives Matter, we are now in an age where there is more equality among races and nations, but we still need to remain vigilant in fully encompassing all cultures. There might not be a fond issue anymore but as Drake said, we need to have “consciousness to recognize the inequality, violence, and injustice of modernity and ensure that the communities most directly impacted by them have equal access to archival processes.”

    1. Thank you Sarah! As I was reading your comment I was thinking how this relates so well to our readings from 2 weeks ago… and then you said that! When I was idealizing about the Western world’s recognition of equality, I was idealizing quite a lot… you are so right that we as archivists have a responsibility to grant all races, nations, genders, religions, classes, sexualities, etc. an equal space in archival memory – we must “remain vigilant”, as you say, to make sure that we as a society and as a profession continue to advance.

  2. Rosemary, I think you did a good overview of the problem and I don’t have too much to add. However, as I was reading Drake’s article and as I was reading your post, a question has been nagging at me:

    Is respect des fonds an outdated system across the board, or really just for digital objects? Context is key and I agree, context is the name of the game when it comes to preserving many digital mediums, especially web-based objects. However, as you said, provenance remains an essential tool in the analog archive world. While we may talk about the false dichotomies between the digital and the analog and how the two are actually very similar, is provenance one of the few realms where the digital and the analog diverge?

    1. Margot,

      I think you bring up a very interesting point. Most of us this week appear to have agreed with the readings. Society and technology are advancing! It’s time to move on with the times! But are we ignoring what has worked with respect des fonds and analog materials?

      It’s interesting to compare this class with another class I’m taking, Arrangement, Description and Access for Archives. Our professor, Dr. Heger, had worked at NARA for a long time, and he loves to talk about provenance and respect des fonds. He’s not a dinosaur living in the dark ages (Dr. Heger, if you ever see this I swear I respect you immensely and I’m an avid Doctor Who fan so we have to be friends on principle). He knows about all the issues we’re talking about, yet he’s not like all of us this week who are eschewing provenance for a new digital age. If respected, learned men and women around the country are still respecting the fonds, there has to be something in it right?

      I’m not sure that I have a solid answer for the question you posed. Part of me still finds fault with adhering to a system that was born during this imperialist age Rosemary spoke about, even if we’re just talking about analog materials. But what if we could harness that system to adhere to our new and improved principles? Born-digital files are complex, and I agree that context has to take priority. But despite my own blog post this week, I think there must be some sort of middle ground. I’d be interested to see what everyone else who posted this week things.


      1. I must say, the suggestion that we should get rid of respect des fonds and provenance because it was born in an imperialist age irked me. There were of course massive problems with the system at the time of its conception because of the lack of access to the system save for the privileged few, but as times move on and the system becomes more accessible to more people, are we really going to let the circumstances and era of a system’s birth make us abandon it for sake of progress? Or is our notion of ‘progress’ hamstringing us at every turn by making us abandon tried and true methods of the past? We pat ourselves on the back for our forward thinking and end up reinventing the wheel. I’m not saying that we should never change anything, far from it. We should constantly be questioning and challenging our systems to make sure they’re still strong.

        But when someone argues for wholesale abandonment of a system and then supports that argument with a reminder that it was begun in an imperialist era with imperialist values is not only irresponsible, it is absurd. What else would we have to give up if we applied this logic elsewhere? Whole libraries? Museums? Universities?

        Re-evaluate, question, adapt, improve, re-porpuse. But as you said, Mallory, if the practice is still being used successfully by capable men and women, there might be something to it, regardless of where and when it came from.

        Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox.

        1. Margot, if I may take your microphone for a minute… 😉

          I completely agree that “wholesale abandonment” of respect des fonds is silly. Jefferson Bailey asserts that, instead, we should make sure to respect des other contextual properties at the same level as provenance in some cases, as these other indicators of the context and significance of the records can be just as important to an accurate archival memory, and can be what users want to search for instead of just the creator. Again, as Bailey says, “Consider it less a disrespect, perhaps, than a humbling.” I think this is completely reasonable, and a positive aspect of progress rather than just progress for progress’ sake!

          1. Rosemary,

            It is! I totally agree with you, and I really liked Bailey’s article. My soapbox rant was very hyperbolic, a knee-jerk reaction to the discussion about Drake’s article, which really irritated me. It was not her suggestion that we should re-evaluate provenance that irked me, but rather, her outlook on how that’s going to happen. She says at the end of her article that she intentionally did not suggest any new principles or even part of one. She says that any new principles to replace provenance should not be developed in an invite-only forum, within just the archival industry. She wants this principle to form slowly and organically across a large cross section of the industry, diverse populations, and overlapping disciplines.

            This sounds like a grand idea, and in a perfect world I would agree with her. But if the need for a new principle is as dire as she leads us to believe, then there is something very lazy about her pointing to the problems and not being willing to offer any concrete ideas whatsoever. I totally agree that there are problems with provenance especially as we’re moving into a born-digital era, and her suggestion that we need to consult more diverse populations when developing new strategies is apropos. But when she suggests that we need to replace provenance with some unknown principle and then pushes off the development of that principle onto some future generation of archivists – or non archivists, as the case may be – it just seems lazy. If she’s intentionally silent on ideas, does that mean she’s holding them back? I’d love to hear them. Or does she really just have no idea what to do?

            I don’t know, maybe I misread the article, but I came away from Drake’s piece annoyed. I really hope someone else got more out of it than I did.

            Alright, looks like I stole the mic for another soapbox, sorry.

            But back to your point: Yes! Context is key, and developing new levels of contextualization alongside provenance is a feasible and reasonable next step in adapting an old principle for a new century.

          2. A note: I realized soon after I posted my last comment that I mistakenly referred to Drake as a ‘she’, when he is of course a ‘he’. This is my mistake – I am continually getting all of the weekly authors mixed up in my head, I really must get better at that. Unfortunately I cannot delete or edit comments. So sorry!

    2. Hmmmm… that’s a very good question Margot! You are right that Provenance does remain an essential tool in the analog world, and it does make a lot of sense. I suppose what I was trying to get at is what Sarah talks about above, which is the archivist’s duty to recognize all groups, and allow for connections between records of different provenance. This might mean a different arrangement process than by fond, because the context in which they were created is more significant than the creators, and arrangement by context will enable a more complete and all-encompassing view of the records and their significance. If this makes any sense…

      1. Hi Mallory (I must have posted my last comment at the same time you posted yours!),

        I completely see your point about the long-respected tradition of respect des fonds – it is long-respected for a reason! Dr. Heger definitely knows what he is talking about! Maybe the idea of ‘context’ is what is complex here. Provenance provides context; it describes where the record came from, who created it, and can explain why the record is significant. However, I think what the articles this week were saying is that context goes beyond Provenance, and we have to be able to recognize the importance of other contextual properties. And, by doing so, we may come to the conclusion that the best arrangement of records may not be solely by fond. Now that I’m thinking about it, this does have much more to do with digital objects than physical, because of the method of creation (among other things). However, as Bailey says, user experience is very important, and users’ expectations for searching for physical objects is changing (spurred on by the new ways to search digital objects no doubt). Therefore, it may be best to take this into account when arranging physical records as well, that users may want to search by a subject instead of a creator, for example.

        1. Enjoying the post and the discussion! I think your point on context and provenance is well taken. Ultimately, we want to document this stuff to so that people now and in the future will be able to find information useful to understanding what happened.

          To that end, I think part of the problem with provenance is less about the idea of context in general, but more specifically that the focus of archival work in the past (largely institutional records and personal papers) has backed in some of the values around those kinds of collections into the principles of archival practice.

          I’ve had a range of conversations with archivists where community archives and things like ethnographic or folk archive collections somehow don’t really count as archives because they don’t clearly align with how institutional records and personal papers have been organized.

          In the Drake article, I keep going back to his example of the biography note. It’s a standard part of many finding aids, and it often has this hagiographic quality to it. Archivists end up having relationships with the records creators and I do think that tends to cloud how they approach the process of arranging and describing collections.

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