Disrespect des Fonds and Archiving Aboriginal Australia

Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives by Jefferson Bailey

What is “respect des fonds?” : A by-product of the French Revolution, where revolutionaries destroyed the archival history of the monarchy in the Bastille, but preserved records of their own actions in Archives Nationales.The segregation and classification of archival material was both chaotic and purpose-led during a time of political change, and became the basis for Circular no. 14, which posited that the archives were: “to form a collection of all the documents which originate from a body, an organization, a family or an individual, and to arrange the different fonds according to a certain order.” (3) Thus, the creatorled the classification of archive, and they were kept in the original order of accession. This became the Western norm for archival classification for centuries.

 respect fourth of july a capitol fourth 2019 GIF

What are the flaws when “respecting des fonds?”: 

  • Original order of accession is not the same as order of creation
  • Lack of context about past stewardship of archive
  • It privileges old methods over accessibility for many users

What are some alternatives? 

  • Peter Scott developed the “series system,” an alternative that instead classified by function/use.
  • Luciana Duranti proposed the “archival bond” which “identifies a web of documentary co-dependencies that presumes an inheritance and relationship between records based on functional proximity.” (5)
  • Michel Duchein proposed “the parallelismus membrorum, “the similarity of parallel files” in 1983 (5)
  • Chris Hurley and “parallel provenance (5)

What does this have to do with digital media? 

Interpreting digital objects is different than purely physical archival material, and “trails of ownership” as well as contextual material are contained within the file data. Moreover, new and digital ways of accessing archives like databases need not rely on the “fonds”—databases are mutable and responsive the research needs. “Disrespecting des Fonds” creates a new model and mode for the classification of archival material!

schitts creek seriously GIF by CBC
Des Fonds after reading this article:

Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia by Kimberly Christen

This article discusses the work done by Christen and others with the Warumungu community in Tennant Creek, Australia to create a digital archive that is responsive, mutable, and accessible to aboriginal Australians. Because it was difficult for aboriginal people to actually visit museum collections with community objects (despite their desire to do so), an alternative was necessary. So, archivists involved worked diligently to make an accessible platform that catered to the needs and requirements of a community with little experience using digital archives, low literacy, and religious needs (example: challenges in the display of sacred objects online).

Through community conversations, they created a visually-driven archive with settings for elders, male vs. female, members of different aboriginal groups, etc. Their major purpose was to create“a place where knowledge is produced, exchanged, and enlivened through dialogue.” (23) All in all, it is a great mix of community-based history, responsiveness and shared authority, and takes major steps toward the decolonization of the archive

Overall, I think this is a great lesson in community engagement and the need for responsiveness to individual needs when creating new databases or programs! What do you all think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *