Society’s Archive / Societies Archives / Cultural Heritage Institutions


Hello and welcome. Today, I’d like to talk briefly
about a couple of concepts that I think are going to
set the stage for our studies over the coming semester. I actually use this video
in a couple of classes, so you can apply it to
the class that you’re taking in which it’s assigned. And the topic of today’s
lecture is society’s archive– societies’ archives plural and
cultural heritage institutions. So what is society’s archive? Society’s archive singular–
that is the archive of society is actually a conceptual idea. Conceptually, it’s all the
recorded knowledge existing in a society wherever it exists. And so it refers generally to
anything that a culture has fixed in some kind of form. The idea applies to all
societies and all societies– at least all modern societies–
have recorded knowledge that’s fixed in some kind of a medium. We talk about society’s
archive as in the human race– what that archive looks like of
all recorded human knowledge. It can also apply
to a single society. And so we use the
term to talk generally about all of the
recorded information that a society produces. If we could gather it all in one
place, what would it look like? What would it consist of? We can’t answer it, really. It’s a theoretical proposition,
but we could kind of sketch it out and talk
generally about it– what it would consist
of, what might be in it? And so this would be
an important concept to discuss in your
discussion groups. This concept of
philosophical concept– theoretical concept
of society’s archive is a kind of a singular concept
talking about all recorded knowledge. Now, we also talk about
societies’ archives plural. And when we talk about
societies’ archives in the plural
sense, we’re really talking about all those
institutions, organizations, that store individual
recorded knowledge. The physical space where
we actually have placed knowledge, where we’ve
kind of organized it, where we make it available for study. Pretty much all societies if
they have recorded knowledge also have physical collections. And so we ask the
question what would a description of the archives
of a certain society look like? And we can describe those
because those are actually tangible physical
institutions, buildings, places that hold things. So this is actually
the tangible collection of recorded knowledge
that we have. And so you want to be
clear about whether we’re talking about society’s
archives which are the actual
cultural institutions and whether we’re talking
about societies’ archive which is this general theoretical
construct of all the information that could
be described in a society. So to sum up the
difference between all that could possibly be collected
that society’s archive– the philosophical. And society’s archives
is the sum total of what actually is
collected– what’s in them. And this raises the
question, what accounts for the difference we– in our individual
physical archives– we don’t have all of
recorded knowledge assuming it were possible to do so. And there, of course,
there’s some kind of question about that. Nevertheless, we don’t collect
everything that’s recorded, and there are some readings in
your assignments and so on that may discuss some of
these differences. We talk about PESTO which
is a form of analysis– Political, Economical,
Social, Technological, Other, including culture and religion. These are all factors
that come to bear when we talk about what
actually is collected versus what could be collected. So let’s talk about cultural
heritage institutions. These are also sometimes called
cultural memory institutions. Let’s distinguish a
couple of concepts. Fixed cultural heritage–
this is thought fixed in some kind of
a tangible medium that is recorded knowledge. So these are
artifacts, objects– anything from clay pots to
books to letters written. These are things
that are tangible that are recorded in
some kind of a medium and that can be preserved. As opposed to fluid
cultural heritage, these are things
like performances, oral presentations, musical
performances– things that happen in a culture but
that aren’t actually fixed in any kind of a
tangible medium. So cultural heritage
institutions are those institutions that
deal with fixed artifacts and objects. These are places for physical
collection and preservation of societies’ archives. In modern societies–
you can pick a date here but let’s just say 1800
for the sake of argument. Societies have developed
different types of cultural heritage
institutions dealing with different
kinds of artifacts and so the ones we’re going to
talk most about in the courses here are modern archives,
modern libraries, and museums. And as these have
developed, they have seemed at least
up to the present time, to have diverged and
come to represent different kinds of
information-holding organizations. So let’s talk a
little bit about that. The canonical definitions–
when we talk about a canonical definition, we’re talking
about the definition of an organization as we think
it should be not necessarily what it is– but the canonical
business or the practice or the main business or
practice of the institution. And so modern archives deal
with non-published materials. So George Washington’s
letters are a good example. The letters that
he actually wrote. So archives deal with documents,
manuscripts, images, and so on. Libraries deal with
published materials that is materials that are
published in multiple copies. Things like books,
journals, media, and so on. So where an archive might
have George Washington’s original letters as he
wrote them in his own hand, a library might have a book of
the collected letters of George Washington, and that book
is probably published and could be found in
multiple libraries. Museums, of course,
deal with other types of scientific, historical,
or cultural objects. And in rare cases, they
may include documents in books, journals, and
other types of artifacts. It can particularly
cross the line when we’re talking
about ancient culture, so a museum is probably
more likely to have a clay tablet than either
an archive or a library. But I think you probably get
the canonical distinction there. So are these
definitions accurate? I just mentioned
perhaps one example– the clay tablet
that might not quite fit the canonical definition. Pretty much as we look at
these institutions today, those definitions are
generally observed primarily but not exclusively. It would be worth it to spend
some time in your discussion groups talking about
possible exceptions, how some of these institutions
overlap, and so on. So something for you to discuss. Curatorial practices
and professions vary among the different
cultural heritage institutions. So in a library, we
have the librarians are the professionals. The ones that curate if you
will the published books. Archivists curate the unique
pieces of work in an archive. Museum curators and
there are other kinds of museum positions as well
who deal with the artifacts. And these are distinguished
by what we call their curatorial practices. And so for each one of
these different kinds of organizations, the
different practices have developed around
the primary object. So librarians focus
primarily on books. Archivists primarily
focus on text and objects of unpublished origin. And museum curators deal
with tangible objects and different kinds of things. And, of course, you may
discuss most of these have additional objects as
well as their primary objects, and that’s something you
can bring up and talk about in a little bit more
detail in your discussion groups. So if we look at
librarians, librarians as we say deal with primarily
published material– books, magazines, media–
that sort of thing. Items that exist
in multiple copies. And as such, libraries
which lend out– most libraries do lending– or make items available practice
item-level description that is the individual books
or items in the library are cataloged,
described, notated in some kind of finding system. And we have item-level
organizations. So books are classified
individually. They’re individually
arranged on shelves. And each book has a
subject classification or a subject cataloging
that goes along with it. Now, probably fewer
of you are familiar with the curatorial
practices of archivists. Some of you if you’re
interested in archives, or you’ve worked in
them will know this. Archives deal primarily
with documents, manuscripts, correspondence, and so on. These items are unique,
and they’re usually found in a collection. And so in archives, we
arrange things by collection. So we would have a
collection of the papers of George Washington. And generally, we preserve
these in the order in which they came to the archive. This is sometimes
called the fonds. You may run into this term
at some point in your study. So where a library
will take a book, and they will
shelve it according to some kind of
classification system, an archive will generally
keep things in whatever order they were received. And further individual
items in the collections are usually not– they can be, but they’re usually
not– specifically identified, so we use collection-level
description. These are sometimes
called finding aids. And so we might say, well,
in box three of the George Washington collection,
we have the letters he wrote to such and such
on a certain subject. And the individual letters
wouldn’t necessarily be described. The finding aid
would just say this is a collection of letters
he wrote on some subject or at some particular
point in time. So this is a key distinction
between libraries and archives. And finally, museums–
we’re dealing with artifacts and objects for the most part. These items are unique even
if there are similar items in the collection. So for example, if a museum
has a tray of butterflies, they might all be
monarch butterflies, but each individual one has
a separate collection record. It was collected
on a certain date. It has a certain size and so on. So all of the items
are considered unique. A categorization
is usually based on historical,
geographical, geological, or anatomical
distinctions rather than on some kind of a
subject classification. The display involves just a
selection from the collection. When you go to a museum,
you don’t see everything in the museum’s collection. You see a selection– the collection–
that’s designed to make specific points about
the artifacts that are contained within. And then, of course,
people who need to research the
individual unique items within a collection go
behind the displays and so on and have access to
the full collection. Now, we’ve primarily been
talking about organizations as they have existed toward
the end of the 20th century where we’re dealing
with knowledge fixed in some kind of a
tangible medium– a book printed on
paper and so on. Clearly, the digital
environment is really turning our idea of
cultural heritage institutions, libraries,
museums, and archives upside down. In IRLS504 in
later units, you’re going to explore and discuss
the digital information environment. Some of the changes that are
occurring, some of the changes in practices, some
of the convergence that is now going on amongst
cultural heritage institutions. And then, of course, in IRLS671,
that’s an entire semester long look in introduction
to digital collections where we take a really
kind of a deeper dive into digital curation, evolving
and emerging selection, description, and
display practices as collections move from
physical to digitized now to born digital. So that’s a brief
overview and just kind of pointing out
some distinctions in different kinds of
organizations, practices, and so on that you need
to be aware of as we move through the semester. And I look forward to
seeing your response to some of this in the
discussion sections. Thank you.

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