Eastwood on Appraisal

In Currents of Archival Thinking, Terry Eastwood delineates the history of archival appraisal in a similar fashion to how Blouin (1999) and Hohmann (2016) described the historical arc of the profession. Eastwood gives an overview of the very stark paradigm shift that occurred as traditional positivism and essentialism yielded to postmodernism. As Eastwood explains, over time the profession’s most respected figures gradually moved away from viewing history and truth as uniform and objective to understanding these concepts as being much more relative and destabilized in meaning.

Eastwood goes back further in time than Blouin or Hohmann by exploring the nineteenth-century of archives. He demonstrates how records were couched in terms relating to natural law. Like Blouin, who mentioned that archivists have traditionally been neutral agents of nation-states complicit in perpetuating established powers, Eastwood demonstrates that records were assumed to have more authority the higher up they were on the hierarchical ladder. For example, organizational records were seen to be more “authentic” than private papers. Public archives were deemed more important than private ones. So, there was a natural order to records that very much mimicked the hierarchical orders of society.

Eastwood also discusses the rampant growth of records and how this changed the practice of archival science. If the postwar era of Jenkinson’s time was the first moment of fragmentation in documentary history, the next moment of major disruption, according to Eastwood, occurred during the advent of the welfare state. The first fragmentation occurred as a result of increased efforts to secure national security by figuring out how to optimally mobilize industrial resources and manpower, which created reams of records usually in the form of memos and correspondences. The second fragmentation occurred due to government intervention into just about all areas of human activity, creating paper trails for all citizens. Finally, this emphasis on human activity forced archivists into realizing that all records are products of human activity, and that the use of records will change because human activity is a mutable thing. This observation made it imperative for archivists to get a hold of records basically from the moment of their creation in order to understand and describe their original purposes, because provenance itself changed meaning. Instead of having a fixed meaning as being the result of some original and special dispensation, provenance itself  became “mutable and multifaceted”

Eastwood demonstrates his allegiance to postmodernism by stating that archives are not sources of truth, that they only have meaning relative to the user or reader of the archives. In this way, archives represent “traces of thought, expression, and activity.” Eastwood would immediately have archivists give up any conception of records serving as evidence of reality (being of “evidentiary value”), and instead have archivists focus on contextualizing memories that are triggered when readers select and use the archives.

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