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Chapter 5 February 1, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Chapter 5.

Chapter 5 presents a case for archives as agents or servants of “the public good,” focusing on four themes:

  • Accountability of political and social leaders,
  • Open government,
  • Social justice, and
  • Diversity and identity.

The discussion of these topics is supported by references to the uses–and misuses–of archives and records by individuals, governments, corporations, and political entities. I was familiar with many, but not all, of these examples, but I still found this chapter engaging.  I would be surprised if anyone argues that archives don’t derive power from their inherent ability to support these four goals (although, please, by all means, argue away!).   Although I don’t think I’m quibbling when I note that there’s a difference–not made clear in the text–between the power of records and the power of archives. For example, the records preserved on the backup tapes in the PROFs case, the Enron records, the Nazi records seized by Allied troops and the records of the Khmer Rouge prison system were never selected for preservation in an archives–quite the opposite. These were active records, still under the control of their creating organizations prior to being seized. They may have subsequently been transferred to archives, but they did not continue to exist because of the conscious decision of an archivist. (I think this issue has been raised in regard to previous chapters as well.) Does this detract from the larger argument about the power of archives?  I don’t think so, but what do you think?

For me, this was the most successful chapter so far, probably because the examples used are concrete and drawn primarily from recent history. And of course because I’m drawn to the notion of archives being used for the public good. What was your reaction to this chapter?