Challenging that viewpoint

Gerald Ham's The Archival Edge

The Archival Edge

To describe Jenkinson's view of archives and archivists as 'the' view within the profession until relatively recently would not be accurate.  For example, Schellenberg (USA) writing in the 1950s pointed out that Archivists do have to actively select which archives to keep, and that we cannot keep all the records that are ever created so we do have to be involved in choosing, and we cannot be completely passive.  However,  where the Jenkinson view has been challenged in this way, there is still often a prevailing underlying assumption that we should somehow choose as 'passively' as possible; reacting to what has been created that falls within our collecting remit; doing so as objectively, neutrally and impartially as we can - reflecting, facilitating, protecting not meddling and not under any circumstances 'creating'.  

A deeply insightful article called "The Archival Edge' written in the 1970s by Gerald Ham gives a flavour of some of the other ways in which the Jenkinson worldview has been challenged from both within and outside the profession.  Using the criticisms raised by others, Ham points out how our worldview in which we have seen ourselves as passive custodians actually leads to a historical record that is biased towards "the rich and powerful elements in our society—government, business, and the military—while the poor and the impotent remain in archival obscurity". He introduces the arguments put forward by an urban historian, Sam Bass Warner, to suggest that Archivists should be actively collecting data that "helps people to understand the world they live in" that can offer a "historical explanation of the major issues of our time"; and that this would mean pro-actively turning our attention to, and seeking out "a whole new world of documentary material about the lives, desires and needs of ordinary people". Ham shows that despite rallying calls for archival activism, many within the profession still hold on to a custodial view of archives preferring to view archival activism as "the half-baked" products of "archivally uninformed" minds.