Reconnecting Mind and Matter: Materiality in Archival Theory and Practice
Rekrut, Alicia (Ala)
Rekrut, Alicia (Ala). Reconnecting Mind and Matter: Materiality in Archival Theory and Practice; A Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Arts, Department of History (Archival Studies), Joint Masters Program, University of Manitoba/University of Winnipeg. Winnipeg, July 2009.
This thesis considers the assumptions and beliefs of the archival profession to reconceptualize how materiality is related to contextuality, and thereby reveal the “mind” within the material (or immaterial) form and reconnect records' materiality with their archival value. It begins by describing how the materiality of archival records goes beyond physical form or material composition to include connections with the non-material processes which have shaped records, such as their relationships and associations with people, events, places of origin and other objects. As such, records are historical evidence of actions arising from within particular contexts, and remain participants in present human activity. Recognizing this evidential role for materiality enables fuller understanding of the contexts which produced particular records, and more careful consideration of how different representations of records shape both the questions that can be asked of records and the stories which the records can tell. In “traditional” archival theory, the materiality of records has usually been assumed to be incidental to, and largely disconnected from, their “intellectual” or “information” value, but over the last three decades archival theory has been re-oriented around the concepts of records as evidence of the dynamic contextual milieux of their creation. This contextualist shift in understanding records supports an increased and overt acknowledgement of materiality as integral to archival value: materiality is integral to context, content and structure, which together define records as records, and records as evidence. Materiality provides unique physical and sensory information about records' context of creation and ongoing use, as well as information about the written, image or aural content conveyed by the records. The thesis goes on to outline the inadequacy of current archival practice for addressing and protecting the evidential possibilities within records' materiality. These practices have not developed to fully reflect the contextualist perspective and to support access to, or preservation of, materiality as part of the preservation of archival value. If only content is conceived to carry value, than the meaning embedded in the materiality of records will not routinely be appraised, documented, or considered in other archival functions or management decisions. Methodologies cited as best practices in mainstream archival preservation literature are object-oriented rather than context-oriented: they are focused on managing the longevity of the individual material components of records without consideration for the relationship between materiality and archival value. By attempting to manage matter separately from the mind behind their creation, the evidential possibilities of records' materiality – and, by extension, their archival value – is at risk of loss. The thesis concludes with suggestions for adjustments to archival practices to bring them into alignment with the goal of preserving those aspects of records which contribute to their archival value, and reconnecting mind with matter.