From finding the archives to the archival multiverse

In a presentation at last year’s Australian Society of Archivist’s conference, Professor Sue McKemmish called for a ‘true national archive’. I thought originally that she was talking about creating a total archive, along the lines of the Canadian system, or possibly the UK’s National Archives and National Manuscript Commission, an idea that I think is worth exploring further. From doing some research I think, instead, that she was looking at her work on the archival multiverse.  The archival multiverse  :

encompass[es]  the pluralism of evidentiary texts (records in multiple forms and cultural contexts), memory-keeping practices and institutions, bureaucratic and personal motivations, community perspectives and needs, and cultural and legal constructs ( Gilliland and McKemmish, 2011 –

In this paradigm, archives and archivists work in multidisciplinary research areas to identify and research archival records to support current societal dilemmas and, if I am understanding this properly, work to ensure that societies and cultures that are unrepresented in traditional archives are somehow documented and supported so that they too are recognised and benefit from that research.

However, to really be able to identify what is not represented in the archives, we must first know what we have, who cares for it, and how it can be accessed. The various archival registries I mentioned the other day are a good place to start, but may only be accessible by those who know where to look. Earlier today someone pointed to the somewhat stunted list of art galleries and museums in Australia on wikipedia.  The list for archives is even smaller. To paraphrase a more famous archivist, it could be said that, “If it is not in wikipedia, young Jedi, it does not exist”. Clearly, archivists need to not only create descriptions of their institutions, but also to share those descriptions as widely as possible, because only then will we be able to work at the broadest levels of the records continuum.



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Archivist, historian, avid reader

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