UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Archival theory and oral history documents MacDonald, Wilma


This study was undertaken to examine in which circumstances archival theory, method and practices may be applied to oral history documents, with regard to appraisal and arrangement and description procedures, and in which circumstances they may not. With the ever increasing quantity of oral history documents being created today, there has been little acknowledgement that oral history collections form a significant portion of archival holdings, and a corresponding lack of archival literature to assist the archivist in dealing with these documents. Oral history documents have often been isolated from any evidence that they form part of the organic and natural activity of a person, organization or institution. An analysis of how the oral history documents were created will reveal whether an archival approach is in order. Archival fonds provide evidence of the day-to-day activity of their creator (juridical or personal) and may include oral history documents integrated with the other record forms created by an individual, organization, corporation or government department. A collection, on the other hand, does not provide evidence of the day-to-day activity of its creator but is rather a body of historiographical information, focusing on a variety of subjects, created for the sake of posterity. Different standards of appraisal apply to these two cases. Archival practices of appraisal can be applied only to archival documents, and not to collections. If the oral history documents are removed from their natural office of accumulation and are isolated as sources of information about the past, they are better treated as a collection. The identification of the fundamental difference between an archival fonds and a collection is essential in the archival treatment of oral history documents and must be the first step in their handling. In order to appraise oral history documents within an archival fonds a number of questions need to be answered: who created the oral history documents, for what purpose were the oral history documents created, what relationships do the oral history documents have with other records, do the oral history documents fall within the acquisition policy of the archives, are there any technical considerations which influence appraisal, and considering the answers to all of these questions, what is the cost benefit analysis? The answers to these questions will determine whether the oral history documents are archives. The value of certain documents alone does not make them archival, and the same is true for oral history documents. The question of whether oral history documents ought to be acquired by archival institutions depends on the policy of the institution. When an archives determines what their acquisition policy is with regard to oral history documents — whether they will acquire collections or restrict themselves to only those oral history documents which form part of an archival fonds — the application of Rules for Archival Description (RAD) is an important part of the description process. The application of RAD to all forms of records which come within the custody of an archives will distinguish whether they are part of a fonds or not, and if oral history documents form part of an archives holdings they are no exception.

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