UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The knowledge base and archival professionalism in North America : a political history Schaffer, Roy Conrad


The thesis seeks to examine the extent to which the archival conceptual base has changed over time in order to ensure the field's continuing relevance to contemporary economic, social and intellectual circumstances. The investigation focuses on the profession's own definition of its knowledge requirements in the context of profession building professionalism and the related development of educational programs in North America. The educational requirements of the archivist have moved from those of the law officer of the European Renaissance, to the historian/records keeper of the nineteenth century, to the records manager and information professional of the late twentieth century. As the profession became more sophisticated and self-aware it began to define its knowledge areas, and ultimately supported the creation of university-based programs of education. In North America the development of the conceptual base has been a largely twentieth century phenomenon. The archivists of Canada and the United States initially adopted the contemporary European model of the archivist as scientific historian with appropriate historical training. As archives were viewed as agencies in support of historical research and archivists enjoyed some prestige as historians, this relationship was relevant and practical. However, as the demands of records keeping mounted with the growing complexity of the documentary heritage it became clear that historical training and historical thinking were no longer adequate to the task of producing competent archivists. North American archivists began to recognize the need to develop concepts and approaches relevant to the handling of large bodies of contemporary information in a variety of formats. A knowledge base unique to the field and to the North American situation, began to be developed. The profession, through the establishments of its own professional associations, became self-aware and recognized the need to find institutions capable of refining and transferring this body of knowledge. Like other professions, it recognized the importance of locating advanced professional education in the university, both in the interests of the elaboration of the conceptual base and in support of the field's own claims to genuine professional status. The development of programs of graduate education in archives in North America served to enhance the intellectual flexibility and dynamism of the field. It has yet to resolve all of the questions around the appropriate intellectual foundations of the field and the future of archives vis a vis the demands of the field's role in the management of information and cultural resources. Discussion continues as to the most relevant sources for professional knowledge and expertise, though there has developed a widespread acceptance of a distinct form of "archival thinking" based on the unique foci of archival work. As with all other professions, competitive pressures and changing environmental circumstances have fundamentally shaped and will continue to profoundly influence the ideas and institutions of the field.

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