UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Business archives : historical developments and future prospects Hives, Christopher


This thesis attempts to identify the reasons why business archives have not been widely developed in North America and to suggest the changes which are necessary to correct the situation. Although this study addresses itself specifically to the experience of business archives, many of the issues it discusses can easily be related to other forms of corporate archives such as those, for example, of a municipality, university, labour union, or hospital. All corporate archives confront the common problem that the practical value of an archival programme must be clearly demonstrated. This usually involves justification based primarily on administrative rather than cultural criteria. Therefore, this study aims overall to place business archives within a broader discussion of the purposes which archives ought to serve in our community. The underlying theme of this thesis is the need to formulate a more comprehensive view of the role of archives than has been evident in the past, one which is sufficiently flexible to respond to the changing and diverse requirements of modern society. This requires that the archivist accept a broader role than he accepted in the past, when he often served as a passive custodian patiently awaiting the arrival of "retired" documents. An analysis of the development of business archives illustrates that a strictly historical criterion for maintaining records has met with only limited success in the corporate community. Rather than attempting to convince businessmen as to the cultural benefits (important as they are) to be derived from the establishment of an archival programme, it might be more prudent to emphasize new potential services which could be rendered to the sponsoring agencies. In exploring this proposition the thesis first considers the elements influencing the historical growth of business archives and then suggests potential new areas into which corporate archivists might move. The study also discusses the ramifications of these changes for issues such as appraisal and access and, finally, identifies those factors which will be particularly important in determining the future success of business archives. In assuming such a broad approach to the study of corporate archives, the thesis raises some fundamental questions about the orientation of the archival profession and, as such, may contribute to the formulation of archival theory.

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