Thursday, 18 July 2013

Article Review: Early Records of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Article Review
Title: Early Records of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author: Harold T. Pinkett
Publication: American Archivist, Vol. 25, No. 4, October 1962 (407-416)

As I start the process of writing my first scholarly article, I understand that I will need a robust literature review. The paper will be a case study about the process of defining and institutionalizing an archive at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum. Among many challenges, I struggled with the process of incorporating accretions, meaning new deposits of similar materials. With this in mind, I used accretions as a keyword search and came up with several articles in the American Archivist. I am a big believer in signs, so the fact that an article from the prolific writer and first Black archivist at the United States National Archives, Harold R. Pinkett, was in search results, I think that I am on the right track.

This article is about the state of the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century and the laws that governed their administration. Pinkett wrote the article in 1962 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the department’s archives. Even though there are estimates of over 39,000 pieces of correspondence going through the office per year, only a minimal amount of original records were actually kept between 1862 and 1879. To the department’s credit, they compiled comprehensive annual reports which captured the bulk of information from the times, and many of their key intellectual contributors and administrators had personal collections that were preserved by local and private archival organizations.  Into the 1890’s record retention improved so much that the department’s leadership cited a federal statute from February 16, 1889 which allowed departments from the executive office to dispose of unnecessary documents, in order to deal with the abundant telegrams. On March 4, 1907, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture initiated an act to give special authority to the Department of Agriculture to dispose of records without petitioning Congress, this was the beginning of their record retention schedules. Both of these pieces of legislation were superseded by the National Archives Act in 1934 which centralized federal record keeping and established the role of archivist for the United States as the chief administrator.

Unfortunately this article did not give me any information about dealing with accretions. However, I am pleased to have come across it because it gave me more of a context about the historical trajectory of archives in the United States, which will come in handy as I sit for the certified archivist exam in 27 days, yikes!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Article Review: Archival Training in a Changing World

Article Review
Title: Archival Training in a Changing World
Author: Angelika Menne-Haritz
Publication: The American Archivist, Vol. 63, No. 2 (pp. 341-352)

This article is about the theoretical and pedagogical practices of the Marburg Archives School in Germany. The author claims that in the constant bickering between history and library science, archival science has earned its place as an independent discipline, which has led to a new set of demands to be placed upon archival instruction programs. I recently read Randall Jimerson’s article concerning the instructional methodology in Western Washington University’s archival science program and was wondering how other schools approached the topic. The beginning of Menne-Haritz’ article discusses how archives specifically and history in general are shaped by ideas of memory and oblivion and enforced by laws alternately protecting privacy and access. The skill of the archivist lies in the ability to be an interface and refrain from “adopting the same biases of the creators”. The Marburg Archives School uses a three pronged approach in their program; pre-employment education, continued training, and archival research. Although the article does not explicitly state the nature of an internship or the school’s commitment to post graduate employment or connectivity with its students, it implies just as much. The students are trained in the basics of the profession, experience the problems of daily archival work, and participate in the production of new knowledge through archival research activities. The author does state that it is this cycling through the curriculum that informs the coursework in subsequent years and gives examples of student projects and research that have had an impact over time. As I did not have an archival concentration in my MLS program, I can attest to the difficulty of trying to put the pieces together on my own. My practical experience has been invaluable, but gaining this experience while simultaneously learning about archival terminology, processes, and history would have been ideal. Comparing the WWU program with Marburg, I would say that they are different in description, 6-7 broad learning outcomes at WWU and 3 major ones at Marburg; their final products are fairly similar. They both have an emphasis the importance of archives as an independent discipline, and how critical it is for instruction to resemble the actual practice of working in the archives.