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 Both of these pieces of legislation were superseded by the National Archives Act in 1934 which centralized federal record keeping and established the role of archivist for the United States as the chief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!

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