Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Irish Archives

There is a growing array of publications related to archives covering every aspect of professional practice, every format, and every nation. Ailsa C. Holland and Kate Manning, eds., Archives and Archivists (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006), ISBN 13: 978-1-84682-016-8, is a handsome volume celebrating thirty-five years of the postgraduate diploma in archival studies program at University College Dublin and seeking to “reflect briefly on the history of archives in Ireland and to describe the circumstances in which the education of archivists, awareness of archives and the association of concerned parties became a reality” (p. 9). The editors indicate that the volume is “intended to stimulate debate among archivists in Ireland by providing them with a forum in which to show their opinions, concerns and research and foster livelier discussions among archivists in Ireland in general” (p. 10). However, in this shrinking global society, archivists in other countries will want to take a peek into what is going on in Ireland.

The essays range over the landscape of archival work. There are discussions of digitization, administering medieval and early modern manuscripts, a user study at the University College Dublin archives, the development of archival education, the development of Roman Catholic archives, archival ethics codes, archival development in municipal and county governments, corporate archives and outreach, a comparative study of Irish and South African archival development, the administrative of ancient records in the Chester Beatty Library, the issue of publishing private diaries (in this case, those of Lindsay Anderson), the work of John MacErlean in establishing the Irish Jesuit Archive, architectural records, the purposeful destruction of archives and records in war and genocide, and the importance of records to private citizens in their everyday life.

There are a lot of rich and interesting ideas about the Irish archival community, but the volume could have used some effort to organize the essays into some central themes (historical development, modern technologies and their challenges, archival education, and so forth). As it is there are kernels of fascinating topics to pursue that get incidental mentions in the various essays. Marianne Cosgrave and David Sheehy commence their essay on the Roman Catholic archival tradition with this notion: “Ireland is a country with an ancient manuscript heritage but with an adolescent archival tradition” (p. 76). This is something that could have used a lot more discussion. In fact, the volume could have been strengthened with a longer introductory essay, a bibliographic essay about Irish archives and history, and a more specific target.

Despite these quibbles, this is a volume to be read and added to the archival reference shelf.