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Concepts of provenance of records in archival theory and their impact on archival arrangement and appraisal


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Ivanović, Jozo. (2017). Concepts of provenance of records in archival theory and their impact on archival arrangement and appraisal. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Information Science.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij informacijskih i komunikacijskih znanosti) [mentor Stančić, Hrvoje].

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Concepts of provenance and original order play a key role in archival theory and practice since their formation and codification in the nineteenth century. Taken from, at that time, the dominant methodology and philosophy of historical research, and introduced into archival practice as a response to the failure of other methods for organizing and processing materials in archival institutions of that time – increasingly faced with the pressure of amounts of materials of different provenances and types – provenance and original order have become the key concepts of archive theory. They kept that status until now, although modified since then in various ways, despite of a number of insights demonstrating their limits and very conditioned possibilities of implementation in their traditional formulations. Their status has been relativized to some extent, but this process hasn’t offered new concepts. Instead, the criticism is mostly converted into new formulations of old principles, ending in a very broad and diffuse concept of the context, which is now very popular substitute to the old terms, and which makes the boundary separating the archival documents from any other kind of text less secure. The new formulation of the key archival concepts simply states that the meaning of archives, just as the meaning of anything else, depends of the context, be it the context of creation of records or a more inclusive definition of the context. This research tries to examine conditions that enabled those principles to acquire status of founding principles of the archival science, and to see what made them resistant to many convincing analyses of their limited applicability and incapacity to describe accurately the very concept of the archive. In last three decades the concept of the archive was exposed to postmodern questioning about its nature and, especially, about its claim to be the primary place for legitimation of the truth claims about the reality of the past. The opening of the archival discourse - traditionally closed to the influences from abroad - to the influences from other disciplines, has contributed to the deconstruction of ideological substrate of the old principles. It also contributed to the reformulation of the principles, but in a way that allows that substrate to remain where it was. This resistance of the principles to criticism is explained as a consequence of the fact that they are something that is required from the archive, desirable and forced effect of the archive, not its intrinsic feature. To test this hypothesis, this research examines the history of ideas about archives since the sixteenth century to the present, with two goals: to identify concepts of the archive, if any, that doesn’t depend on the principle of provenance and the ‘ideology of trace’, which seems to be the force behind the principles, and, second, to analyze historical roots and interpretations of the principles, in order to identify the background which infuses the principles with power again and again, despite all criticism. The analysis starts with Jacob von Rammingen and his elaborated explication of the archive and its role in the society. His concept of the archive proved to be deeply rooted in a political ideology of that time, and a concept of the society which justified that ideology. Based on that interpretative framework, he conceived the archive as a tool for political action, to be used by its owner to achieve common social benefits, peace and stability in the society. This concept of the archive didn’t need any other founding principle, like principle of provenance, because records were not considered to be primary traces of the past, and their meaning was secured by the framing ideology. In the pre-romantic period other concepts of ‘non-principle-of-provenance’ archive are also identified, such as Bonifacio’s one, which posits the archive in the framework of humanistic vision of the man and its development. Other kinds of the archival concepts, where the principle of provenance seems to be ineffective, for other reasons, are found in contemporary experiments with the archive in the arts. Unlike pre-romantic concepts of the archive, free of the ideology of trace, these new concept suffer from the ineffectiveness of the promising principle of provenance, which can be illustrated by the struggle of artist, like Boltanski, with the impossibility to archive their works or lives in the ‘original’ state or meaning. It is argued that this difference originates from a void place uncovered by removing effectiveness of the ideology of trace from the archive, without replacing it with any other legitimating concept or ideology. Traditional archival principles of provenance and original order originate from romantic philosophy of history and its concepts of the individual historical development of human communities, above all of nations. This concept of history has placed the truth of human essence and meaning in the past: individual, idiosyncratic, and legitimizing past, proper to every single community, and unrepeatable. The source of the truth was historicized, and this is the place where the ideology of trace got its power. On this basis, hermeneutic methodology of historical research has been developed in the first half of nineteenth century, and subsequently transformed into theoretical basis of the initially pragmatic archival principle of provenance. The origin of the principle still resonates in its newer reformulations, be it functional or societal provenance, or simply context, referencing the source of the truth in the individuality of legitimizing past. This analysis of the principles served in this research also to evaluate effects of the application of principles in two basic fields of archival practice: processing of the archival material and archival appraisal. The concept of fonds, initially mainly a pragmatic solution to the problem of dealing with heterogeneous material being accumulated in the centralized archival repositories, was - under the influence of theoretical aspects of the principle - upgraded to the status of a true representation of its creator and his historical significance. Accordingly, finding aids were increasingly seen as representations of fonds as true representations of the past. Such approach entered, subsequently, the archival deontology, and influenced development of archival information systems and rather late standardization of descriptive practice. As to the appraisal, the influence of principles of provenance and original order can be seen in a negative approach, which has dominated in discussions about this topic until the second half of the twentieth century, in the inability to define broadly acceptable positive selection criteria, distrust in any outer source of values, such as supposed users’ needs or common societal values, and in differing opinions about validity of some newer approaches to the appraisal, such as documentation strategies, participatory appraisal, or appraisal in a way of archival activism.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: archive, provenance, romantism, archival theory, historicism, archival appraisal, archival description, original order, postmodernism, collective memory
Subjects: Information sciences
Information sciences > Archivistics and documentation
Departments: Department of Information Science
Supervisor: Stančić, Hrvoje
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij informacijskih i komunikacijskih znanosti
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2017 09:15
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2017 09:15

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