Session 18: Perspectives on Being an Archival Academic

Moderator: Robert Riter (University of Alabama)
Talking is Very Old, Writing is Not: Archival Writing and Personal Strategies / Richard Cox (University of Pittsburgh)

There has been an explosion of new research and writing about archives in the past generation. Nevertheless, both archival academics and practitioners often find it difficult to engage in successful writing strategies. Indeed, writing is hard work, and doing it in a way that leads to publication is an even harder task. The title of this paper comes from Margaret Atwood: “talking is very old, writing is not. Most people learn to talk when they are infants, but many people never learn to read. Reading is decoding, and in order to do it you have to learn a purely arbitrary set of markings, an abstract formula.” Since reading is essential to good writing, the challenges of learning to write are obvious. In this presentation, I am drawing on many years of experience in writing and publishing, as well as considerable reading of writers’ memoirs, advice books on writing, literary studies, and other perspectives on the experience of writing in order to offer a set of approaches that can be pursued in a lifetime of scholarship and practice. Writing is a craft or art to be learned, and learning demands attention to the audience, having clear objectives, being an avid reader, and the ability to accept criticism and to learn from such criticism. Writing is something that can be learned over the course of a career, but it is not measured solely in getting tenure or achieving the rank of professor. Even with the deluge of books and articles about archives, archivists, and archival work, we have substantial gaps in archival writing. And these gaps are not just topical (although we have plenty of those). While archivists incessantly write for each other, there are large segments of the public, other disciplines, and their own faculty colleagues who they ignore – making understanding of the archival mission all that more difficult to achieve. Fortunately, the tools and resources for improving one’s writing are both broad and deep; discipline and realistic strategies are all that are required to improve one’s writing and, ultimately, to achieve success in publishing.

Negotiating a Career as an Archival Academic / Sigrid McCausland (Charles Sturt University)

Gaining your PhD is the first step towards an academic career. It is a significant personal achievement, but your future achievements will often be as part of a team and in a competitive environment. Academic employment today is precarious and universities are complex organisations which can be difficult to understand. Reaching your goal of a tenured or continuing position will require persistence and the development of skills in areas beyond archival research and teaching. At this point you may be a mentee and later in your career you may become a mentor to newer entrants to the field. In all your work as an academic relationships with colleagues and with university administrators as well as with students will be critical to your success.

This paper draws on the literature of career preparation and the experience of early career professionals, in particular the work of Marian Hoy (2010), to sketch a roadmap for the beginning archival academic. It also draws on the author’s experience of the Australian academic environment over the last three decades.


Hoy, M. (2010). Through their eyes: Experiences of early professional learners in collecting institutions. (PhD), University of Canberra.   

The Contribution of Archival Studies to the i-School Movement? / Gregory Leazer (UCLA)

The new Schools, Departments and Colleges of Information—the iSchools—are relatively new phenomena in universities. Most iSchools, whether they acknowledge it or not, are the outgrowth of two merged forces: many started as professional training programs for librarians, and the embracing of information technologies, especially those such as the Web that began to transform social and academic life with the period of most rapid change occurring in the 1990s.

This paper attempts to answer the question of “what is the contribution of archival studies to the iSchool?” A study of archival practice, and the training of archivists, makes the following contributions:

  • Expanding the definition of information, and uses. Schools of information have focused on a narrow range of information resources. Librarianship and information science both have presumptive models of information types, particularly books in the former, and scholarly or professional resources in the latters. Archival studies contributes to theories of evidence, of cultural shaping and use of records, and the contribution of various documentary forms to the development of knowledge. By broadening our understanding of information resources, archival studies gives further definition to the basic phenomena that is the presumptive focus of a field dedicated to information.
  • Preservation of and access to the full cultural record. Understanding the role of archivists in providing access to diverse document types within the cultural record leads to an understanding of the kinds of values and ethics of information professionals. Masters programs at the center of many iSchools have struggled to define the various “information professions”; archival studies helps shape an iSchool perspective on these professions by contributing to the core values associated with ethical access to information for various kinds of communities.
  • Expansion of traditional user groups. Archival studies can serve as a model for rethinking the kinds of audiences that traditionally use our information services. Archives have begun to reach out to new kinds of people who use archives. Perhaps more importantly, this work has lead to developments about the ways we conceptualize the communities who use our various systems and the assumptions we have about information users. The field of archival studies provides iSchools with enlarged sense of professional settings and occupations.
  • Archives, information systems and information retrieval (IR). Important questions remain unanswered about the characteristics of diverse record types for the development of information systems. Traditional IR practice is focused on short items whose principal features is relatively simple declarative language, particularly on the web. Understanding the characteristics of archival documents—fragmentary narratives with complex associations—could lead to the development of improved information retrieval systems.
  • Contributions to interdisciplinarity and to scholarship. Phrases like the “archival moment” and the “archival turn” indicate a general trend toward archives within the humanities and social sciences. These include investigations of memory practices, representation of cultural minorities in the historical record, the role of curatorial voice, human rights and access to documentation.

Ultimately, recognizing the contributions of archival studies to iSchools will lead us to a fuller articulation of the identity of iSchools and setting them on surer conceptual footing.