arnoud glaudemans, rienk jonker and frans smit beyond the traditional bounderies of
archival theory: an interview with eric ketelaar
in my Amsterdam inaugural address I quoted American writers who claimed that
archival theory is 'much ado about shelving'. However, I have always argued that
theory is an important aspect of our profession, as stated in the first sentence of
Glaudemans' and Verburgts essay. And, coming back to the point of 'liquid' times,
as an inveterate optimist I intend to take postmodern 'liquidity' in a positive way, as
a challenge, and not - like Baumann seems to do - as something to be very sombre
EDITORS: So, to you the 'liquidity' has its dangers but also gives a range of
possibilities to improve things. We, however, adopted this term because we are
convinced that in the archival profession we need more fundamental thinking, and
that we are missing it - which was also the reason for this book.
ERIC KETELAAR: As I already said, that is what I appreciate and admire in the book;
that it is an endeavour to look beyond the traditional boundaries of archival theory,
trying to learn from other disciplines. Still, there are some disciplines missing in
your book. For instance, in my chapter in the Archival Multiverse I also mention
sociology, anthropology, performative and dance studies. One has to avoid thinking
that your book covers everything. In this sense it is 'open-ended', as can be also be
seen in the fact that some articles - e.g. Van Bussel - point out areas of further
research. Do not fall into the same trap our profession has fallen into in the past, by
fencing off the boundaries. Unless you believe - wrongly, I think - that it is only data
science, or mainly the algorithmisation of the world, we should turn to. There are
many more relevant disciplines.
EDITORS: When we started making this book in 2014, our first idea was to get
involvement from the field of information philosophy. From that community there
were not a lot of people who talked to archivists.
ERIC KETELAAR: What is striking and significant, if you look at the authors of the
articles in your book, is that you have a lot of people working in the archival field,
and very few really from outside. It shows a more general epistemological problem.
In 2012 I wrote a short piece in Archival Science about ten years of archival science.
The original idea of the journal was, that we would reach out to other disciplines.
When five years ago I checked this, I noticed how few references to archival literature
I found in non-archival journals. Thus, the interesting question remains: how, as
professionals, can we achieve a reciprocal exchange of ideas with other disciplines,
and which disciplines should be on the top of our list?
EDITORS: Perhaps we can make a distinction between two types of disciplines: one
concerning fundamentals, and structure of information, and one more concerning
use and reuse of information. For there is a difference between the two. From this
distinction we might be able to connect to other disciplines better.
ERIC KETELAAR: Instead of a book, again destined mainly for the archival
community, you could also take the articles and submit them to a journal on
psychology, anthropology, etc. - and see what happens. Everyone agrees that we
should have a multidisciplinary approach, but it is very difficult to realise. Also, the
moment you borrow concepts from other disciplines, you are often accused of gate-
crashing. A future challenge for all of us remains: how can or should we go on
inviting people from other disciplines to reflect on our discipline on the one hand,
and on the other, how can we stimulate people working in the archival field to - at
least - take note of what is happening in other disciplines? You as editors, although
implicitly, make a very strong case for information philosophy as the 'saviour'
discipline. I am not quite convinced of this. As to the concept of information, I agree
with Geoffrey Yeo that archival documents do not contain information, but that
'information is just one of many affordances obtainable from records'. So, I wonder:
what do we have to do with information philosophy? Could one be more specific as
to what the two-way influence might be, here, between archivistics and information
philosophy? Will, for instance, the keyword 'archives' be used a hundred times more
in Floridi's next book as a result of the contacts the archival profession initiated?
EDITORS: It seems that nowadays one of the themes in information philosophy, or
to be more specific, in information ethics, is on archivists as keepers of trustworthy
information, having to be more active towards the upcoming fake-news
phenomenon. The focus seems to be 'past' the function of archives in government,
towards on the 'good' exchange of big data - for instance from multinational car
companies to the medical field.
ERIC KETELAAR: In information philosophy one apparently has a false, or at least
incomplete, idea of what archival science is or could/should be. To me, Archives
(with a capital A) have nothing to do at all with post-truth (the fake-news
phenomenon). The post-truth tweets by president Trump are reliable, genuine
presidential records. That they are falsehood, is simply something else. As I have
often said, the oldest archival document in the Netherlands from the year 1000 is a
fake, a forgery (or, in diplomatic language: a seeming original). I do not think it is up
to the archivist to say: I do not want to have the false or fake ones. Then, half of the
material in the Dutch National Archives could be thrown away. It is up to the user -
the politician, the journalist, the historian - who in some years' time studies e.g. the
Trump tweets, to discover whether or not they were a representation of a false or a
true fact. However, I would propose that archival institutions and archivists could
assist in such an assessment, through answering questions like: what was the
context, what was the business process, what was the archival bond with other
documents - for instance between the tweets and records of cabinet meetings. But, I
do not think we have a particular job in evaluating factual truth or falsehood. The
value of a record is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. What is true for one may
be not true for another person. It comes down to the question of who is responsible
here. Take the records manager: does he or she have to tag the presidential tweets of
'true' or 'untrue'? I do not think so. The tweets being records is not under discussion
here. It is the same with diplomatics: you can vouch for the reliability and
authenticity of the record as such, but whether the information or the message in
that record is true or not true, is not for the records manager to decide.
EDITORS: That is exactly the difference between information philosophy and
archivistics. Like in the Manual of 1898, archivists are responsible for the object, not
for the content. When reading Floridi, you can conclude he does not focus on the
trustworthiness of the object, but on the truthfulness of the content. That is a very
big difference of the two disciplines. The question is how to build a bridge between
archives in liquid times