Intertextuality in the Archives
Archival science is a contextual science. However, defining what context is and how
it can be represented in relation to individual records, archival aggregations, and
archives as wholes of records and relationships, continues to be a subject of debate
among archival scholars. The notion of context itself, independently of the
complexity of the object it characterizes, poses an epistemological dilemma, which
literary theorist Jonathan Culler described as follows: "Meaning is context-bound,
but context is boundless. There is no limit in principle to what might be included
in a given context [and] any attempt to codify context can always be grafted onto
the context it sought to describe, yielding a new context which escapes the previous
formulation" (Culler, 1982, cited in MacNeil, 2004, p. 200).
This contribution begins with a review of various attempts made by different
archival schools of thought to frame the "problem of context," from traditional
understandings to more recent interpretations of this key concept. It will then focus
on the "documentary context," which modern conceptualizations of diplomatics
- the centuries-old "science of the diploma" (Duranti, 1989) from which archival
science derived - discuss in relation to a specific contextual link among records
participating in the same activity, known as "archival bond" (Duranti, 1997). The
notion of archival bond, with its characteristics of naturalness, determinateness,
necessity, originality, and incrementality, encapsulates the essential properties of a
record according to a long-established archival tradition.
By borrowing from other disciplines, such as organizational studies, linguistics and
textual studies, the authors will provide insights that point to an expanded and more
dynamic view of text-context relationships, a view which better aligns with
contemporary archival paradigms invoking constructivist and situated approaches.
Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS), in particular, offers a set of concepts and analytical
tools that shed light on the social context of records creation and use, and on the
interactions among texts, activities, and agents taking place when we enact records
to accomplish our work.
The authors will argue that the notions of intertextuality (Devitt, 1991) and
intertext (Christensen, 2016), as reinterpreted by genre scholars following an
intellectual tradition that has its roots in early 20th century's semiotics, are
especially suited to enrich our understanding of collaborative actions, and the
official and unofficial texts that are the outcome and means of such actions. By
looking at intertextual relationships in the archives, archivists are able to develop an
appreciation for the mechanisms involved in the choices made by record creators
and users, an appreciation that in turn elucidates context as a situated construct.
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