Records and archives have been in existence since mankind acquired the ability to record information in writing. The earliest keeping of records and archives can be traced to the Ancient Civilisations when records of birth, property, law, money' tax and official and private transactions began to be kept to facilitate the conduct of government business, and for education, religion and family purposes. The medium on which this information was recorded differed from society to society as well as from age to age ranging from the clay tablets of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires of the third millennium to the wooden tablets that found their way into Greece, the papyrus scrolls of Egypt and the parchment and vellum of Medieval Europe.
The reasons why records and archives were kept were very much clear. To prove your right to the possession of a certain piece of land you needed title deeds; to determine the size of population being governed and therefore the taxes that should be collected you required records of birth and death; to enforce government laws and regulations it was necessary to keep a record of the laws, decrees and edicts. The keeping of records and archives was therefore not a luxury but a necessity on which depended one' s ability to continue to rule and to have rights and privileges. The records and archives were also preserved in order to prove the rights and privileges of those who were being governed. In Roman Egypt, for instance, every provincial capital had a central record office known as a demosia bibliotheke where officials were required to deposit certain records relating to census, tax, land and other official transactions. These record offices were open to the public who could come and inspect the records.
The growth and development of records and archives has however not been uniform throughout the world. As with most other things some societies gained certain capabilities earlier than others. In respect to records and archives those societies that developed their organisational structures earlier often developed comparative recording infrastructures to document their activities. The capability to keep records and archives was thus attained first by those societies that learnt to write and record. While these societies did not develop in isolation as is evidenced by the record keeping practices in Roman Egypt which had borrowed elements from the Roman and Asian Empires, nevertheless the nature of the records and archives ensured that to a large extent each society had its own record and archive keeping practices that were uniquely different from those of other societies.
This is not surprising for it is the essential and distinguishing nature of records and archives. Records and archives are the by-product of the activities of a particular entity. While their creation may be a deliberate and controlled activity they are however not created for their own sake in the way that someone writes a book or a story. They are the residue of certain transactions whose nature can differ so widely from governing to conducting business. manufacturing products, selling goods and managing money, materials and people. In all these activities records and archives are an essential element but not the primary reason for the undertaking of the activity. Since activities generate information, this information must be organised. and managed and it is this that has resulted in the rise and establishment of the discipline of records management and archives administration.
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