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close this bookArchives and Records Management for Decision Makers: a RAMP study (UNESCO; 1990; 79 pages)
View the documentPreface
View the document1. Introduction
Open this folder and view contents2. Origins of records and archives
Open this folder and view contents3. Records and archives in decision making
Open this folder and view contents4. Records management
close this folder5. Archives
View the document5.1. Provenance and sanctity of the original order
View the document5.2. Acquisition
View the document5.3. Accessioning
View the document5.4. Arrangement and description
View the document5.5. Access
View the document5.6. Priority of archives
Open this folder and view contents6. Planning for archives
Open this folder and view contents7. Legislative authority
Open this folder and view contents8. Staffing
Open this folder and view contents9. Conclusion
View the documentAppendix 1 - List of national archival institutions that responded
View the documentAppendix 2 - List of respondents to second questionnaire
View the documentAppendix 3 - Staffing levels in relation to population
 

5.1. Provenance and sanctity of the original order

When records have been appraised and found to have a permanent and enduring value they gain a new status as archives. The criteria by which they are accorded this status as well as the point at which they reach this status will vary widely according to the particular circumstances of that institution or of that country. There are also many variations as well as differences of opinion as to how these archives should be brought into the institution, processed, preserved and made available to the users.

Since the end of the eighteenth century and until the relatively recent times of the post Second World War period, there have been two guiding principles that have been universally acknowledged and applied. In the first instance archives were created by distinct entities in the natural course of conducting their business. The archives were thus related to the functions as well as the organisational units and activities of that entity. To this extent the archives could only be understood in the context of each other in so far as the minutes of meetings were related to the directives that were subsequently issued or the manner in which inquiries were dealt with. To understand the directives that were issued reference needed to be made to the minutes that gave rise to them. On the other hand these minutes were unique to this entity in spite of the fact that they could exist in multiple copies. Their uniqueness arose out of the sequence in which they were to be found within that entity and the related documentation that was generated by the entity at the time. To understand the position taken by certain officials at the meeting, or why the decisions made at the meeting were only half heartedly endorsed it would be necessary to relate the minutes to the other documentation of that entity. If these minutes were mixed up with the documentation of other units their significance was lost and it became virtually impossible to relate them to the entity that created them. To do this was, in over simplistic terms, the equivalent of tearing the third chapters of ten books, aggregating them and asking people to make sense out of them.

The rise of the principle of provenance or in its better known terminology respect des fonds was in answer to this problem and it was first enunciated by the French archivist de Wailly in the mid 19th Century. By this principle records of a distinct and separate entity were meant to be kept together as this was the only way in which the structure and functioning of that entity could be understandable. The need to keep records of one entity together led to another aspect which with time and with the ever increasing pace of record and archive generation began to cause problems. For some archivists, adhering to the principle of provenance implied describing the archives of an entity together as well as shelving or storing them together as a unit. While the description of the archives did not pose many problems, storage was a different proposition as it was very difficult to forecast the rate at which the records of certain entities were going to accumulate and therefore the amount of space that would be required in the repository to adequately cater for the records. In the 1960' s and 1970' s some institutions notably the national archival institutions of Australia and Rhodesia abandoned the second part of this principle preferring instead to maintain the unity of the archive generating entities by aggregating all the records of that particular entity in the finding aids but shelving the records at series level in terms of their accessioning sequence. The result was that while records of the same entity were grouped together in the finding aids, they were however stored at different locations in the repository. This departure from established practice stirred a great deal of controversy especially in the late 1950' s and in the following decade.

The principle of provenance had a natural sequel. If archives could only be interpreted and understood in the context of the entities that created them, then their further interpretation depended on being able to establish the way in which they were created and organised. The archives of a particular entity were related to each other by the way in which they had been organised. when they were created. The archives had an organic character and archivists therefore needed to structure the archives in their custody according to this original order. It is in this way that the principle of the sanctity of the original order was born and adhered to. In the post Second World War period there have been various modifications to the above principles to meet particular needs and requirements but to a large extent, whatever variations have been introduced have never completely nullified these principles. It is them that mainly determine the manner in which archives are arranged and described.

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