Disquiet in the archives: archivists make tough calls with far-reaching consequences – they deserve our support
Stuart Kells, Adjunct Professor, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, La Trobe University explains why for technological, ethical and political reasons, the world’s archivists are suddenly very busy. Advances in digital imaging and communications are feeding an already intense interest in provenance, authorship and material culture. Two recent discoveries – a woman’s name scratched in the margins of an 8th-century manuscript, and John Milton’s annotations in a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio held in the Free Library of Philadelphia – are examples of how new tools are revealing new evidence, and how distant scholars are making fascinating connections. At the same time, and even more importantly, the holdings of archives, libraries and museums – “memory institutions” – are being scrutinised as the world grapples with legacies of racism, imperialism, slavery and oppression. Some of the holdings speak to heinous episodes and indefensible values. And some of them were flat-out stolen.