Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Bollocksian Theory of Archives

Regular readers of this blog will already be familiar with the irreverent views of Garth Bland, county archivist of Loamshire. However, little do they realise Garth's views are based not on spontaneous or cranky rejections of all views contradictory of his own but on a personal philosophy inspired by his long career in archives, his Bollocksian Theory of Archives.

Not by nature a cynic, Garth's outlook has been much influenced, many would say aggravated, by a diet of the journal of the Society of Archivists [sic], over-attendance at Society of Archivists [sic] conferences and regional meetings and by contact with ambitious pseudo-intellectuals keen to foist their early career moves and love of jargon on archivists working at the coal face.

Scots Bollocks are the Best

Essentially the theory is this. If you can publish bollocks at an early stage in your career you will be propelled that much further in the profession that much faster. If you can encourage the publication of such bollocks, you can show you have already arrived. If you can persuade your readership and fellow professionals (or more likely quasi-professionals) that your own bollocks or someone else's are valid, you can influence the profession.

Once the profession has been thus influenced, bollocks can be happily taken for granted, perpetuated, made the subject of mutual congratulation at conferences and meetings and even serve as the basis for recruitment and selection, ensuring the succession, at the same time stifling opposition and criticism and achieving the essential outcomes of political correctness, groupthink and totalitarianism.

We thought we would test Garth's theory. Believing in fairness, critical analysis and objectivity, we commissioned Jacinta Sprout-Davies, Assistant Archivist under Priscilla Dyke at Norrey Record Office, to interview Garth at Loamshire Record Office. (Readers may recall from our earlier blog on continuing professional development that Jacinta has been qualified for two years, having previously worked for the European Commission. She is a graduate in sociology, holds the postgraduate archives diploma and the Diploma in Advanced Political Correctness from the Institute of Political Correctness in London. During her student vacations she obtained valuable experience of dealing with the general public at McDonald's in Brussels.)

Firstly, Jacinta asked Garth how he could be so confident in the validity of theory.

My dear Jacinta. As anyone fully versed in Jeninsonian principles is aware the archives profession is founded on solid theory, that theory itself based on solid practice. I hold that any theoretical outpouring, unless also based on sound experience and practice, must be bollocks. Why attempt to advance on an already sound theory?

And why are these outpourings almost universally couched in a jargonistic style and more than generously punctuated with unexpanded abbreviations and acronyms? Not to impress, surely?

Unersuaded, Jacinta asked for evidence of the publication of bollocks in the context of archives. Garth cited the following paragraph in a paper entitled The Impact of Technological Change on Archival Theory published by the InterPARES Project, School of Library, Archival and Information Studies of the University of British Columbia:

The primary contribution of diplomatics to the understanding of electronic records lies in its analysis of the attributes of a record, based on theoretical ideas that have evolved over centuries of study of the documentary process. By decontextualising and universalizing these attributes, the original diplomatists were able to recognize and evaluate records created over several centuries and across different juridical systems. On the basis of this understanding, the research team hypothesized that diplomatics would have been capable of guiding the recognition and identification of records generated within many hardware and software environments. The complementary contribution of archival science to the understanding of electronic records was found in its analysis of aggregations of records and their documentary and functional relationships.

Garth took a deep breath.

See what I mean? Many archivists and quasi-archivists thrive on this kind of outpouring, not only not realising how pretentious or far-removed from the real world it is but thinking anyone who questions such a style of expression is unintelligent.

Jacinta strongly disagreed. Before leaving, Garth informed her there was a vacancy at Loamshire for an assistant archivist. Jacinta thanked him but demurred.

This time the Real McCoy

Further reading on Scottish bollocks for the erudite:

Even more Scottish bollocks and NUTS2 us all

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