Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The McDonaldisation of Archives

We in SQA thought we had something of a monopoly when it comes to inventing witty and apposite terms to describe events and trends in archives. We were wrong.

Writing in the Education Guardian of 5 September 2006, in an article entitled Preservation hoarders and subtitled An unpromising-looking archive is doing much to save precious material for future generations, John Crace quotes the term McDonaldization as meaning a threat presented by globalisation to minority cultures in Asia, the Pacific area and Africa.

George Ritzer

In fact, the term was coined by George Ritzer in his book The McDonaldization of Society in which he describes a process by which society takes on the characteristics of a fast food restaurant. We are not quite sure Ritzer’s scientific concept applies to this scenario perfectly as McDonald’s and therefore McDonaldisation in the popular view are more usually associated with the popularisation of junk food, litter and protests by animal rights activists, but it will do.

Crace briefly mentions some of the recent calamities that have struck cultural heritage in the Lebanon, the Pacific Rim following the tsunami and the war in Iraq. However, he goes on to paint a picture of accumulating but largely unpublicised damage to archives resulting from political mischief and financial neglect, especially in areas of the world where the source culture is likely to become extinct within the next century.

In order to tackle the long-term threat to minority languages, the Lisbet Rausing Charitable Foundation set up the endangered languages programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. It has now gone further and instigated the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), hosted by the Asia, Pacific and Africa collections at the British Library, in order to preserve written and photographic documents.

Graham Shaw, head of the department, is quoted as saying Unesco's Memory of the World Programme has done some fantastic work in this field. But then duplication of effort is something we in the archives profession know all about (see our earlier blog Bollocks, bullshit and balderdash)

In all of this we feel some sense of irony that the partial destruction of the Iraqi archives seems to have been connived at by British national archives institutions (see our earlier blog Archives and the State) and we continue to express concern at the implications of enforced metrication on British archival finding aids and our printed literary heritage (see our previous blog Save our Cultural Heritage).

Thus while there may indeed be a threat to minority world cultures and archives, there is also a calculated political threat to the cultural heritage and archives of the United Kingdom, the home of the English language, mother of parliaments and founder of the rule of law.

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