Archives and accountability

This was the central theme of the UK and Ireland annual conference of the Archives and Records Association (the professional body for archivists) which met in Cardiff this autumn, with over 200 delegates.

The conference explored the authenticity and reliability of archival records. Talks ranged from their role in the Hillsborough Panel report, including  allegations of doctored records of the football disaster, to the role of archives as a ‘trusted repository’ in areas of conflict, such as Northern Ireland and the American black civil rights movement, both in recent memory. ARA_breakoutAs well as the main talks, there was an opportunity to participate in small break-out groups, which discussed issues affecting the profession – including workforce diversity, professional membership, collecting policies, and archival descriptive standards.

The first keynote speech was from Sarah Tyacke, previously Chief Executive of the National Archives at Kew in London, and member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The second was from Dr Jones Lukose Ongalo, Head of Archives at the International Criminal Court, The Hague. ARA_LukoseHe described the many precautions taken to ensure the security and authenticity of its war crimes’ evidence, given that the ICC is the world’s first wholly digital archive. They were joined by a wide range of speakers from organisations based all over the world.

Talks on conservation took place alongside those on archives, with both conservators and archivists encouraged to attend one another’s sessions. Conservation speakers included Jane Henderson from Cardiff University (School of History, Archaeology and Religion), Sarah Paul from CyMAL, (the National Assembly’s agency for archives, museums and libraries in Wales) and Emma Dadson, Director of Harwell Restoration.

Relating the theme of authenticity and accountability back to our own work context was not too difficult. We use examples from our archives in workshops with our students, to question and challenge the idea of ‘evidence’ (how it is preserved, and how reliably), and to highlight the difference between responsibly curated archival documents, and the potential transiency and unreliability of sources found online.

For more information, please visit the Archives and Record Association conference page.

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