Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

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Natália Bolfarini Tognoli, Ana Célia Rodrigues

Last modified: 2018-06-19


Archives are the necessary and obligatory product for the functioning of any organized society. Every activity performed by an institution or individual uses records to enforce or witness a particular action. These are called records, that is, the one created or received by an entity or physical person as a result of their activities (classic archival definition). Records, therefore, serve to ensure accountability, especially in a democratic society with an obligation to account, both from an administrative and historical point of view.

Records, archival institutions, and Archival Science have evolved considerably in recent centuries, in all their aspects, as a consequence of the accumulation of increasingly dense and broad relations that exponentially increase the needs and uses of records necessary to act, negotiate and live (Delmas, 2010).

Archives can be conceived as information systems, alongside libraries. In such approach, both institutions share the purpose of organizing certain knowledge produced and recorded by society, in order to allow its portability in space and its permanence in time (Smit and Barreto 2002) and, as a consequence, to promote its most comprehensive accessibility (Guimarães and Tognoli, 2015).

Archival Science is an independent field, but knowledge organization of archives should also be considered to be a part of KO (Hjorland, 2016). In this context, we believe the discipline can benefit from the studies of Knowledge Organization (KO) and its approaches, once KO is about describing, representing, filing and organizing documents and document representations as well as subjects and concepts both by humans and by computer programs (Hjørland 2008; Tognoli et al., 2013).

As pointed out by Smiraglia (2014, 31), “archives and records repositories, like libraries, serve a critical role in their social milieus, that of preserving and disseminating the collective knowledge of their cultures.”

But what is this collective knowledge? What do we understand as knowledge in Archival Science and how do we organize it?

Tognoli et al. (2013) defined the archival knowledge as all the knowledge produced about a particular person or entity and grouped into fonds (a unit consisting of the set of records accumulated by an entity).

The respect des fonds can be understood as a principle in two levels: a) the records of the same provenance must not be mixed with those of another origin, and b) the records must be preserved in its original order if it exists. Such definition encompasses two levels of the principle: the provenance itself (i.e. the creator or receiver of record) and the original order (which states that the organization of the producing institution of records must be kept).

In the context of archival theory and practice, the principle will support the process of organization and representation of archival knowledge, serving as a guide for the execution of archival functions.

However, in the last thirty years, Archival Science has been invited to rethink its principles and methodologies, in order to deal with records production, organization and use in the digital environment. In such a specific context, currents of thought have emerged in different countries, such as the Postmodern and Integrated approaches in Canada, the Post-Custodial Archival Science in Portugal, the Records Continuum approach in Australia, and the Archival Diplomatics, in Italy.

Regarding the latter, it is observed that its studies have supported the methodologies of archival knowledge organization since the 1960s when there was an initial identification of the object of study of the Archival Science with that of the Diplomatics, namely the records (Bautier, 1961). Several studies give continuity to this relationship, especially in the late 1980s, when it became clear that information technologies and new forms of records production, organization and use would affect the work of the contemporary archivist, leading the discipline to a paradigm shift, according to Thomassen (1999).

In this new reality, it becomes important to establish the reasons behind the records creation, what are the relationships between the record and its creator, and, the intentions behind the action of recording the information. To do so, to study the record as a starting point to archival knowledge organization, based on Diplomatics, becomes the safest identification method. To be able to establish who produces it, why and for what, through the study of the documentary form is the great contribution of Diplomatics to the current archival studies.

From the examination of the parts, the archivist manages to arrive at the examination of the whole, of the context, of the process, in order to determine the relations existing between one and the other. The results achieved from the identification of records context through Diplomatics will support the representation process of archival knowledge, namely archival description.

Archivists, therefore, begin to see the diplomatic method as a new tool to assist the records management created in administrative processes. According to Bellotto (2004), Diplomatics, which previously dealt exclusively with documentary form, is now expanded towards the record genesis and its contextualization in the attributions, competencies, functions, and activities of the producing /accumulating entity.

The need to identify records in their production context in order to plan their creation/ production and technical treatment of their accumulation in the archives led the area to reflect on the Identification as an archival process and the discussions about the position it occupies in the scope of archival methodologies.

The Identification is a research phase, a task of an intellectual nature, whose object of study is the producing entity and its records, whose recognition process is based on the parameters of Diplomatics, in its modern and contemporary perspective - the documentary typology- producing knowledge for the planning of archival functions (creation /production, classification, evaluation and description) (Rodrigues, 2016).

The theoretical-methodological contribution of Diplomatics to the archival functions within the organization characterizes the discipline as formative to the contemporary archivist who, in order to respond to the challenges posed by the exponent amount of information produced in different environments, saw its role of guardian of archives be extended to the records management. Therefore, Archival Science which was formerly characterized as a survival discipline becomes an intervention discipline, structured and articulated (COUTURE, 2000).

The present study aims to elucidate the relation between Archival Science and Diplomatics based on the studies of Archival Description, understood as a process of archival knowledge representation. It seeks to delimit the relationship between the emerging approaches of the late 1980s, Integrated Archival Science and Archival Diplomatics, since the first (re) establishes the essential functions for a complete record management,  while the second can offer valid theoretical and methodological elements to perform such functions.

Finally, it presents some results of Postdoctoral research developed at the Fluminense Federal University - UFF, in Brazil, whose goal was to construct theoretical and methodological elements to characterize Diplomatics and its method as necessary for the organization and representation of the archival knowledge, within the scope of two main archival functions:  Classification and Description.