The UNESCO Courier recently published this interview with Ian Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, who was elected President of the International Council of Archives (ICA) in July 2008. Wilson discusses how archives are important to human rights struggles and to communal and historical memory. While perhaps especially true in conflict and post-conflict societies, it is true in democracies as well; he notes that Canada has established its own first Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the forced assimilation of indigenous children, and that the archives and record-keeping apparatuses of Canada will support it.
I like what he says about archives allowing communication across time:
“To me, archives are the fundamental source material, a mean of communication across time. We allow the generations to talk to each other, we work in the fourth dimension. What we preserve and maintain, what we inherit from our predecessors and what we add ourselves are all part of this communication process. Each generation asks questions about its past, depending on its concerns about its future. To me, archives are essentially about the future.
I think archives really are about that dialogue across generations. The current population of Canada is about 30 million but I serve 300 million Canadians. I serve those who lived in 1600, I’m serving those who will live in 2200.”
When asked about the potential role of the ICA in advocacy, or in responding to violations of archives or information, he admits that capacity, at least at present, is limited.