Another excerpt from Essays: Archives as Medium , on the web site Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhan.

There is a great deal here of interest, but this caught my eye in Terry Cook’s essay Archives as a Medium of Communication, talking about late Canadian archivist and scholar Hugh Taylor:

[italics mine]: “Taylor’s view lends legitimacy to audiovisual material as actual records, instead of mere embellishment, as authentic evidence of human activity no less important for historical interpretation than textual manuscripts or government files. Audiovisual records are, for Taylor, archives pure and simple, not “special media”; they are not the second-class citizens they had been in most archives for far too long, and for most researchers too, especially historians. By way of example, Taylor asserted that the map “was the first pictorial record (as opposed to pictorial illustration) … an archival document of the first importance. For the new study of the environment we turn to printed maps, the successive issues of which record the palimpsest of destruction.” Taylor believed “that the artist can make as valid a statement about the buildings or people he sees as anyone setting down the description in words and that this statement will in many cases enhance a purely photographic record.” Similarly, Taylor counselled that “we are only beginning to accept photographs as record. Up to now they have been used almost entirely as illustration.” So too, he added, are film, television, videotape, and sound recordings all archives, all “waiting to be read … the ultimate in historical record.” (4)

Here, as usual, Taylor was well ahead of his time. Most researchers did not learn to “read” records in this way, for their evidence, their contextual interrelationships, and their constructed nature, until the postmodern “turn” of the 1990s. But for archivists of audiovisual records of the 1970s, Taylor was a breath of fresh air, whose influential writings engendered a sense of legitimacy for archivists working with these media. The structural changes at the Public Archives that flowed from his beliefs gave media archivists scope for their knowledge to flourish, and led to a vast increase in the number of audiovisual records now held safely in the Archives and available for researchers.”

Boy does this resonate. When I was in my MLIS program (late 1980s) the film and video with which I wished to work were subsumed under something called ‘non-book materials’ – and then ignored. I would argue that a certain amount of bibliocentricity continues, but is less prevalent. The very recent advent of graduate archives programs devoted to moving images, at UCLA, NYU and elsewhere, is indicative of this shift, and also instrumental in the shift itself.

These are short, readable essays. Interesting that so much of the best writing about archives comes from Canada.


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