Society and the Formation of a Documentary Heritage: " Issues in the Appraisal of Archival Sources

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Society and the Formation of

a Documentary Heritage:" Issues in the Appraisal of
Archival Sources
by HANS BOOMS1
Editors' Introduction
Hans Booms'article "Gesellschafsordnungund ~berlieferungsbildung: Problematik Zur archivarischer Quellenbewertung" originally appeared in Archivalische Zeitschrift 68 (1972), pp. 3-40 and is reprinted here with the kindpermission of that publication and of the author. The work is an expansion of an address delivered by Booms at the opening of the German Archives Conference in 1971. The text published below is an English translation of the article in its entirety - thefirst such translation to appear anywhere in the English-language archival literature. Atfirst glance, one may be struck by twofeatures of thepiece: its age and itsfamiliarity. It was writtenfully3peen years ago and, in view of major advances in the reproduction, manipulation, storage, and retrieval of information since that time, could be considered hopelessly outdated. Furthermore, BOO&' ideas have been cited quite regularly in the North American literature on archival appraisal. What, then, is the justijication for publishing the Booms article at this time? First of all, while it is true that archivists have initiated many changes in the administration of archives, especially in the area of automated storage and access, very little has changed in the way they appraise records under their care. Only afew studies on appraisal appeared in the 1970s and early 1980s, and those few simply tinkered with methods and theories developed by American archivistsjust afer the Second World War. a The single German term ~berlieferun~sbildun~ in meanings and concepts which confound any takes attempts to translate it into acceptable English: the translation is inevitably either superficial and incomplete or painfully awkward to read. W e have opted for painful awkwardness in an effort to salvage as many of the nuances of meaning Booms draws upon throughout the article. Uberlieferung is usually translated as "tradition," but this does not convey enough of the image of a culture being passed on from the past to the present and into the future. Uberlieferungis also something that must have a concrete but perishable form which present day society, as heir to the past, must actively acquire and preserve. Given the context of Booms' article, the term "documentary heritage" serves the original quite well. The German bildung refers t o an act of shaping, molding, or forming something (as opposed to actually creating it out of nothing). Hence our offering, "the formation of a documentary heritage." 1 Revised and expanded version of the opening address given at the German Archives Conference 1971 and subtitled: "Problems of Archival Appraisal." A condensed version has been published in Der Archivar 25 (1972), cols. 23-28. @

All rights reserved: Archivaria 24 (Summer 1987)

For that matter, one would be extremely hard put to find any mention at all of archival appraisal within the pages of Archivaria during the (admittedlybriefi tenure of its existence up to now, let alone a full-fledged treatment of the problem. Archival appraisal has only very recently regained its status as the most important topic of discussion in North American archivaljournals, most notably in The American Archivist. Secondly, although a number of English-speaking writers have referred to Booms in their studies, they have restricted their assessments to his ideas on practical methodology. Booms'scholarly and ground-breaking discussion on the societal role of the archivist as appraiser, on the nature and development of appraisal theory in Germany, and on the social, political, and philosophical issues behind archival appraisal have generally been completely overlooked. Therefore, we believe that the translation and publication of Booms'article in its entirety at this time would be of great benefit to the North American archival community. Although the ideas and...
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