An archive is an accumulation of historical records or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization’s lifetime, and are kept to show the function of that person or organization. Professional archivists and historians generally understand archives to be records that have been naturally and necessarily generated as a product of regular legal, commercial, administrative, or social activities. They have been metaphorically defined as “the secretions of an organism”, and are distinguished from documents that have been consciously written or created to communicate a particular message to posterity.
They serve first of all as the nation’s memory, and enable a society to plan intelligently for the future based on an awareness of past experience. Archives preserve a record of the obligations and commitments of the government and evidence of the rights and entitlements of the citizens. Collectively, the archives contain a vast amount of information about people, organizations, social and economic development, natural phenomena, and events invaluable primary source material for writing about all facets of the nation’s history. As a source of national history the archives can become a powerful influence in fostering a people’s understanding of it and in creating a sense of national identity.
The Importance of Archives
Archives are important because they provide evidence of activities and tell us more about individuals and institutions. They tell stories. They also increase our sense of identity and understanding of cultures. They can even ensure justice. Records weren’t usually created for the purpose of historical research so they often provide a less biased account of events than secondary sources.
1. Personal reasons.
2. Official or Administrative reasons.
3. Cultural reasons.
1. Personal reasons.
Historically speaking the establishment of archives from the ancient period to the present day proves that personal needs predominate over other causes because in all public matters, private welfare is aimed at before starting a public organisation or institution. Man is a selfish animal and he calculates for himself the benefit or the loss before entering into a public affair. Accordingly his aim would be more for personal enrichment than the welfare of others. All the public records are related to personal matters of individuals or to a set of people in a society. People carefully preserve documents for safeguarding their rights in family property or their rights in public matters. Each and every house could be considered as a private Archives and one finds in a house, documents relating to property, domestic and marital affairs and such documents as the birth certificates of the family members, ration cards, voter’s lists, and testimonials of their education and employment. Photos and albums of the family members, domestic articles used by their ancestors, writings of the people and correspondence between various members of the society would be found at this level.
Public records have close ties relation to specific people in different forms. Most public records are created by personalities for publishing their adventures and achievements in both private and public life. The military records in the Tamil Nadu Archives and the National Archives indicate that many records have been created by military officials for demonstrating their powers in military operations with natives and other European powers.
2. Official or Administrative reasons.
Archives is considered as the knowledge of past administrations .They furnish information pertaining to the day to day administrations of the prior governments and their attendant administrative system .It is a customary practice that before introducing a new policy, the government to understand would refer to the related documents of the previous government to understand how far their policy in question was successful during the previous regime and what could be altered and what could be added in the proposed new policy . For instance in legislation , the government refers to all the relevant documents related to such legislative subjects as revenue , public , public health, public affairs, social matters, and so on For this purpose the Archives would furnish the needed information.
In Judicial matters, judgement is based on previous judgements. For judicial decisions, documents in the judicial department and in law reports and law journal are produced to substantiate their claims. For instance in the famous Caveri water dispute, the records of the public works departments , annual administration reports of the public works departments, agricultural departments reports and other records and reports pertaining to the history of the Cauveri projects have been taken from the Tamilnadu Archives to be produced in the Tribunal.
The earliest records such as those of the public department, revenue department, judicial department, military department, marine department, political department, and secret department give details of the past administration of social, political and economic matters which are considered as a guide to be followed by present administrators. The budget memorandums and the finance department records of the Madras Archives prove that the British administration in Madras and other parts of India showed little interest in the welfare of the native people. Various welfare measures were introduced for the welfare of the British administrations and for appeasing the native people to avoid any protest against the foreign rule. The records in the Archives prove how the Europeans particularly the English ruled the country for more than three centuries. The records of their administrators are examples for the present administrators who are ruling the country on the model of the British administration as depicted in the records preserved in the Archive of India England and other European countries.
3. Cultural reasons.
Archives are a store house of information concerning all factors of human life. Since it is the emporium of all the activities of mankind from time immemorial to the present, it depicts customs, conventions and usage of people. Historians and other writers are fully dependent upon the documents and records of the Archives for portraits of the life and activities of their predecessors. For instance, in France during the revolutionary period, the records of national assembly were kept to establish the new order, but the records of ancient regime were considered as public property, and were kept primary for cultural purposes. In India, the home department papers in the National Archives provide much information about the institution of the Devadasi system and about different marriage system such as child marriage, polygamy and so on. Female infanticide, sati and perpetual widowhood, have been depicted in the East India Company papers .The practice of slavery and slave trade with the transportation of human beings from India to foreign countries for labour are narrated in the public, judicial and Board of Revenue papers of the Tamilnadu Archives.
The British Government is popularly called the Paper Government because they recorded all maters on paper and preserved them for future reference. Their preservation of records in India and England benefitted the British Historians who started to write the history of India with the records thus preserved and gave new enlightenment to the subject on Indian study.
The Importance of State Archives
State archives play a critical role in preserving the nation’s history and the rights of its citizens. The dramatic growth in state government activity during the twentieth century was accompanied by an exponential surge in the production of permanent records. Government records face unprecedented threats and opportunities, and state archives are evolving to meet the challenge.
In doing so, state archival programs provide appropriate, unbiased, and effective stewardship of the historical records in their care. Consistent funding and support for the work of state archives enables them to effectively manage and make archival records widely accessible, take advantage of evolving technologies, and foster innovative projects and research.
Memory, like history, is rooted in archives. Without archives, memory falters, knowledge of accomplishments fades, pride in a shared past dissipates. Archives counter these losses. Archives contain the evidence of what went before. This is particularly germane in the modern world. With the disappearance of traditional village life and the extended family, memory based on personal, shared story-telling is no longer possible; the archive remains as one foundation of historical understanding. Archives validate our experiences, our perceptions, our narratives, our stories. Archives are our memories. Yet what goes on in the archives remains remarkably unknown. Users of archives (historians and others) and shapers of archives (records creators, records managers, and archivists) add layers of meaning, layers which become naturalized, internalized, and unquestioned. This lack of questioning is dangerous because it implicitly supports the archival myth of neutrality and objectivity, and thus sanctions the already strong predilection of archives and archivists to document primarily mainstream culture and powerful records creators. It further privileges the official narratives of the state over the private stories of individuals. Its rules of evidence and authenticity favour textual documents, from which such rules were derived, at the expense of other ways of experiencing the present, and thus of viewing the past. Its strong whiffs of positivist and “scientiﬁc” values inhibit archivists adopting multiple and ambient ways of seeing and knowing. An original order is thus sought or imposed, rather than allowing for several orders or even disorders to ﬂourish among records in archives. And it hobbles archivists trying to cope with electronic records, where active intervention by archivists in the creation process of records, rather than passive receipt of records created long before and later discarded, is the only hope that today’s history will be able to be written tomorrow. Archivists do on a philosophical or theoretical level, the power they wield, the impact they have. It is a foray into that exciting intellectual territory where positivist principles meet postmodern theories, where archival “truths” indeed have historical consequences. It explores the “interfaces,” in Margaret Hedstrom’s suggestive metaphor, between archives, records, and power, and the surrounding social and cultural and technological contexts in which they exist. To choose not to engage in these debates is, in fact, a strong choice in favour of the status quo, with all its implications for buttressing mainstream power. In generating discussion and reaction, we hope to force keepers as well as users of archives to confront, head-on, current intellectual concerns about intentionality, instrumentality, representation, and power.
1. Dr. M. Sundararaj , Manual of Archival Systems and The World of Archives, Chennai, Siva Publications.