Definitions of Archives – 1


Since the dawn of civilization human beings have communicated through gestures, symbols, sounds, words and written media like clay tablets, papyrus, parchment, and palm leaf. The beginning of the 15th century heralded the use of printed books and journals and of late through electronic media. During the past two thousand years of human history, civilisation and culture it is evident that the intellectual products of human thought and endeavour were being procured, processed and the thought content embodied in these documents disseminated to the user community. These documents thus are required to be preserved and conserved for posterity.

Preservation of written records is apparently just as old as written records themselves. The problem of preservation of rare documents, manuscripts and old records has continued since human being acquired the knowledge of writing. Books and manuscripts have always preserved the documentary and cultural heritage of our ancestors and these special documents are the prized possessions of every nation.

With the passage of time the objects, animate or inanimate, tend to decay and perish. But certain things need to be preserved and conserved as they represent history and they continue to teach us. It is through the human effort of preservation that frontiers of human knowledge and human civilizations have been extended (

There is an alarming increase in deterioration of archival records. Preventive steps and treatment required for effective preservation of these pieces of information should be undertaken. The successful preservation of history is the bedrock of current human information, knowledge and civilization. Without this attention and effort, natural and manmade disasters will singly or jointly wipe out irreplaceable foundations of the past (

National Archives of India (NAI) and National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM) are the two national agencies entrusted with the responsibility of treasuring and preserving the invaluable archival records. NAI serves as the custodian of these records and is sincerely dedicated to the welfare and development of archives and archival profession. NMM locates and catalogues the rare documents available in the remotest nook and corners of the country. The very aim of the present study is to investigate and study the role of these agencies in the preservation and conservation of the rich national heritage records so that the content enshrined in them continues to inform and educate users forever.

Etymology of Archives:

According to some other historians, the word “Archives” is derived from the greek word “Archcion” which had been defined in the Oxford English dictionary as

“a place in which public records or other historical documents are kept or preserved”.

Originally the term “Archives” was applied specifically to the record of government agencies (Public Archives) but later it was extended to include the record of institution (Institutional Archives) corporation and business firms (Business Archives) as well as families and individuals

(Family and personal Archives).

The term is also used to designate the agency charged with the custody, preservation and administration of archival material after it has become noncurrent.

A person engaged in the administration of archival material is called an archivist.

Definitions of Archives:

Archives and Archival institutions have been defined by scholars and Archivists in different fashions. The eminent dutch archivists S.Muller (1845-1942), J.A.Feith and R.Fruin (1857-

1942), defines Archives in their book-   “Manual for the arrangements and description of Archives (1940”).

They define the Dutch word “Archief” as the whole of the written documents, drawings and printed matter, officially received or produced by an administrative body or one of its officials in so far as these documents were intended to remain in the custody of that body or that official.

As expanded definition is provided by Hilary Jenkinson, an English archivist in his famous book “Manual of Archives administration (1922)” who defines that “Archives as a collection of documents drawn up or used in the course of administrative or executive transactions (whether public or private) and subsequently preserved for the information of the person or persons responsible for those transactions and their legitimate successors”.

He also states that “things admissible to the class of Archives consist of all manuscripts whether hand-written script or produced by writing machines and all scripts mechanically reproduced by means of type, type-blocks and engraved plates or blocks and all other material evidence, whether or not they include alphabetical or numerical signs, which form part of or annexed to, or may be reasonably assumed to have formed part of or being annexed to specific documents”. Hillary Jenkinson does not distinguish between Archives and specific document.

To clarify the distinction the word Archival institution are used to denote the institution and the word “Archives” is used to designate the materials that comprise the contents of the Archival institution.

The Italian Archivist Eugenia Casanova (1867&1951) in his manual entitled “Archivisica” published in Siena in 1929, defines Archives as

“the orderly accumulation of documents which were created in the course of its activity by an institution or an individual and which are preserved for the accomplishment of its political, legal or cultural purposes of such an institution or individual”.

The German Archivist, Adolf Brenneke (1875-1946) who served for many years as Director of the Prussia Privy State Archives, and whose lectures were embodied in manual form by Walfgang Leesch in a publication entitled “Archickunde” Leipzig in 1953 defines Archives as “the whole of the papers and documents growing out of legal or business activities of a physical or legal body which are intended for permanent preservation at a particular place as the sources and the evidence of the past”.

T.R.Schelbenberge, in his famous book “Modern Archives-Principles and Techniques” defines “Archives” as

“those records of any public or private institution which are adjudged working of permanent preservation for reference and research purposes and which have been deposited or have been selected for deposit in an archival institution”.

He also defines record as “all books, papers, maps, photographs or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received by an public or private institution in pursuance of its legal obligations or in connection with the transaction of its proper business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by the institution or its legitimate successor as evidence of its functions, policies, decision, procedures, operations or other activities or because of the informational value of the data contained therein”.