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«Chicago The Society of American Archivists 527 S. Wells St., Chicago, IL 60607 312/922-0140 • fax 312/347-1452 info • ...»

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principles & techniques

T.R. Schellenberg

with a new introduction by

H.G. Jones


The Society of American Archivists

527 S. Wells St., Chicago, IL 60607

312/922-0140 • fax 312/347-1452

info@archivists.org • www.archivists.org

Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques was originally published by the

University of Chicago Press in 1956 and reprinted in 1975. Since then, the

Schellenberg family has donated the copyright along with the personal papers of

Theodore R. Schellenberg to the Kansas State Historical Society. This edition in the Archival Classics Series is published by the Society of American Archivists by arrangement with the Kansas State Historical Society.

© 1956 by T.R. Schellenberg © 1996 by Kansas State Historical Society All rights reserved.

Reissued in 2003 with new introduction by H.G. Jones. “Introduction to the 2003 Reissue” © 2003 by Society of American Archivists. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America ISBN 0-931666-02-4 To the


this book is respectfully dedicated Contents Page Introduction to the 2003 Reissue....... xi Foreword........... xv Preface........... xvii Part I—Introduction Chapter 1. IMPORTANCE OF ARCHIVAL


Establishment of National Archives..... 3 Reasons for Archival Establishments..... 8 Chapter 2. NATURE OF ARCHIVES Definitions.......... 11 Elements in Definition....... 13 Definition of Modern Archives...... 15 Chapter 3. LIBRARY RELATIONSHIPS Differences in Holdings....... 17 Differences in Method....... 20 Chapter 4. ARCHIVAL INTERESTS IN RECORD


Interest in Maintenance Practices..... 27 Interest in Disposition Practices...... 28 Part II—Record Management Chapter 5. ESSENTIALS OF RECORD


Nature of Modern Records....... 35 Nature of Activities........ 37 Nature of Organization....... 39 Chapter 6. PRODUCTION CONTROLS Simplification of Functioning...... 44 Simplification of Work Processes..... 45 Simplification of Record Procedures..... 46

–  –  –

ix Introduction to the 2003 Reissue My diary, now in its 65th year, records that on July 6, 1957, at his Afton Farm beyond Fairfax Circle, Virginia, Theodore R. Schellenberg pitched horseshoes with Walter Jordan of Tennessee, Alvin Roundtree of Illinois, and me. Among those looking on were Ernst Posner, Clarence Carter, Philip Bauer, Victor Gondos, Herman Friis, and their wives.

Together with a picnic dinner provided by Mrs. Schellenberg, the afternoon of brim fishing and horseshoe pitching in the presence of these distinguished archivists provided a welcome respite from the intensive studies required during the Eleventh Institute in the Preservation and Administration of Archives.

The event constituted a heady experience for the seventeen members of the class. Like Jordan, Roundtree, and me, most of our classmates had recently taken jobs for which we had little training except for graduate school research in manuscripts. Thrust into positions like that of State Archivist of North Carolina, we didn’t even agree on the pronunciation of our title, and before taking the course we had little concept of any profound theories and principles underlying our responsibilities. Yet at “graduation” on July 12 at the fashionable Occidental Restaurant, in the presence of the Archivist of the United States and other dignitaries, we became certified archivists. Nearly a half-century ago, it was that easy to earn the title.

We were fortunate; ours was the first summer institute to use an American textbook, and it was written by our own professor. The book, Modern Archives: Principles & Techniques, was initially published in Australia but was reissued by the University of Chicago Press in 1956.

That year’s October issue of the American Archivist carried a review by the venerated Waldo Gifford Leland, who wrote, “This compact and well written book is, at least in the opinion of the reviewer, the most significant and useful statement yet produced on the administration of modern records and archives.” Leland continued, “It marks the advanced stage reached by the rapidly maturing profession of archivist in the United States in the brief span of 20 years since the creation of the National Archives Establishment.” Recalling efforts earlier in the century toward the drafting of a “Manual of Archival Economy for the Use of American Archivists,” Leland concluded that the failure had not been a misfortune, for Schellenberg’s book was “much more and far better, the expression of practical wisdom based on experience and distilled by reflection.” xi Modern Archives was more than the text of a series of lectures delivered in Australia on a 1954 Fulbright Fellowship; it was the product of two decades already spent in the trenches experimenting with and learning about the administration of public records. Fresh out of graduate school, this Kansan performed yeoman service for the Joint Committee on Materials for Research (funded by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council) by researching technologies for improving documentary research and helping to draft the report, Methods of Reproducing Research Materials (1935). He was involved in the establishment of a federal survey of archives early in the New Deal, then joined the newly established National Archives, where he experimented with the records created by the Department of Agriculture.

For four years after 1945 he was records officer for the Office of Price Administration, but he returned to the National Archives where until his retirement in 1963 he held a variety of positions leading to the title of Assistant Archivist of the United States. All the while Schellenberg was testing and refining theories and practices in the face of an avalanche of paperwork produced by the governmental bureaucracy. Additionally, in 1949 he was of enormous assistance to Archivist Wayne Grover, first in resisting the Hoover Commission’s recommendations and later in ameliorating their damage after the National Archives lost its independence. This traumatic experience further confirmed Schellenberg’s conviction that archivists must become intimately involved in all aspects of the appraisal and management of current records lest the National Archives itself become a passive recipient.

When in 1935 Theodore Schellenberg first entered the archival field, there was little literature on the subject except for two European books— S. Muller, J. A. Feith, and R. Fruin’s Handleiding voor het Ordenen en Beschrijven van Archieven, a Dutch manual not yet translated into English, and Sir Hilary Jenkinson’s A Manual of Archive Administration.

Although both contributed significantly to archival theory, both also dealt with recordkeeping systems alien to the American experience.

Recognizing their inadequacy in the management of American records, Schellenberg developed new principles and practices and instituted his own courses to teach fellow staff members. By 1958, 60 percent of the staff of the National Archives had been exposed to his courses, and when he began offering them at the Federal Records Centers around the country, he was described as a “circuit rider.” Happily for archivists outside the federal government, these training sessions were open to them also. Schellenberg also introduced courses at several major xii universities in the United States, and his influence on archives personnel in Central and South America equaled his earlier impact in Australia and New Zealand.

The growth of the federal government during the New Deal and World War II and the resulting flood of records, together with disparate mediums and filing systems so different from European experience, required the publication of a completely new set of principles and techniques to substitute for those enunciated in the European manuals. It was up to T. R. Schellenberg to develop and disseminate them. Modern Archives, addressed as it was to governmental records, thus made a major contribution to the burgeoning field, sometimes grandiosely called “archival science.” It became a standard textbook in the few archival training courses around the country, and it was translated into several languages.

There was not, however, unanimous acceptance of Schellenberg’s displacement of the Dutch and English manuals as guides for American archivists. He spoke of working toward an archival profession, for it certainly had not matured a half century ago, and many workers in public records continued to devise their own practices. Furthermore, Schellenberg’s prescriptions, built principle upon principle, were often phrased as dicta, seeming to allow little deviation or compromise.

Arguing is a refined art among archivists, and many of them took delight in picking at Schellenberg’s perceived truths. In some instances they found weaknesses. Still, no other American book has affected archival principles and techniques as profoundly as Modern Archives. It provided a structured framework for those searching for an orderly guide, and it provided a basis for measuring myriad ideas advanced as alternatives, thus challenging archivists to propose competing theories. But no single book can remain the last word on the subject of recordkeeping, appraisal, disposal, and preservation. Schellenberg demonstrated that the nature of records in the United States differed from that in Europe, and the nearly half century since the publication of his book has demonstrated the rapidity of change in the nature of records in our own country. New principles and techniques are being adopted in the face of that change, but in virtually every instance they are measured against those enunciated so forcefully and sometimes controversially in Modern Archives.

H. G. Jones The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill November 2002 xiii Foreword Those responsible for the development of new archival programmes in young countries like Australia have been hampered by the lack of authoritative works devoted to the problems peculiar to, or magnified by, modern records. The very excellence and authority of the English and Continental writings, concerned primarily with earlier records, has tended to inhibit the necessary thinking and experiment which the control of modern records in young countries requires. Despite this, there is evidence that some of the younger countries are in fact breaking new ground. Dr. Schellenberg’s book is therefore most welcome and most timely. Without neglecting the traditional aspects of the administration of archives it directs special attention to the new problems which face archivists everywhere.

It is highly appropriate that such a book should have come out of the United States where many of the solutions have already been found, especially in the National Archives whose leadership has been an outstanding feature of recent developments in archival theory and practice.

It is equally appropriate that the book should be a direct outcome of a visit under the Fulbright programme, the object of which is the interchange of knowledge between the United States and other countries.

For we would hope that its use and influence would spread beyond the countries with well established archival systems to those whose rapid political and social development calls for new ideas and techniques in all areas of administration and in the organization of their intellectual processes generally. Archives have also been preserved in the past by newly created states to foster a growing nationalism, as they have been by established countries to document outstanding achievements. In Australia, for example, it was the consciousness of the national effort involved in total war, as well as the threat which the emergency held for the records themselves, which led the Commonwealth Government to establish an archival system in 1942. We should expect the continuing crises provided by the discovery of atomic power to have a like effect on the preservation of archives in the future, unless we entirely abandon hope for our civilization. Indeed, one of the special problems facing archivists in their administrative relationships and in their public relations generally is just this uncertainty. In a very real sense the governmental and public attitude towards the preservation of archives is a measure of our faith in the future.

xv The influence of Dr. Schellenberg’s book should be the more widespread because of the attention it gives to the emerging problems of archival theory and practice. Arising as they do from a universal growth in economic and social organization, often involving new controls by governments, and from developments in the means for communicating ideas, they reflect a new and closer relationship between archival work and the world of affairs. Archival establishments are in no sense cemeteries of old and forgotten records. The essential quality of archives is that they record not merely achievements but also the processes by which they were accomplished. Therefore, as the organization of our corporate life, both governmental and non-official, becomes increasingly complex, archives assume greater importance both as precedents for the administrator and as a record for the research worker and historian.

Moreover, those in charge of substantial enterprises, both governmental and non-official, are becoming aware of the efficiency and economy which flow from good records management and of its close relationship in turn to archival management. So this book should interest and inform the government official and the business administrator equally with the practising archivist.

Dr. Schellenberg has indicated that in a sense the book is a by-product of his work in Australia. Those of us who have had some part in causing it to be written would wish to record our thanks to him for supplementing in this important way the nation-wide influence of his visit here and for allowing us to be associated, even indirectly, with this major contribution to the world’s archival knowledge.

H. L. White Commonwealth National Librarian and Archival Authority Canberra, Australia January 18, 1956 xvi


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