Of all national assets, archives are the most precious. They are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization.
-- Sir Arthur Doughty, Dominion Archivist, 1924
What are archives?
Archives are vibrant, dynamic, and diverse institutions that permeate all aspects of society. Whether at the federal, provincial, or local levels, in schools, colleges, businesses, and universities, or supported by various religious, community, or cultural groups, archives have a role to play in the lives of all Canadians.
Simply put, archives are collections of recorded material in context. Reflecting the commitment of Canadian archivists to create “total archives” encompassing all media forms, this material may include letters, drawings, diaries, and notebooks, photographs, video and sound recordings, architectural drawings, maps, documentary art, digital records including emails, spreadsheets, databases, and word processor files, as well as web pages, “Web 2.0” applications, and other online records.
Although they are often imagined as collections of old and forgotten records languishing in back rooms and basements, this “traditional” understanding of archives could not be further from the truth. Archives are organic, ever-growing entities which offer a multitude of services and benefits to society.
What are archivists?
Archivists are “historians of the record,” specialists dedicated to appraising, arranging and describing, preserving, and making available important records. Archivists also specialize in preserving and enhancing context by collecting information about the creation, use, dissemination, and impact of the records in their care, thus turning information into true knowledge.
In addition, archivists work with researchers to identify and interpret records that may be valuable to their research, and also work with donors to acquire new records. Archivists are involved in a variety of programming activities to introduce students, community groups, and the general public to the value and uses of archives. Archivists also develop policies, procedures, standards, and “best practices” to manage and preserve the records in their care.
What are the uses of archives?
The uses and users of archives are numerous and ever-changing. Lawyers, genealogists, researchers, archaeologists, students, filmmakers, environmentalists, First Nations, community advocates, demographers, and others can find and access records useful to their work in archives. Whether they are used as primary sources in books, articles, and assignments, for statistical or sociological research, to support litigation, for community heritage projects, or a myriad of other uses, archival records offer unique, often first-hand insights into the past.
In addition, some specialized uses of archives include:
- Preserving and making available records from marginalized groups and the victims of discrimination to support justice and human rights.
- Preserving and making available vast quantities of climate and other environmental data, thus assisting in the fight against global warming.
- Enriching history, culture, and allowing families to connect to their past by preserving and making available records such as ships logs, land titles, maps, pioneer diaries, and military service records.
- Assisting authors, filmmakers, and other artists in gaining an understanding of the people, places, and events in the past about which they base their work.
- Promoting community strength and a sense of collective identity through shared cultural resources.
If you would like further information, The University of Manitoba Archives has a series of online tutorials and videos on how to access and use archival records.
How can I become an archivist?
Manitobans are fortunate to have a graduate-level archival training program right here in Winnipeg! The University of Manitoba / University of Winnipeg Joint Masters Program in Archival Studies is a two-year program designed to teach the historical and cultural, as well as contemporary and administrative aspects of archival work. Upon completion of the program, students will be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to enter the archival profession.
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