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Protecting Uncertainty

October 4, 2012

In the article under discussion Albie Sachs speaks of archivists’ working ‘to protect uncertainty’ and, that being the case, we were all doing a good job at the Cardigan Continuum meeting. Certainties, indeed conclusions of any kind were noticeable only by their absence as the group circled around questions such as;

  • Accepting for the moment that the records we hold are never going to be ‘neutral’ or provide the ‘whole truth’ is it nevertheless still possible to present them neutrally? – One suggestion was that providing multiple ways of accessing the material (e.g. search and browse) might be a more neutral way of presenting the material than demanding that users can only access it in one way (the ubiquitous keyword search box).
  • Do our users generally come to us looking for uncertainty (or is that just what we should give them)? – Certainly conveying to users that they may never know can be a difficult job.
  • Is it possible to move in the direction of greater certainty whilst still guarding uncertainty and if so how?  – Suggestions in response to this question included the idea that preserving the gaps meant that unknown unknowns could become known and that this then meant that more was known.

Slightly less abstractly, we also discussed the role of the archivist in the compilation of the Hillsborough report. How visible were the archivists in this process – some felt that they were not very visible – and how visible was the recordkeeping? More so than the archivists perhaps and wasn’t that the point?

Finally we also discussed the way that what had added value in this case was the way in which records kept by many different organisations had been connected together around the subject of the Hillsborough disaster. Much of the comment surrounding the report has made a lot of the way in which those involved have stressed that they have not sought to make value judgements, but is not adding value by bringing all this material together by its very nature a value judgement?

Moving to slightly firmer ground, it sounds like the first meeting of the North West group of Cardigan Continuum went well, and details of future meetings will be coming soon. Also, don’t forget the Twitter chat on the Hillsborough report on Monday 29th October at 8pm. Questions for that, comments on the above and suggestions for future reading are welcome as always below.

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One Comment
  1. LouiseARay permalink

    Would really welcome some feedback from the members of the Cardigan Continuum on the ‘Funding the Archives Sector’ report http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/funding-archives-sector.htm. Perhaps a topic for a future meeting?….

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