Appraisal based on organic functional analysis: a case study in an electronic records environment

Publication Date01 Dec 2001
AuthorCristina Carvalho
SubjectInformation & knowledge management
Appraisal based on organic
functional analysis: a case study
in an electronic records
This article is a shortened version of a Master’s dissertation for the Liverpool
University Centre for Archive Studies.1It deals with issues of appraisal. Such
issues involve fundamental concepts on what records are, why they are kept, and
their life cycle. The answers to these questions were sought and found in the
history of archives, and in the specialist literature. The theory and the method-
ology adopted were then applied to a case study of a recently established
organisation in Lisbon, which has, at the core of its business, information in
electronic format.
Issues of appraisal
As I started the study of appraisal issues and of the different emerging
theories on the subject, I realised I had to start with a very basic ques-
tion: why do we keep records?2Turning to the history of archives for a
response, I realised that, as far as it is known, before the French
Revolution archives were mainly used for the same reasons they were
created although serving more general purposes.3Thus an archives, or
archival system, was seen as an integrated whole within the dynamic
and evolutionary framework of, and pertaining to, a person or organi-
sation. Accordingly, the structural unity of the archival system was
respected. This remained true from the Middle Eastern Civilisations
(circa 6000 years ago) to the Roman Civilisation.4In Rome, from the
archives sediment to the archives treasure,5serving the interests of
Records Management Journal, vol. 11, no. 3, December 2001, pp. 175–205
the people or the interests of the rulers/privileged classes, the integrity of
the archival system as a whole prevailed. Furthermore, apart from some
illuminist diversions, this view essentially remained unchanged until the
French Revolution. Thus, although there was a sort of dichotomy
between administrative and historical archives, archives were at the heart
of civic life for evidence and memory of past actions.6
With the French Revolution traditional administrative patterns as well
as the established hierarchy of values were questioned. This has had
drastic repercussions in the archival organisation7
The destruction of the French monarchys archives marked also the end
of a view of archives as an integral component of peoples lives.8
With the French Revolution the millenary model of archives suffered a
heavy blow.9It was the collapse of the systemic structure always estab-
lished as such.10 In time, archival buildings were seen as symbols of the
new rising nations [The National Archives] no longer the visible nucle-
us of civic life; they came to represent the place where a common past
justifying a shared present could be found11 This view has generally
spread and gained foundations in the Western World throughout the
19th and 20th centuries. Moreover, with the boost of documentation
which resulted from the World Wars, the distinction between adminis-
trative and historical archives became implicit in the very denition of
records and archives themselves12, by providing the notion of
records and archives as two distinct entities possessing different
In conclusion, the practices ruling archives have been established for mil-
lennia. However, there was a major change of direction after the French
Revolution. Thus, although the exclusive administrative and juridical
perspective of archives has been implicitly broadened, archives were no
longer kept for the same reasons they were created although serving
more general purposes.14 If this were the case, as windows from the
reality from which they arise,15 archives would become part of a true
and natural, although imperfect, image of society, since distinct archives
of distinct producing entities would provide windows on the image of
such entities as part of society at a certain time.16 But, as seen above, this
was not the case. Naturally, the integrity of such archival systems was
Yet, the Dutch archivists Muller, Feith, and Fruin pointed to the fact
that an archival collection is an organic whole, a living organism [at
least an organism which has lived...].17 Sir Hillary Jenkinson stated that
[a]rchives were not drawn up in the interest or for the information of
Records Management Journal vol. 11 no. 3

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