Archival Thinking

In 2018, with colleagues in archival studies, I founded the Archival Discourses (International Intellectual History of Archival Studies) research network to promote the critical study of the transnational and transcultural development of archival thinking.

The network was established following discussions – long present in the literature – about the need for a clearer picture of the development of archival practices, theories and traditions in different national and social contexts, and their transposition and movement over time. The objective of the Archival Discourses network is to illuminate this history to better understand inherited ideas and present day norms. Archival Discourses pursues this objective by promoting the translation of canonical archival texts across languages, encouraging new research in archival and administrative history, particularly history that situates current issues and developments in historical context, and by providing forums for sharing information with practitioners of archival science and scholars in other fields.

The network has produced a special issue of Archival Science called ‘Archival Thinking: Genealogies and Archaeologies’, which I co-edited with Heather MacNeil.

Archival Discourses is also crowdsourcing a new manual of archives administration to mark the 100th anniversary of Sir Hilary Jenkinson’s manual. The aim of the project is to demonstrate the rapid evolution and expansion of archival theory over that century, as well as to trouble ideas about authority in professional practice and the genre of the manual.

The network also put together the following panel for the 2020 International Conference on the History of Records and Archives, moderated by Greg Bak of the University of Manitoba:

Re-Imagining Materiality: Three Histories of Archival Technologies

  • Pre-Digital Digitization: Copying and Surrogacy in English Archives  /  Michael Riordan (Oxford University)  
  • Registration Across Technologies: The Inscription of Value in Paper and Digital Records Systems  /  James Lowry (City University of New York) 
  • Differentiation in Description or How Archivists Invented the Semantic Web  /  Jenny Bunn (University College London)

My own research in this area involves a critical look at the development of records making and keeping as an operation of state and bureuacratic power, as indicated in these conference presentations:

  • Lowry, J., Archival Sovereignty in the Official Mind, Archival Education and Research Institute, 6-10 July 2020, online.
  • Lowry, J., The Inverted Archive: Thresholds, Authenticity and the Demos, Archival Education and Research Institute, 8-12 July 2019, Liverpool, UK.
  • Lowry, J. & MacNeil, H., Let’s Talk About History, Archival Education and Research Institute, 8-12 July 2019, Liverpool, UK.