Friday, August 08, 2008

Finnish archives

Sometimes I come across books that make me very painfully aware of how little I know about archival theory. Today, that lesson was hit home when I had a book called "Records, Rules, and Speech Acts" come across my desk. It's by a Finnish archivist, Pekka Henttonen (a guy, by the way, for all of you Indo-European speakers who think that girls' names end in A).

The introduction was worth my reading (even though I'm really just cataloging the thing) because Hentonnen raised an interesting question: how do we define records, both positively (records are x) and negatively (records are NOT y). I have no idea how we define records, although I bet Hentonnen tells me by the end of this book, and somehow ties it into speech act theory, which he references in the summary, and is a linguistic theory about how saying something is doing something (example: I now pronounce you man and wife). How he connects the two, I have no idea, but I bet it's interesting. I hope that I can check this book out soon and try to plow through it.

Of course, the novelty of this archival theory book is that it's written by a Finn. Hello? Finnish people are exotic. He kindly includes some translations of terms like "records management" (asiakirjahallinto) and "archives formation plan" (arkistonmuodostussuunnitelma), which of course I just find fascinating because I'm three years old and different languages are weird and cool.

The descriptions of Finnish archival practice are really the best part, though, because they seem so modern and advanced to my North American archivally-trained brain: records management and archives are ONE profession, and these people take control of the documents throughout the life cycle. Hentonnen quotes J. Kilkki (another Finn, I believe) :"in Finland, archival fonds are not viewed from present to past, as something that is, they are viewed from present to future, as something that becomes. The accumulation of records into files, files into series, series in sub-fonds and sub-fonds into the archival fond of a records creator are all determined in advance, before the records are even created."

Does that sound like Archival Utopia to anyone else? Is Finland a magic land where archives make sense? I want to visit.

1 comment:

Scribe said...

I've been cited. I have no idea if the reviews are good or bad, as I do not read Finnish.

"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.