Society and the Formation of a Documentary Heritage: ” Issues in the Appraisal of Archival Sources
Society and the Formation of a Documentary Heritage:” Issues in the Appraisal of Archival Sources by HANS BOOMS1 Editors’ Introduction Hans Booms’article “Gesellschafsordnungund ~berlieferungsbildung: Problematik Zur archivarischer Quellenbewertung” originally appeared in Archivalische Zeitschrift 68 (1972), pp. 3-40 and is reprinted here with the kindpermission of that publication and of the author. The work is an expansion of an address delivered by Booms at the opening of the German Archives Conference in 1971.
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The text published below is an English translation of the article in its entirety – thefirst such translation to appear anywhere in the English-language archival literature. Atfirst glance, one may be struck by twofeatures of thepiece: its age and itsfamiliarity. It was writtenfully3peen years ago and, in view of major advances in the reproduction, manipulation, storage, and retrieval of information since that time, could be considered hopelessly outdated. Furthermore, BOO&’ ideas have been cited quite regularly in the North American literature on archival appraisal.
What, then, is the justijication for publishing the Booms article at this time? First of all, while it is true that archivists have initiated many changes in the administration of archives, especially in the area of automated storage and access, very little has changed in the way they appraise records under their care. Only afew studies on appraisal appeared in the 1970s and early 1980s, and those few simply tinkered with methods and theories developed by American archivistsjust afer the Second World War. The single German term ~berlieferun~sbildun~ in meanings and concepts which confound any takes attempts to translate it into acceptable English: the translation is inevitably either superficial and incomplete or painfully awkward to read. W e have opted for painful awkwardness in an effort to salvage as many of the nuances of meaning Booms draws upon throughout the article. Uberlieferung is usually translated as “tradition,” but this does not convey enough of the image of a culture being passed on from the past to the present and into the future.
Uberlieferungis also something that must have a concrete but perishable form which present day society, as heir to the past, must actively acquire and preserve. Given the context of Booms’ article, the term “documentary heritage” serves the original quite well. The German bildung refers t o an act of shaping, molding, or forming something (as opposed to actually creating it out of nothing). Hence our offering, “the formation of a documentary heritage. ” 1 Revised and expanded version of the opening address given at the German Archives Conference 1971 and subtitled: “Problems of Archival Appraisal. A condensed version has been published in Der Archivar 25 (1972), cols. 23-28. @ All rights reserved: Archivaria 24 (Summer 1987) For that matter, one would be extremely hard put to find any mention at all of archival appraisal within the pages of Archivaria during the (admittedlybriefi tenure of its existence up to now, let alone a full-fledged treatment of the problem. Archival appraisal has only very recently regained its status as the most important topic of discussion in North American archivaljournals, most notably in The American Archivist.
Secondly, although a number of English-speaking writers have referred to Booms in their studies, they have restricted their assessments to his ideas on practical methodology. Booms’scholarly and ground-breaking discussion on the societal role of the archivist as appraiser, on the nature and development of appraisal theory in Germany, and on the social, political, and philosophical issues behind archival appraisal have generally been completely overlooked. Therefore, we believe that the translation and publication of Booms’article in its entirety at this time would be of great benefit to the North American archival community.
Although the ideas and conclusionspresented in Booms’article speak for themselves, it is helpful toplace them within the context of the time andplace in which they were developed. To this end, Dr. Booms has provided the editors with information about thepolitical and intellectual conditions that influenced and generated the ideasformulated in his 1972 article, the response of European archivists to those ideas, and his hopesfor the article’s introduction into the English-speaking archival community.
Booms was born in 1924 and completed his archival education between 1946 and 195 7. He began work as an archivist at the German Federal Archives in 1955, of which institution he is now President. while post-war Germany witnessed a major reorientation in its political, social, and cultural life, the archivalprofession remained heavily influenced by what Booms characterizes as the “uuthoritarian ideas of the 20s and 30s in Germany” maintained by a still-dominant “earlier Prussian ” school of archival science.
Therefore, Booms began in 1965 to write articles in which he sought to develop an alternative to the German archival science of his day, one that was more consistent with the democratic principles upon which the German Federal Republic was founded. His ideas were the objects of especially severe attacks from archivists in the German Democratic Republic, whose critiques appeared in various issues of their oflicialjournal, Archivmitteilungen. In response, Boomsfelt himselfcompelled to examineEast German claims that an archival science based on Marxist-Leninist ideology was somehow superior.
The article translated here, therefore, is the product of such an examination and as such serves as a devastating indictment of East German archival theory and practice. Needless to say, the reaction of East German archivists, as it was expressed in subsequent issues of Archivmitteilungen, was not favourable. In the German-speaking west, the intensity of the reactions to the political aspects ofthe article varied – understandably, given that archivists generally tend to a void heatedpoliticaldebates.
Yet, while much of Booms’article is a critique of both the traditional Prussian and the later Marxist approaches to archives administration, which he regards as similar in many respects, the concluding sections also point the way towards a positive and practical alternative methodology. Thesepositive ideas were well received by archivists in WesternEurope and they have also been incorporated into the curriculum of archival studies programmes in Germany.
Booms recognizes that his ideas are very theoretical in nature and have not been distilled directlyfrom practice. As such, theyprovide a theoreticalframework rather than practical instructions. Nevertheless, Booms argues that, without theoreticallyformulated objectives, the practicing archivist is lost at sea. SOCIETY AND DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE 71 Dr. Booms hopes the translation of his article into English will first of all serve to reactivate discussion on the theoretical issues in archivesand archival appraisal.
Secondly, he hopes that it will create a greater awareness and understanding of the specificpolitical and social context in which modern German archives have developed and continue to operate. A few comments are necessary on theformat of the article aspresented here. Booms’ footnotes have been translated,except of coursefor the titles of the references themselves, and carry number designations. Editors’footnotesprovide comments on the translation or the general context of the main text and carry alphabetical designations. All other emphases and offset passages are the author’s own.
Hermina Joldersma and Richard Klumpenhouwer, Editors and Translators At the centre of the agenda for the forty-seventh German Archives Conference in 1971 were a number of investigationson “Archival Methods and Principles for the Acquisition, Appraisal, and Selection of Archival MateriaLU2 These investigations completed a cycle of sessions begun already in 1968, when the executive of the Association of German Archivists initiated what they hoped would generate a general, critical self-evaluation of the archival profession, especially as it relates to the theoretical and methodological tools used in three areas of archival activity.
The discussion began at the 45th German Archives Conference in Kiel in 1969 with the archival interpretation of historical source materiaL3 It was continued at the 46th German Archives Conference in Ulm in 1970 with the dissemination and promotion of archives and archival material4 And today, in Dortmund in 1971, it has turned to the central function of the archivist: the acquisition and appraisal of documentation. This function carries the greatest social significance, and unmistakably characterizes and defines the professional image of the archivist of today.
At the same time, this is the archivist’s most difficult area of activity since it presents a problem that is arguably the most crucial for the profession at the present time: it represents “le problime-clef de l’archivistique moderne,” as Robert-Henri Bautier once called it,5 “the eternal archival problem for us as for everyone else abroad,” as G. A. Belov, the Head of the Central Administration of the Archives of the USSR, described it. 6 This key problem of archival science consists of two main aspects: the one relates largely to archival methodology, the other more to archival theory. The presentations of Conference paper by Eckhart G. Franz in Der Archivar 25 (1972), especially cols. 17-19. 3 Conference paper by Hans Booms, Der Archivar 23 (1970), especially cols. 9, 13. See also “Offentlichkeitsarbeit der Archive – Voraussetzungen und Moglichkeiten,” Der Archivar 23 (1970), especially cols. 29-32. 4 Conference paper by Hans Booms, Der Archivar 24 ( 1 97 I), especially cols. 8-13. 5 Cited by Pierre Boisard, “Pour une politique des Climinations. RCflexion sur la pratique des Archives de la Seine,” La Gazette des Archives 59 (1967), p. 206; see also Gerhart Enders, Archivvenvaltungslehre (Berlin, 1968), p. 85. 6 Ghennadyj A.
Belov, “Zur Geschichte, Theorie und Praxis des Archivwesens in der UdSSR,” Verliffenflichungen derArchivschu1eMarburg. Institutfiir Archivwissenschafi 6 (Marburg, 197I), p. 39. 72 ARCHIVARIA 24 Bernd Ottnad, Toni Diederich, Ottfried Dascher, and Friedrich Kahlenberg7 dealt with methodological problems concerning principles and methods for the acquisition and appraisal of documentation. Employing a more pragmatic approach, they undertook a critical review of traditional as well as newly developed archival acquisition techniques and, more or less, worked towards an increased systematization of the appraisal process.
All four base their arguments on two assumptions: on the one hand, that techniques for the acquisition of archival material must be applied already at the pre-archival stage, with the creators of the registries; and, on the other hand, that appraisal techniques must be applied systematically, using a principle of positive selection, in the intermediate or records centre stage. The executive of the Association of German Archivists assigned me the task of addressing the theoretical aspect of this key problem of archival acquisition and appraisal.
This task involves raising questions, through a theoretical and critical analysis, regarding theories of archival value and criteria for the appraisal of archival sources. The objective is to try to penetrate into the heart of the archival process that determines the formation of our documentary heritage. Such an analysis must seek to reveal the professional archival standards by which modern archivists decide concretely which sources, by their contents, are valuable, and which are not.
This type of analysis, especially as it relates to the theme of “society and the formation of a documentary heritage,” inspired East German archivist Hans-Joachim Schreckenbach to assert that archivists in “capitalist countries” possess “no real solutions” to “the problem of the appraisal of information – and with that, the solution to the question of value. ” “The causes of this,” conceded Schreckenbach collegially, “do not lie in the subjective incompetence of the archivists involved;” rather, he believed they are rooted “in the objective reality of capitalist society…. The social conditions of capitalism, he contended, engender “the hopelessness of bourgeois archival science which, due to the given social context, is unable to solve the problem of information appraisal in any definitive manner. ” “A real solution” to the question of archival value in the form of “a comprehensive, scientifically based system of information appraisal, one that is valid for all areas of society,” Schreckenbach concluded, “is, in the final analysis, only possible under the conditions of socialist s~ciety. ~ It is typical of ideological statements that they dismiss any and all alternative statements as invalid and proclaim themselves in sole possession of the correct position, indeed, even 7 8 Ottnad addressed the issue with “Registraturgut einer Landesregierung und ihrer Landesverwaltung” (Baden-Wiirttemburg),published in Der Archivar 25 (1972), cols. 27-40; Diederich with “Registraturgut in Kommunalverwaltungen,” Der Archivar 25 (1972), cols. 39-42; Dascher with “Registraturgut der Wirtschaft,” DerArchivar25 (1972), cols. 1-50; Kahlenberg concluded by addressing the necessity and possibility of coordinating archival acquisition and appraisal in an examination of “Aufgaben und Probleme der Zusammenarbeit von Archiven verschiedener Verwaltungsstufen und Dokumentationsbereiche in Bewertungsfragen,” Der Archivar 25 (1972), cols. 57-70. Hans-Joachim Schreckenbach, “Stand der Informationsbewertung in kapitalistischen Landern,” Archivmitteilungen 19 (1969), pp. 179-82. Here Schreckenbach specifies an ideological theme which, in the field of archives, has been raised regularly since ca. 965 in Archivmitteilungen, Zeitschrqf fur Theorie undPraxis 1 Kritik der burgerlichen Geschichtsschreibung. Handbuch, edited by Werner Berthold, Gerhard Lozek, Helmut Meier, and Walter Schmidt (Koln, 1970). SOCIETY AND DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE 73 of Truth i t ~ e l fHowever, it is not the ideological character of Schreckenbach’s statements . ~ which should concern us here. All criticism is stimulating and helpful if one accepts it without prejudice so that it can be assessed for its possible legitimacy.
Therefore, we should thankfully take up Schreckenbach’s observations since they serve to bring into sharper focus the main issue of whether and how modern-day problems of archival appraisal can be solved. Moreover, Schreckenbach forces us to consider if – in the context of the ideological battles waged between different social systems in the modern world – even this seemingly esoteric problem of archival science is conditioned, even determined, by society.
And we should be all the more thankful for Schreckenbach’s observations as they finally compel us to search for an answer to a question already posed in 1957 by Hermann Meinert, now honorary member of the Association of German Archivists. Then, at the thirty-fifth German Archives Conference in Koblenz, Meinert characterized as “a highly interesting question, … worthy of special treatment at one of our archival conferences, … whether the methods of so-called dialectical materialism which are today preached as doctrine in eastern European countries can at all lead to genuine selection principles for archival material. ‘0 Finally, this narrower question allows us the additional opportunity to assess, within the framework of the basic analysis as proposed, the overall meaning of archival work for society; to consider the obligations of archivists to the public in performing a professional function that carries the greatest social responsibility. Attempts have been made to define the social responsibilities of archivists for less central tasks, such as, on the one hand, collecting material produced during one’s own time,’ or, on the other hand, interpreting source material in the diverse forms of archival public s e r v i ~ e . ~ Yet, neither ideologically inspired provocations, nor the professional opportunism which occasioned this analysis in the first place, can relieve us of the responsibility for determining at the outset whether the concept “society” and that of “the formation of a documentary heritage” can in any way be meaningfully and profitably related to one another. We want to attempt this by examining both elements as they are popularly conceived and later linking them more concretely with the help of our as yet undefined concept of the appraising archivist.
This requires, firstly, that we analyze the relationship of the archivist as an individual to society; and, secondly, that we examine the function of the archivist in the formation of the documentary heritage. Such inquiries will help in determining whether a connection exists between societal values and archival standards and to what degree such a connection is influenced by the ideological context. What is “society”? It is usually defined as an all-encompassing concept for human coexistence in general.
Although it has, throughout the whole history of its usage, been understood to mean many different things and has posed many conceptual problems,I3 the concept of “society” has continued to be used to designate a fundamental category of See Jakob Barion, Was ist Ideologie? Studie zu Begriff und Problematik (Bonn, 1964), pp. 7, 15,23, 35, 63f. Hermann Meinert, “Zur Problematik des modernen Archivwesens aus der Sicht eines Stadtarchivars,” Archivalische Zeitschrift 54 (1958), p. 99 (hereafter AZ).
Hans Booms, “Grenzen und Gliederungen zeitgeschichtlicher Dokumentationen in staatlichen Archiven,;: Der Archivar 19 (1966), cols. 35-40. Booms, “Offentlichkeitsarbeit,” cols. 19-26, 32. Summarized in, for example, Ernst Fraenkel and Karl D. Bracher, eds. , “Staat und Politik,” Das Fischer-Lexikon (1957), pp. 86ff. ; treated more comprehensively in, for example, Sowjetsystem und demokratische Geselhchaft (Freiburg, 1968), vol. 11, pp. 959ff. 74 ARCHIVARIA 24 human existence. Within this concept is rooted the deeper meaning of the description of the human being as animal social.
It elucidates for us the existential conditionality of human beings in that they are inescapably individuals and members of a community at one and the same time. It shows us that single individuals can experience their humanness, and develop as human beings, only with reference to a community or group – in other words, to society. 14Within the framework of our considerations, this existential impulse of human self-actualization, as it could be called, points us to the indissoluble connection between society and the individual.
However, it should be understood that the concept of “society,” which, in its spatial or temporal dimensions, can be extended to include all of “humanity,” remains incomprehensible if it is not limited by reference to a specific social system. Only in space and time does “society” become concrete reality, for every society necessarily possesses a structure which orders the coexistence of individuals; otherwise, it would be useless as a form for human existence. Within this structure, the views of the world and of life that have become dominant in the society find their expression.
Regardless of whether the society is viewed as a socialistic class structure, or a liberal competitive structure, or a technocratic industrial structure, or whatever, it always develops its own recognizable system of coordinating norms and values, of special control and behavioural models, which influence the life and thought patterns of its members. If it is true that individuals exist only as human beings in so far as they belong to a group, a community, a society, and that consequently they are unable to separate themselves from the socio-historical conditions of their existence, it follows that they are also not able to avoid the pecific posited values which are part of these conditions. This social context is all the more circumscriptive since individuals are unable to provide an absolute answer to the question of what they, in their daily lives, consider valuable or meaningful (unless, of course, they operate under ideological statements or philosophical creeds). They can only answer by referring to popular conceptions, ideas, or opinions which are deemed worthy by their social environment.
Individuals share their esteem for such opinions with others in their respective life circles, which is why a person’s origins, education, and social situation play such a significant role in determining to what extent an individual is influenced by the dominant values of a society. This plausible recognition (it seems to us) that scientific values are relative, includes, as a corollary, the fact that human value judgements must always be founded upon life experience. The individual’s horizon of experience provides the framework of references that is epistemologically necessary for human evaluation.
For without experience, the individual remains unfamiliar with the societal values and norms with which he or she wishes to and must conform. This shows us even more clearly how strongly individual behaviour is subject to the basic orientation of society, and how strongly an individual’s 14 For this and the following discussion see also Theodor Schieder, Geschichte als Wissenschafi, 2nd ed. (Miinchen, 1968),pp. 91ff. ;Arnold Brecht, Politische Theorie. Die Grundlagenpolitischen Denkens i m 20.
Jahrhundert (Tubingen, 1961), p. 140; Barion, p. 71; Helmut Butow, “Marxistische Wissenschaftstheorie,” in Deutschland Archiv. Zeitschriji fur Fragen der DDR und der Deutschlandpolitik 3 (1970), p. 1220;Hans-Ulrich Wehler, “Zum Verhaltnis von Geschichtswissenschaft und Psychoanalyse,” Hklorische Zeitschrifi (hereafter HZ) 208 (1969), p. 535. SOCIETY AND DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE 75 judgement is governed by “value precedents” (Barion) and is formed by “biases” (Gadamer) and “subconscious assumptions” (Habermas).
I5 These observations may confirm our opinion that, contrary to the intellectual traditions of liberalism and idealistic humanism, it is no longer meaningful, at least in epistemological terms, to continue to view the individual as detached from his or her social environment. I6 It might seem plausible – and this is how we would like to proceed in our analysis – that it is not only more meaningful, but actually essential, to view the activity of the archivist in relationship to the societal order, since it seems clear that there exists an indissoluble connection between values held by society and those held by the individual.
Moreover, it also seems apparent that Schreckenbach, in positing an interdependency between archival appraisal and society as his methodological starting point, is in harmony with the scientific findings of modern sociology in “capitalist countries. ” But is this dependent relationship between society and the formation of the documentary heritage necessarily a causal relationship – as Schreckenbach implies by the ideological confidence with which he delivers his prognosis? “One cannot at the same time live in society and be free from it,” Lenin once declared.
This assertion, which portrays the individual and society as interwoven entities, is clarified for us further by the statement of the Marxist historian Joachim Streisand: “Scientific communism views the individual as an ensemble of social relationship^. “‘^ In our view, such statements expand the concept of human socialization to extreme proportions. They completely negate the free room that allows the individual to choose between alternatives; a free room which, in our opinion, cannot be interpreted away with appeals to the deterministic consequences of hypothetical inevitabilities.
While, clearly, we would agree that individual judgement is preconditioned by the social environment, it is also true that this judgement “depends,” in turn, only “partly on a whole series of social and political relationship^. “‘^ That the human being is bound to social structures is becoming obvious to us; but, at the same time, this means for us “neither absolute social determinism” nor “absolute independence. ” Today, we recognize that there exists a “peculiar relationship” between the social conditioning of a human being and the possibilities arising out of his or her inner freedom;19 between an ndividual’s dependency on the powers of society and the dependency of society on the will and capacity of the individual. Only by recognizing this possibility for individual action is it worthwhile -given our basic view of the relationship between the individual and the whole – to investigate the role of the archivist in the formation of a documentary heritage as we have intended. An investigation of this role of the archivist must begin with the preliminary question: what constitutes the documentary heritage of today and how does a documentary heritage 15 See also Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode.
Grundzuge einerphilosophhchen Hermeneutik, 2nd ed. (Tubingen, 1965), pp. 168, 254f. , 286f. , 293; Jiirgen Habermas, Erkenntnis und Inferesse (FrankfudMain, 1968), pp. 242, 260; Habermas, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften (Tubingen, 1967), p. 34; Max Horkheimer, Uberdas Vorurteil(1963); Wolfgang Leesch, “Sozialwissenschaften und Archive,” Der Archivar 21 (1968), col. 113. 16 See Rupert Breitling, “Die zentralen Begriffe der Verbandsforschung,” Politische VierteIjahresschrifr 1 (1960), pp. 62f. 17 “Geschichtsforschung und Geschichtsschreibung auf dem Wege zur sozialistischen Menschengemeinschaft,” ZfG 17 (1969), p. 523. 18 Karl R. Popper, “Die Logik der Sozialwissenschaften,” in Der Positivismusslreit in der deutschen Soziologie, 3rd ed. (Neuwied, 1971), p. 112 (emphasis added). 19 Schieder, Geschichte als Wissenschaf, p. 20. 76 ARCHIVARIA 24 come into being? Without losing ourselves here in the unavoidable comprehensiveness of classical documentary criticism,20it suffices to define the documentary heritage, in this context, as the totality of the existing evidence of historical activity, or as all the surviving documentation on past events.
Insofar as such a definition refers to texts which are stored in written, printed, photographic, mechanical or automated forms and generated by the total social and -in the broadest sense of the term -political process, the documentary heritage represents material that is preserved in archives, provided that the archivist has considered it worthy to occupy a permanent place in the archives. In appraising the archival value of such material, and thereby determining whether it should be preserved permanently in the archives, the archivist performs the constitutive act by which societal data are converted into “historical sources. This act, which involves “transforming the heterogeneous continuum of real events into an interpretable, discrete form,” as Artur Zechel has described i’: is the archetypal activity of the archivist; it is the act of forming t the documentary heritage – a function that has been assigned to the archivist by the respective social groups which he or she serves. This function has undergone a qualitative transformation in the last generation of archivists.
Originally, it consisted of collecting and preserving more or less sparsely and randomly retained “leftovers. ” Then, as the volume of material with the potential of forming part of the documentary heritage began to exceed the limits of what could be physically incorporated into that documentary heritage, this function changed to comprise mainly the acquisition and preservation of material chosen more or less thoughtfully from out of an overabundant store.
What is more, the rate of this qualitative change in the professional functions of the archivist accelerated rapidly when archivists gained a monopoly in forming the documentary record, at least in the domain of public records, and thereby directed towards themselves the full force of this swelling flood of information. Our social life today, at best still unified in its diversity (Scheurig), has long ago fragmented into innumerable functions.
The further the public sector expands at the expense of the private the greater the institutionalization of the managed life and the more numerous the bureaucracies and organizational systems that create tasks for themselves. And, as life in our modern industrial society becomes more diverse, with its technocratic structures and its technological development problems, the mountain of data competing for storage also begins to grow at a more rapid pace. According to some calculations, the profusion of available information doubles in increasingly shorter time spans (8,5,3years! . It has been discovered that, already today, 95 per cent of all information lies beyond the capacity of any one individual to comprehend. Humankind is facing an explosion of information which threatens to render the problem of the control 20 Relevant are: Ahasver von Brandt, Werkzeug des Historikers. Eine Einfuhrung in die Historischen Hilfswissenschajien (Stuttgart, 1958), pp. 58ff. ;Paul Kirn, Einfuhrung in die Geschichtswissenschaft (Berlin, 1963); Bodo Scheurig, Einfuhrung in die Zeitgeschichte (Berlin, 1962). 1 Artur Zechel, “Problemeeiner Wissenschaftstheorieder Archivistik mit besonderer Beriicksichtigungdes Archivwesens der Wirtschaft. ” Tradition. Zeitschn3 fur Finnengeschichte und Unternehmerbiographie (1965), p. 298. 22 See also Helmut Schelsky, Schule und Eniehung in der indwtriellen Gesellschaji (1957), pp. 33ff. SOCIETY AND DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE 77 of information completely in~olvable. ~”or many years now, archivists have made unsuccessful attempts to staunch this flood of information, at least that which reaches the archives, by building ever higher and longer records storage areas. 4 Leaving aside the fact that this strategy would very quickly exceed the limits of what the economy is able to bear, it also does not solve the problem of volume. Neither does the solution lie only in refining those archival acquisition techniques that help archivists gain intellectual and administrative control over the material at the pre-archival stage, indispensible though these techniques may be for the process of archival appraisal. These observations are equally valid for modern techniques of data processing.
It would be an illusion to believe that “EDP technology” or “information science,” graced as they may be with the flair of modernity and progress, can deliver us from this information explosion. Although these methodologies have become indispensible in helping us to capture and make available the transmitted do~umentation,~~ too, will not help to they, decrease the flood of information. Reducing quantity while condensing archival material qualitatively remains the task of the archivist as appraiser.
It is the archivist alone who has the responsibility to create, out of this overabundance of information, a socially relevant documentary record that is, in spatial terms, storable and, in human terms, usable. 26 This archival burden of responsibility for a problem that seems virtually insolvable represents, in the area of public records, the flip-side of a position to which archivists themselves have unswervingly aspired. In Germany, as Wilhelm Rohr and Gerhard Enders describe it, archivists have had to fight bitterly for their monopoly over the selection of departmental records. 7Even in Prussia, where, as early as 1833,the first orders for records destruction were issued, it nevertheless took more than 100 years before an administrative order set down the following rule: “The final decision concerning whether registry material is to be destroyed can and must be made only by the professional archivist; that is to say, no destruction of files may occur without his parti~ipation. “~~ In other 23 See the studies by Botho Brachmann, “Zum System der Informationsbewertung in der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik,” Archivmitreilungen 19 (1969), p. 5; Brachmann, “Die Auswirkungen der modernen Informationsiiberlieferung auf die Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Geschichtsbild und Informationsbasis,” ZfG 17 (1969), pp. 62ff. ; more specifically for archival science, Ake Kromnow in Nordisk Arkivnyr 12 (1967); and now also Carl Haase, “Kostenfaktoren bei der Entstehung behordlichen Schriftgutes sowie bei seiner archivischen Bearbeitung und Aufbewahrung,” Der Archivar 25 (1972), cols. 49ff. 4 Johannes Papritz arrived at the ideologically rigid conclusion that archival appraisal and disposal may “never be made dependent upon the availability of existing space in the repository” in “Zum Massenproblem der Archive,” Der Archivar 17 (1964), col. 220. Wilhelm Rohr, at the 1957 Archives Conference in Koblenz, had insisted on the necessity to consider the preservation of documents in relation to the “high costs of building new structures and/or expanding existing ones” in “Zur Problematik des modernen Aktenwesens,” AZ 54 (1958), p. 77; see also Enders, p. 85. 5 See Christoph Sproemberg, “Dokumentation in den historischen Wissenschaften. Aufgaben und Probleme,” Nachrichten fur Dokumenlation 22 (1 97 I), pp. 15 1-56. 26 See Rudolf Morsey, “Wert und Masse des schriftlichen Quellenguts als Problem der historischen Forschung. Erwartungen des Forschers von der ErschliePung der Archive,” DerArchivar 24 (1971), col. 17K Woldemar Lippert recognized the full extent of this problem concerning the documentary heritage in 1901 when he contended: “to preserve everything is not in the realm of possibility as long as money remains a consideration in the state budget. He was, however, convinced that this was “a blessing to future historians who would otherwise drown in an unfathomable sea of material;” see “Das Verfahren bei Aktenkassationen in Sachsen,” Deulsche Geschichtsblatter 2 (1901), p. 258. 27 “Das Aktenwesen der preubischen Regierungen,” AZ 45 (1939), pp. 52ff. Enders, p. 88. 28 Heinrich Otto Meisner, “Schutz und Pflege des staatlichen Archivguts mit besonderer Beriicksichtigung des Kassationsproblems,” AZ 45 (1939). p. 42. 78 ARCHIVARIA 24 ords, no public records that are potentially archival will survive for posterity if they have not passed the scrutiny of the archivist. Archivists, therefore, in fulfilling their role in the formation of the documentary heritage, hold the monopoly on an activity which dictates what kind of cultural representation of society, insofar as this is reflected by the public record, will be handed down to future generations. That such a function is being performed should raise the question of whether that function requires certain societal controls.
It is obvious, however, that this question has yet to be addressed. The person who decides which events in social life are transmitted to us through the record, and, as a result, decides which are preserved to form part of a society’s memory and which are not, is thereby making decisions which are important for society. Yet, up to now, it seems, such a situation has failed to attract societal concern. “Whoever controls the past, controls the future,” to quote a hyperbolic statement from George Orwell’s apocalyptic vision of the future, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In his vision, “registry clerks” are constantly revising and recreating the written documents of the past to fit the changing needs for historical documentation in the present in an effort to influence the development of the future. 29 Admittedly, this phantasmagoria is a radical extrapolation beyond reality of how historical knowledge is abused for ideological purposes, of how history is used as an arsenal “for the justification of the status quo” (Schieder) and as an apologia for the current political situation.
Yet, it is precisely Orwell’s hyperbole which may serve to make us sensitive to the question of the social significance of archival appraisal. To be sure, we can only find a qualified answer, and for that, two paths are available. The first involves an attempt at measuring the significance of historical facts for the solution of modern problems of politics (in the broadest sense of the term) and its administration, and it is for this purpose that such facts have been entered into the data banks of information systems.
But because this first path is more exclusive to administration, is more esoteric, and renders the social significance of archival appraisal for the public consciousnessless evident, we will choose another path for our considerations. This second path will lead us to consider the significance of the discipline of history for society. We will then have to link this with an analysis of the function of the archival record within the discipline of history.
The social status and role of the archival formation of the documentary heritage in society is closely related to the utilitarian status and role of history and historical consciousness in the public realm. “Historical consciousness and historiography,” Theodor Schieder has maintained, “were and are as a rule closely bound up in the general political, social, and intellectual system of the time …. 30 In societies which have developed their political system according to a Marxist world-view, this means that the societal importance of the archivist’s formation of its documentary heritage is already guaranteed by the politically dominant ideology: this is based on the fact that ” ‘the historical’ occupies a central position in socialist ide~logy. “~’ socialist countries, “historiography has become a theoretical basis In for the class struggle of the working class. 32 There, historiography has to supply “scientific proof’ for the validity of Marxist teaching and must give the convictions attached to 29 George Orwell, Neunzehnhundertvienindachizig (Rastatt, 1950), pp. 44-51. 30 Theodor Schieder, “Grundfragen der Geschichte,” in Die Weltgeschichte(Freiburg, 1971), p. 20. 31 Walter Schmidt, “Geschichtsbewu~tseinund sozialistische Personlichkeit bei der Gestaltung der entwickelten sozialistischen Gesellschaft,” in Geschichtsbewu,! 3tsein und sozialLsfLsche GeseNschaft (Berlin, 1970), p. 9. 32 Joachim Streisand, “ijber das Geschichtsbild der Arbeiterklasse,” Archivrnitteilungen 2 1 (197 I), p. 02. SOCIETY AND DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE 79 that “the necessary scientific foundation … insofar as it provides the concrete historical proof of their correctne~s. “~~ However, as the East German archival journal Archivmitteilungen asserts in virtually every issue,34″archival science was and is closely tied … to historiography and, by extension, also to historical cons~iousness. “~~ This kind of ideologically sanctioned linkage between the archival formation of a documentary heritage and that which is of greatest societal importance is not possible for those of us who live in a pluralistic society.
Such a linkage is simply incompatible with the way in which the sciences, including historical scholarship, view their place in our society. If they are to remain true to their epistemology, the sciences cannot hold the same central position that they do under the conditions of a society operating with a closed worldview. 36 This renunciation does not flow out of “agnosticism” or lack of perspective; neither does it spring up out of “the deep pessimism” of bourgeois “late ~ a p i t a l i s m . ” ~ ~ At issue here is nothing less than the simple consequences of our assumptions about the limitations of human knowledge.
Contrary to the views of Lenin and many after him, we are not able to view world history as a process which unfolds according to laws – most notably, that law which renders history the function of the single, urgent purpose of class struggle. Instead, we content ourselves with the insight that the historical process is a multifarious interrelationship of factors which – holding out the hope that the expected may occur, though it is never guaranteed – continually develops towards open ends. Accordingly, we are not able to answer the questions, “Why H i ~ t o r y ? ” ~ ~ or, “What is the use of history today? ” by merely touting the “inevitable triumph of socialist ideology. “39 In the context of our society and of our view of the limits of human knowledge, it seems that the appropriate response for us must be much more vague. In our case, history serves as “a medium for illuminating human existence” (Schieder), as a means of obtaining a “clearer understanding of human action” (Kosselleck), “as an element of our reconciliation with the present and as a necessary criterion for our blueprint for the future,”40 or as “an aid for living and making decisions” in present-day society. 1From such a perspective, it is already much more difficult to establish concretely the societal importance of archival appraisal. Nevertheless, such convictions are entirely adequate in serving our intention to weigh the societal importance and, with that, the social responsibility of the archivist in the formation of the documentary heritage. “The decisive question by which the meaning and scientific validity of history must be established,” is, “whether and how science can extract from history principles or insights that are normative for today, influence present-day behaviour, and have an effect upon the future. 42 The historical disciplines are necessarily dependent upon archives for solving such existential questions in a Berthold et. a l , eds. , Kritik der burgerlichen Geschichtsschreibung,pp. 4, Sf. See, for example, Giinter Benser, “Partei und Klasse,” Archivmi(tei1ungen 21 (1971), p. 83. Streisand, p. 201. See also Hans-Joachim Lieber, Philosophie – Soziologie Gesellschaft (Berlin, 1965), pp. 3f. See Berthold et al. , for example, p. 1. Reinhart Koselleck, “Wozu noch Historie? HZ 212 (1971), pp. Iff. Berthold et al. , p. 1. Geschichtswissenschaft und Geschichtsunterricht.
Lageanalyse Folgerungen – Empfehlungen. Stellungnahme des Verbandes der Historiker Deutschlands irn Zusammenwirken mit dem Verband der Geschichtslehrer Deutschlands (1971), p. 2. Karl-Georg Faber, Theorie der Geschichtswissenschaft (Miinchen, 197I), p. 2 18. Josef Engel, in an observation made during a discussion with Karl Dietrich Erdmann, “Die Zukunft als Kategorie der Geschichte,” HZ 198 (1964), p. 66. – 80 ARCHIVARIA 24 scientific manner – not, as we just saw, for reasons of ideological opportunism, but rather, as must still be shown, for compelling methodological reasons.
It is in this dependency of history on archives in our society that the societal importance of the archival formation of the documentary heritage is most evident. Historical research is, by definition, a retrospective activity that concerns itself with an already completed reality. 43Therefore, the subject of historical inquiry must always be the past. However, as Droysen pointed out in his “first great fundamental principle” of historical sch0larship,4~ past can only be observed indirectly.
Consequently, human the beings are able to realize only a very qualified picture of the past. As humanity seeks “to break through the limits of human memory” (Schieder), to expand this memory beyond the limited capacity of one individual to remember, and to avoid being delivered up to sheer fantasy, it relies upon the concrete evidence from the past which has come down to the present – the historical sources. “Hence, the question of sources … is the most fundamental question of every historical inquiry” (Schieder).
The importance of archives in helping to resolve the question of sources makes it clear that the writing of history is possible only because of the existence of a documentary heritage in material form, and that the documentary heritage is the material source of a society’s historical consciousness. On the other hand, the documentary heritage does not simply supply the material needed for forming a picture of history; it also provides the material preconditions of a methodology for realizing that picture. Through this, the historical rendering gains its scientific quality.
For history is an empirical science and, therefore, one of its fundamental prerequisites is that it “can never be severed from its solid foundation in a concrete documentary traditi01-1. “~~ After all, historical research does not derive its scientific validity from the subjective questions posed by historians conditioned by their social e n v i r ~ n m e n tbut~rather, and above all, it depends upon the exactness with which ;~ historians use the documentation handed down from the past to provide answers to historical questions and to assess their accuracy.
As the archival documentary record provides historians with the essential material necessary for a systematic treatment of history, it also affords the historical researcher a rudimentary guaranteeof scientific validity. Yet, this is not the only component of such a guarantee. The scientific validity of history is also based on the assumption that the documentary record available to the historian does in fact represent the essential, substantive documentation of past human activity.
For, because historians are so fundamentally dependent on the sources, they must constantly deal with the basic problem of historical research “centering on the degree of objectivity inherent in the sources” (Pabst). Traditionally, historians have answered this question by appealing to their use of “the critical method, through which the authenticity and quality of the sources as historical evidence are evaluated” (Schieder). This method, however, has been applied, by and large, only to single documents, or, at best, to smaller groups of texts of the same origin.
Questions concerning the objectivity of the documentary record in a larger context, especially within its total societal framework, have up to now never been raised by historians. For them, this 43 For this and the following see: Schieder, Geschichte als Wissenschaji,pp. 13&, and “Grundfragen der Geschichte,”pp. 24f. , 31; Karl-Georg Faber, pp. 41f. , 196f. 44 Johann Gustav Droysen, Historik. Vorlesungen uber Enzyklopadie und Methodologie der Geschichte, ed. Rudolf Hiibner, 5th ed. (Miinchen, 1967), p. 20. 45 Klaus Pabst, “Geschichtsforschung,”in Die Weltgeschichte(Freiburg, 1971), pp. 38f. 46 Koselleck, p. 10; Popper, pp. 12f. SOCIETY AND DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE 81 “dependence upon something that has been preserved by chancev4′ poses few problems. They have put their faith in what they consider to be the inherent objectivity of the documentary record – an objectivity bestowed, so it seems, by the manifest workings of Fortune. Here and there, doubtful voices could be heard to observe that “the accidental nature of the documentary record … might distort the historical picture” (Pabst). Yet, historians have never considered it significant that, besides the workings of chance, the ways in which archivists design, mould, and shape he documentary record might also have an effect on the “historical picture. ” In the future, however, the historian, in addressing “questions concerning the degree of objectivity inherent in the sources” (Pabst), will have to consider that the value criteria by which the archivist forms the documentary record reflect the character of his or her society, are “conditioned by a multitude of factors,” and are “determined by one’s view of the It is up to historians, not archivists, to revise the critical methods of historical scholarship so that the “ideological relativity of the documentation” can be identified and controlled. 9 But it is the task, if not the societal duty, of the archivist to provide the required preconditions for such a reassessment of historical methodology. Due to the scientific nature of historical enterprise, the historian has a right, in turn based on the historian’s responsibility to society, to an archival documentary record that has been systematically created following principles grounded in archival theory.
Therefore, archivists must objectify their notions of archival value and formulate their value coordinates so that their contribution as a constitutive element of the documentary heritage can be measured and controlled. In formulating and justifying society’s claims on the work of archivists, we have concluded our preliminary deliberations. Now, better equipped to recognize the complexities of the problem, we return to the original question: how do archivists determine the value of the documentary record?
How do they recognize which sources are more valuable than others, which categories and groups of documents absolutely belong to the documentary heritage, and which can be easily dispensed with? In short: how does the archivist solve the problem of archival appraisal, the key problem of archival activity? In order even to begin to answer the question, we must leave aside all the “methodological preliminaries” (G. Enders) related to appraisal and acquisition and seek to describe the formal, systematic execution of the appraisal function.
Only in this way, it would seem, will we gain the critical categories we will need to assess all significant techniques for archival appraisal developed up to now according to how well they resolve the question of value. Schieder, “Angewiesen auf zufallig Bewahrtes. Die Geschichte und die Sozialwissenschaften,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nr. 271, 21 November 1967, pp. 13f. “Standards of value and appraisal viewpoints are conditioned by a multitude of factors. They are determined by one’s view of the world, but especially by one’s interpretation of history.
How the archivist assesses the value of archival material depends on which forces in the historical process the archivist observes are operative or the most decisive,” Enders, p. 86. The fact that I received word of the death of Gerhard Enders on 18 March 1972, during the rewriting of this section of my paper, makes me realize all the more the loss which the death of this brilliant colleague means not only for German archivists, but for archivists all over the world. Scheurig, p. 35; see also Popper, Dm Elend des Historismus (Tiibingen, 1965), pp. 17f. ; Giinter Rohrmoser, Das Elend der kritbchen Theorie (Freiburg, 1970), pp. 104f. 82 ARCHIVARIA 24 In our consideration of the relationship of the individual to society we established initially that is not possible for human beings to designate a certain thing -considered in itself and thereby isolated -as valuable or not valuable in any absolute sense. 50The value of a particular item only becomes apparent when it is set in relation to something else and compared with that other item.
If human beings do not answer questions of what they do or do not consider valuable with ideological statements or philosophical confessions, their answers cannot be absolute, but only relative to something in reference to which a certain thing seems valuable. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: if this holds for human beings epistemologically, it also applies to the archivist professionally. Moreover, archivists cannot determine the value of documentation by seeking it in the documentation itself.
They will not find its “objective” value there. Documentary sources do not possess an inherent value discernable within the documents themselves. Documentary sources become valuable only when the archivist accords them value during the appraisal process. 5′ In order to be able to assign value in a practical way during the process of appraisal, archivists need one or more aspects by which they can gradually “find” or perceive the relative value of their archival records in relation to value coordinates.
Only with reference to phenomena whose value has been established beyond question can the archivist place documentary sources in relationship to one another so that they may be compared with one another and situated within a hierarchy of value. Crucial to this kind of systematic execution of appraisal is, first and foremost, a universally binding recognition of value coordinates. Without such coordinates, the appraisal process is not really possible or else remains, at best, unsatisfactory.
If such value coordinates are to be of any real use to appraising archivists in making their decisions as to what is of “enduring” and “permanent archival value,” they must be not only comprehensive and pertinent, but also sufficiently clear and concrete: comprehensive and pertinent, so that they can effectively serve as an intermediary in assigning value for the entire spectrum of subject matter contained in archival information; clear and concrete, so that, as principles for appraising the immense quantity of material, they can provide a genuine orientation for the archivist.
The problems involved in establishing these value principles, recognizing them as universally valid, and defining them as concretely as possible, are central to both archival appraisal and the scholarly analysis of sources. Whether or not archivists will be able to develop value concepts to guide them in the formation of the documentary heritage depends largely on how firmly they keep their feet on the ground of reality. To proceed further with our analysis, we should review the value concepts which archivists have developed up to this point.
Have they succeeded in defining value principles concretely enough to be useful in the formation of the documentary heritage? Assertions have been made to the contrary: Fritz Zimmermann stated in 1957-58 that ‘the problem of archival value … has not been the subject of an independent theoretical inquiry within German archival science”;52 Artur Zechel contended in 1965 that “the need for a scientific foundation for appraisal has been disregarded far too long”;53 and 50 See above, p. 73, as well as, generally, the considerations of Brecht, pp. 140K 51 See also Enders, p. 86. 52 Fritz Zimmermann, “Wesen und Ermittlung des Archivwertes.
Zur Theorie einer archivalischen Wertlehre,” AZ 54 (1958), p. 103. 53 Zechel, “Werttheorie und Kassation,” Der Archivar 18 (1965), col. 2. SOCIETY A N D DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE 83 finally, as has already been mentioned, Hans-Joachim Schreckenbach declared in 1969 that we are unable to solve this problem for reasons inextricably related to our societal ~ystem. 5~ The task of appraising documentary sources did not become the monopoly of the archivists only because of the fact that material with the potential of forming part of the documentary record exceeded the limits of what could be physically incorporated into it.
As Georg Wilhelm Sante observed years ago, the history of attempts by archivists “to reconcile the mass production of records with the limited capacity of archives to absorb them” forms part of the history of archives in general. 55As long as archivists, trained in law, still preserved material for the purpose of safeguarding the legal system, they were able to meet the demand for reducing the volume of documentary material in a simple way: they merely disposed of those records which had been lying about for the longest time since it appeared the least likely that this material would ever be needed again.
However, because historical research requires an historical methodology, and archives came to be seen primarily as the arsenal of history, a criterion based on the age of the documentary material could no longer be the maxim used to reduce the volume of archival sources. On the contrary, in fact, historical scholarship began to assign a positive value precisely to these older sources and, as a result, the principle of source reduction was reversed and superseded by a principle of source preservation.
At the same time, the discipline of history, dependent as it was upon archives and written records, was informed by a philosophy of individ~ality. ~~ It operated under the assumption that, as Droysen formulated it, “if something has moved the human spirit and has found material expression … it can be re-experien~ed,”~’ therefore must be worthy of attention. and Since all sources are materially perceivable signs of the past, and since there is “hardly any record” which cannot be used again for some sort of purpose,”58 history tended towards the opinion that actually “nothing should be destroyed” and that it would be best if “every record were kept for all times. ” To be sure, archivists of this time knew that “keeping everything … would be an imp~ssibility. “~~ at the second German Archival Yet, Conference in Dresden in 1900, the historian von Zwiedineck stated that “historical scholarship demanded a far more extensive preservation of records” than that which the archivists at the conference had “rec~rnmended. ~~ clash between, on the one hand, This the claims of history that archives must contain the totality of the documentary record if they are to represent the “true” record of society for a particular period, and, on the other hand, the economic pressures on archivists to reduce the quantity of the documentary record, introduced the problem of documentary source appraisal into the history of archives. Since then, archivists have attempted, and are still attempting, to perform the 54 See above, n. 8. 5 Georg Wilhelm Sante, “Behorden – Akten – Archive. AlteTaktik und neue Strategie,” AZ54 (1958), p. 90; for the development of disposal and appraisal methods, see Adolf Brenneke, Archivkunde. Ein Beitrag zur Theorie und Geschichte des europaischen Archivwesens, ed. Wolfgang Leesch (Leipzig, 1953), pp. 38-43; Enders, pp. 87-90. 56 See Thomas Nipperdey, “Kulturgeschichte, Sozialgeschichte, historische Anthropologie,” Vierteljahrsschrifr fur Sozial- und Wirtschafsgeschichte 55 (1968), p. 147. 57 Droysen, p. 26. 8 Georg Hille, “Die Grundsatze der Aktenkassation,” Korrespondenzblatt des Gesamrvereins der deutschen Geschichts- und Alterthumsvereine 49 (1901), p. 26. 59 Lippert, p. 257, n. 1, and p. 258. 60 Korrespondenzblatt 49 (1901), p. 3 1. 84 ARCHIVARIA 24 feat of documenting everything within theirjurisdiction while, at the same time, reducing the bulk of the documentation by excluding the valueless. As far as we can tell, however, the professional discussions of that time produced no concrete methods for determining what is in fact valueless and y what standards archivists measure value. Wilhelm Rohr later described this phase in archival appraisal as a period when “the methodological tools with which archivists believed they could fulfill their most distinctive task – the selection of permanently valuable documents – were confined to a few very general rules of thumb. It was assumed that the trained archivist, on the basis of his historical education and professional experience, could find the proper solution on a case-by-case basis. ‘jl Rohr’s analysis seems particularly apt when one considers Woldemar Lippert’s 1901 defense of archivists against the reproaches of those historians who claimed that archivists were not adequately qualified to eliminate records. Lippert contended that archivists have acquired “historical expertise,” are “professionally educated historians,” and “possess practical experience in records disposal. “‘j2 Based on these arguments, archivists believed they had sufficient tools at their disposal to be able “on their own” to “process records for destruction,” i. e. , to appraise archival sources.
After all, the historians of that time could offer no alternative criteria for appraising historical phenomena. If Lippert rendered archivists qualified for historical appraisal by designating them “historical experts,” so Friedrich Meinecke, himself a former archivist, placed historians “in possession” of an “overall feeling for historical life,” which could be compared to “an unwritten, living synthesis. “‘j3 Unchallenged as they were at this time by any disposition towards ideological criticism, this “overall feeling” of Lippert and Meinecke grew out of a usually unexamined approval of recent developments within their society.
On this rested their “rather unsceptical belief in steady human progress, in the blessings of the liberal national-state, in a richly unfolding culture. “64 This optimistic anthropology, derived from historicism, also provided historians with “self-evident standards of value” (Wehler) with which to appraise historical phenomena. Archivists, however, understood themselves to be “professionally educated historians” as well, and strove “to harmonize their administrative practices with the demands of their discipline. ‘j5 Why then was it precisely the archivists who began to doubt whether they possessed such “self-evident standards of value” – standards which were in complete harmony with the mindset of the time – for appraising historical evidence? Both archivists and historians in the age of historicism applied such self-evident standards of value to practical problems without any particular difficulty. For them, two requirements were sufficient to perform the task: verstehen [intuitive understanding] and experience.
Without question, they accepted the principle that “the basis of history is herm e n e u t i c ~ . ” ~ ~ a long time, this doctrine of verstehen remained the key concept in the For German humanities. It was a central concept for the historiographical school extending from Ranke through Droysen to Dilthey. ‘j7 Derived from the Aristotelian concept of intuition, hermeneutics or verstehen was thought to “grow out of a gift for sensitivity and 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 Rohr, p. 75. Lippert, p. 257. Friedrich Meinecke, Zur Theorie und Philosophie der Geschichte. Werke IV (Stuttgart, 1959), p. 84. Wehler, p. 536. Lippert, p. 249. Gadamer, p. 187. See also Schieder, Geschichte ah Wissenschafr,pp. 37-41. SOCIETY AND DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE 85 human maturity. “68 Verstehen or “historical expertise” (as Lippert called it) entailed the ability to empathize with historical events. This provided justification for the famous and longstanding principle of Fingerspitzengefuhl [subtle intuition] by which archivists even up to the present day -have resolved and continue to resolve problems of archival source appraisal, even if they were generally unwilling to admit it.
The title of Hermann Meinert’s 1956 contribution on records appraisal to a Festschrift for Georg Wilhelm Sante, “Von archivarischer Kunst und Verantwortung” [The Art of Archival Work and Archival Responsibility], still reflects this approach. 69 Yet verstehen does not depend only on a “gift for sensitivity;” it also requires “human maturity” (Wehler). “The ability to put oneself into a situation” intuitively “in this way” (Gadamer), requires that “the individual’s horizon of experience” serve as a “system of reference” to make understanding possible. 70 This seems to have been he thrust of Theodor Mommsen’s opinion, “thathistorians become good historians only as they get older; that is to say, when they attain the greatest possible variety of human experiences which may serve as the basis for their judgement^. “^’ The epistemology of hermeneutics and verstehen required recourse to the phenomenon of experience. Out of this grew, in general terms, an admiration at that time for “practical experience,” and, in particular, the view that the “archivist who possesses practical experience in disposal” (Lippert, emphasis added) is best qualified to undertake appraisal.
As a result, archivists and historians alike shared a timidity towards analytical activities, and, indeed, a disdain for all that was scientifically t h e ~ r e t i c a lSuch attitudes were already clearly expressed by . ~~ Lippert: “Detailed regulations and systems for determining what should be destroyed and what should be preserved are of no value; as is generally the case, theory is worthless or inferior – only actual practice is decisive. “73 This kind of “tension between theory and practice,” evident in Lippert’s statements from 1901, “was for a long time a particularly pronounced feature of German historical s~holarship. ~~ was the case for every discipline concerned with experience, and, as This such, also characterizes the history of German archival science. That Hilles’ 1901 appraisal marims were repeated by Brenneke in the 1930s and published by Leesch in 1953 illustrates this point. 75 It is further confirmed by the observation that Zipfel’s formulation against theory, that one should work “out of practical experience for practical e~perience,”~~ be reintroduced into the discussion at the German Archival could Conference in 1970 with full conviction. “The tendency … to abstain from theory … is in 68 Wehler, p. 33. 69 “It is necessary to recognize that a good archivist must be something of an artist. Experience and practice count for a great deal, but they are not e