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Controlling the Past: Documenting Society and Institutions

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CONTROLLING THE PAST: Documenting Society and Institutions - Essays in Honor of Helen Willa Samuels

Terry Cook , Editor

In this compelling and wide-ranging volume, twenty leading archivists honor Helen Willa Samuels, retired institute archivist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, by exploring the theme of documenting modern society and its institutions, and carefully considering the implications arising from the archivist's control over social memory.

Editor Terry Cook's introductory essay places the significance of Samuels' ideas in the context of modern archival practice and traces her influence on North American archival thinking. Divided in two sections, the first nine essays explore the rich contexts in which the appraisal of potential archival sources takes place and focus on understanding and managing all documentation to select the small percentage that will survive in archives. Several chapters trace how the profession is being radically transformed in the digital age with topics such as making a case for electronic records management, documenting appraisal as a societal-archival process, and challenging stereotypes about corporate archives.

The second section looks at both the documentation and who is doing the documenting. Seven essays explore the nature, influences, and ethics of archivists and their roles in appraising records, documenting society and its institutions, and describing records with digital tools. A pair of retrospective reflections round out the volume, including one from Samuels, who reflects on the origins of her work on appraisal.

Just as archivists shape what society can know about itself through documentation, so, too, this book is bound to shape contemporary archival perspectives about the challenges and responsibilities of "controlling the past." Read it and see.


"The articles in Controlling the Past are of the highest caliber, and Terry Cook has achieved that most elusive of goals for an editor working with multiple authors: a book with thematic coherence and consistent quality. This volume makes a significant contribution to a core of essential professional literature.

—BERNADINE DODGE, Trent University, Archivaria, Spring 2012


"An archival tour de force in the very best tradition...Not only is this edited collection Terry Cook's gift to a friend and mentor but it is his own gift to the profession. It is a must read for all archivists."

—JOANNA SASSOON, Archives and Manuscripts, November 2011


"...A thoughtful consideration of the present, past, and future of the archival profession...the collection invites investigation and discussion, and is likely to inform archival perspectives about the nature of documentation and the challenges and responsibilities of 'controlling the past'."

—LIBBY CHENAULT, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Journal for the Society of North Carolina Archivists, Fall 2011


"Filled with thought-provoking essays that mingle theory, observation, and practice. It's one of those books that you'll return to."

—GENE HYDE, Radford University, College & Research Libraries


"This collection not only represents creative and exciting thinking by intellectual leaders in the archives profession, but also suggests just how all-encompassing this profession has become."

—JEANNETTE A. BASTIAN, Simmons College, The American Archivist, Spring/Summer 2012

Society of American Archivists (2011)
442 pp., soft cover

Product Code: BOOKSAA-0572
ISBN: 1-931666-36-9
Qty Available: 61



List Price: $56.00
Member Price: $39.95



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