CoPAR Bulletin 2
Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records
Dedicated to helping anthropologists,
information specialists and others preserve and provide access to the
records of human diversity and the history of the discipline.
Taking Stock of Your Records
The bulk of written or recorded information in
anthropology, or for that matter, in any professional field, ends up not being
published, and hence, unavailable to the public at large. Yet this unpublished information
can have value in three major categories. It may include: (1) data that are useful for
future research; (2) historical materials that will help to interpret the data or to place
it in context; and (3) information that is germane to studies of the history of
In the realm of scholarship and science, the ratio of unpublished to published pages is
probably on the order of 50:1. These unpublished materials include field and laboratory
notes and notebooks, with basic data and interpretations and analyses, tests and
rejections of ideas (some, perhaps, not so wisely rejected), and successive drafts of
manuscripts containing ideas represented in different ways. Within science, we know that
Charles Darwin's comprehensive notebooks that span five decades of his life have been an
invaluable source of conceptual, theoretical, and historical evidence for contemporary
scientists and scholars of evolution, and have contributed to what some call the
"Darwin Industry." Outside of science, we know that Mozart's legacy of
brilliance left us with near-perfect, single drafts of his compositions, while Beethoven's
brilliance was reflected by his successive drafts, each carrying the music a step forward
toward perfection in their final form. Drafts of manuscripts, lecture notes, or other
documents represent changing ideas that provide insights for us into the creative process,
whether it be in music or anthropology.
Research into the history of the profession, biographical studies of anthropologists,
and assessments of their contributions require records such as correspondence, papers,
photographs, and other unpublished materials. Documenting the life and ideas of an
individual anthropologist and where she/he fits into the history of the discipline can not
be done without reference such materials.
What follows in this brochure are some suggestions to you, as an anthropologist, on how
to take stock of or survey your records so they may be of value to others when donated to
an archival repository.
The Multiple Roles of an Academic Anthropologist
An anthropologist who teaches and conducts research at an academic institution engages
in a variety of activities that have an impact on the profession. Research is planned,
results of such research are incorporated into lecture notes and teaching, undergraduates
are taught and guided in their careers, graduate students are trained, and
teaching/research programs are developed at the home institution that can provide new
directions for anthropological inquiry. New ideas, new training modes, new administrative
procedures, are often accompanied by disagreement and outright conflict, but certainly are
represented by abundant exchanges of memos and other correspondence.
Research activities are not simply represented by designs, proposals, data collection,
analysis, and publication. There also are the politics of ideas, the strong opinions that
slow down or accelerate progress, the often incredible efforts expended in merely getting
to the point of data acquisition. And there are the detailed data, which may be
represented in the form of letters, diaries, text, extensive notes, photographs, tape
recordings, or recorded quantitative values. Even the step from raw data to manageable
data, in what is known as data reduction, carries with it changes that may obscure
important results. Hence, the conservation of research records at all levels is an
important issue in the preservation of information.
There are special problems in today's world of communication, documentation, and
preservation. Whereas documents were principally handwritten, typewritten, and printed
during the first half of the 20th century, communication became increasingly ephemeral
during the second half of our century with increasing use of the telephone and electronic
mail. At the same time, numerical data recording moved from perforated tapes to computer
cards to electronic computer storage. These contemporary practices present special
problems to those concerned with preservation of our anthropological heritage. (See CoPAR
Bulletin No.13 on Managing Electronic Records).
Identifying Your Records
In looking around an office or complex of offices, information can be found in a number
of places discussed. One of the cardinal rules of archival preservation is "do not
make decisions, yourself, about which of your records should and should not be
preserved." Your job is to identify and survey the materials rather than to
sort and discard. There is a possible exception to this rule: if you find that in your
unpublished papers there is information that could cause harm to others, you might
consider other options for these materials such as a time restriction (See CoPAR Bulletins
9 & 10 on Ethical Issues to Consider When Depositing Your Records).
Your Library. Libraries have intrinsic value, but they
also can tell about the interests of and influences on their owner. Other information that
is of value are marginal notes that the owner might have made in her/his books. If your
papers are donated to a library archive, then you may wish to donate your books to the
same library. It would be helpful to catalog your books for future researchers before they
Theses. Theses represent who has been
trained and which students may have been influenced by the ideas of a teacher.
Acknowledgments are of particular interest.
Manuscripts by Other Authors. Manuscripts
provide information about close contacts among colleagues and the knowledge base of the
owner. They also provide insights into access that individuals had to unpublished
Your Own Manuscripts.
Successive drafts of one's own manuscripts provide information on the developments of
ideas and the creative process itself.
Correspondence/Memos. There is
a wealth of information in correspondence and even the dreaded memoranda that deal with
the day-to-day activities of a professional life. To gain a sense of the power in these
documents, reread your own correspondence from the distant past -- these apparently
trivial documents can provide chronology and a chronicle of activities that you have
Biographical Material. Any
autobiographical or biographical materials in addition to sequential vitae are invaluable.
Lecture Notes and Associated
Documents. Classroom lectures are syntheses, provide general knowledge, and often
have embedded in them the germs of original ideas. From the beginning of a career to its
end, lecture notes and lectures evolve. They are particularly interesting in the context
of changing content and prevailing theory in anthropology.
Memorabilia. These materials can be a
treasure trove to the archivist, biographer, or historian. Most of us keep a box or two of
prized items: awards, other kinds of recognition, notices of meeting attendance, news
clippings, and other personal items. These have significance in understanding what has
meaning, both intellectual and emotional, to an individual.
Working out the chronology of people's lives depends on dates, which are usually found on
letters and memoranda and research data materials, but not on lecture notes, manuscripts,
memorabilia, and preliminary forms of data analysis. Calendars and appointments schedules
are useful in attributing dates to activities, and they also provide a measure of the
kinds and the density of professional activities that one undertakes. What is the tempo
and mode of an anthropologist's life and how does she/he manage manifold demands?
Research Data. Research data are
acquired in many ways and take many forms. Diaries, field notes, and interviews, although
unique documents, can usually be interpreted by others in the absence of the author. These
are among the most valuable documents with which to reconstruct a past behavior and social
setting, one that leaves little or no other record. Other forms of data, including formal
questionnaires, administered tests, and quantitative records, may require documentation
for interpretation. Computer print-outs of strings of numbers with no information or even
variable fields are examples of lost data. Special problems of electronic and other data
can be found in CoPAR Bulletin 13, Managing Electronic Records, and 14, Photographs
and Audiovisual Materials.
Further information might be sought from archivists at your home institution library.
Information on the next step toward preserving your records can be found in CoPAR Bulletin
No. 4 Finding a Home for Your Records. Should you wish to discuss your professional
records further please contact:
Michael A. Little
Dept. Of Anthropology
State University of New York
Binghamton, New York 13902
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