Cheney and the archive.

Confirming to a degree, or at least highlighting my thoughts from earlier this weekend that archives are focal points and physical storehouses of a culture and its memory is the recent CBC news article reporting that a US Federal court has ordered Dick Cheney to preserve records from his time serving in the office of the vice-president of the United States.  Although certain questions arise regarding the levels of privacy within a public office (i.e. is every scrap of paper ever written on in the office part of the public record?  what is its public value?  how does it affect the nation’s interests and security?), we find in the news-piece a common opinion that archives exist to safeguard records.    The fact that the plaintiffs, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has demanded that Cheney’s personal papers be preserved for the public record betrays the significance of the archive’s ability to create remembrances from its records.  CREW understands that we remember, discuss, write, and publish on that which is in the archive; demanding that a wide range of Cheney’s papers be included in the public record can potentially affect the manner in which future societies will reconstruct Cheney’s actions as VP.

This is nothing new, of course.  We turn to archives for historical, social and cultural context – that is the very reason why archives exist.  The recent push toward digitization, however, a push toward a new and all-encompassing storage method and format, asks us to reevaluate our points of access and to reconsider their meaning.  Digitization can bring Cheney’s papers to so many more people, but only if the people has access to the proper technology.  One doesn’t need a post office or a library card to access our cultural memory anymore.  Now, one needs the latest software and newest technological platform to transfer and decode the remembrance..

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