Essays and Articles

We have developed a new page to bring you contemporary essays and articles which may be of interest to those exploring archives.

We begin with an essay by Kolya Abramsky, GPI Assistant Archivist (writing in a personal capacity):

'I Survived the Unprecedented Times, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt: Beyond the Mantra of "Unprecedented Times" and the Negation of Archives'  by Kolya Abramsky (May 2020)

Since March 2020 the phrase “unprecedented times” has become something of a mantra to describe the new Coronavirus-reality in which we are living (and, in which many are also dying). History will look back on the “Unprecedented Period”, with capital letters. To call today’s period “unprecedented” obviously resonates easily and there are definitely strong elements to favour the claim. A particularly glaring “unprecedented” feature of the moment is the intersection between global pandemic, global lock-down and global-economic crisis. Nonetheless, the term “unprecedented” is an oversimplistic and ahistorical phrase which needs unpicking further. Archivists (and also historians) have a responsibility to point this out, for the phrase “unprecedented”, if taken to its logical conclusion, negates the value of history and archives and records just at a moment when they, potentially, have an enormous amount to contribute. One of the key tasks of historians (understood as someone who employs historical methodology to reflect on the past, rather than someone with the professional title “historian”) is to understand processes of change over time, to understand what changes and what remains constant. One of the key tasks of archivists and archival institutions is to provide historians with the tools and materials for doing this – namely unique records which afford information and evidence of historically specific past occurrences, preserved for the long-term and made accessible. 

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