Provenance of Archival Materials

Authored by: Shelley Sweeney

Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Fourth Edition

Print publication date:  November  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9781466552593
eBook ISBN: 9781315116143
Adobe ISBN:


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Historically, the principle of provenance was defined to mean that archivists must not mix the archival records of one person or organization with that of another. Sometimes this principle included respect for original order, which meant that records must be kept in the same order as maintained by the creator. In order to assign provenance, however, archivists needed to define the provenancial unit or the volume and level of records that would be described by provenance. This would be used as the basis for appraisal, acquisition, arrangement and description, retrieval, and reference. This definition was, and continues to be, problematic. Originally, the principle of provenance applied to both the physical and theoretical handling of records in an archives, but more recently archivists have suggested that provenance is a theoretical construct and that description based on provenance must capture all the myriad aspects of the origins of the records from the context of their use in the active record-keeping system to their transfer and handling in the archives. Since the inception of the principle of provenance, archivists have debated every aspect of it. The principle only gets more complex with time and the question becomes: how can these complex notions be applied in the real world?

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