Archival Education: Mission and Goals

GPAS Table of Contents

Archival Education: Mission and Goals
Administration, Faculty and Infrastructure


Any graduate program in archival studies must define its mission, goals, and objectives. Some programs may seek to educate "generalists" with knowledge of all areas of records and archives administration. Other programs may seek to prepare specialists in areas such as electronic records management, historical manuscripts, or management of institutional archives. Still other programs may emphasize interdisciplinary studies that link, for example, archival, library, and museum knowledge. However, to qualify as an archival studies program (as opposed to a more specialized historical manuscripts program or a general information science program) the curriculum should focus on core archival knowledge areas as the foundation of any specialization or interdisciplinary education.

The mission, goals, and objectives of the program should be stated in terms of educational results that the program seeks to achieve and should be consistent with the parent institution's mission and culture. [4] They should be developed through a broad-based planning process that involves the constituencies that the program seeks to serve. The curriculum should express these program objectives and should be reviewed and evaluated continually based on evolving professional responsibilities, competencies, and challenges. Regardless of the organizational setting, master's-level archival studies programs must be coherent, cohesive, and identifiable.

The importance and complexity of archival work require that individuals entering the profession receive a strong graduate-level archival education, which must be based on core archival knowledge. This knowledge must be supplemented, however, by knowledge drawn from other disciplines, including, but not limited to: anthropology, economics, history, law, library and information science, museum studies, and sociology. A fully developed graduate program in archival studies must establish a curriculum that achieves the following goals:

  • Provides students with a solid foundation in the theory, methodology, and practice of archival science, and in archival history and scholarship;
  • Strengthens this foundation by giving students the opportunity to acquire knowledge from other allied and complementary disciplines;
  • Assists students in developing critical thinking and decision-making skills in relation to records in all forms in the context of business, government, public needs, scientific research, or the protection of cultural heritage;
  • Prepares students to manage and preserve authentic and trustworthy digital records as well as relevant materials in a wide range of analog formats;
  • Prepares students to conduct and communicate scholarly research; and
  • Communicates to students the knowledge of the ethical and legal dimensions of their work and impresses upon them a sense of their professional and social responsibilities.

Graduate education, in contrast to training, is both academic and professional; therefore, it includes both original research and experiential learning. Ultimately, archival education creates an intellectual framework that enables students to understand the ideas on which their profession is founded, to engage in the development of archival principles, and to apply this knowledge in a wide variety of settings. In contrast, archival training focuses on building skills or acquiring practical knowledge according to a replicable pattern or on developing a specialization in certain areas.

The graduate of an archival studies program should have a thorough knowledge and understanding of archival principles and methods and should be prepared to work independently in the performance of all basic archival functions.[5] The variety and complexity of institutional settings and the nature of records in our digital society require a broad range of skills and knowledge as well as a comprehensive understanding of archival theory and its practical application to manage and preserve current – as well as future – archival content.

No graduate program in any discipline can provide all the scholarly and experiential knowledge needed for its practitioners. However, by educating students in the attributes of professionalism, a graduate program can cause students to realize that professional education is a lifelong undertaking, involving questioning accepted ideas and methods, revising received wisdom, and developing professional standards. Lifelong learning enables archivists to maintain knowledge and skills and to master new knowledge and techniques as their profession develops and changes.

These guidelines, therefore, focus on the essential elements of master's-level graduate archival education, independent of institutional placement and degree offered. The multiple options for such programs provide a rich diversity that enables master's programs to develop individual emphases and to provide different specializations. Knowledge from other disciplines brought to bear on the archival studies program enriches and expands the archival curriculum to meet a wide range of needs and interests.

[4] The interdisciplinary character of archival education makes it possible to place a program in a variety of settings, such as a school of library and information science, a department of history, a school of public administration, a law school, or a school of business administration. Two departments may also administer a program jointly, thereby emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of the archival field.

[5] The Academy of Certified Archivists has developed a useful list of domains of archival knowledge. See the "Role Delineation" section of the Handbook for Archival Certification (found within the "Exam Handbook") online at