Archival Education: Mission and Goals

GPAS Table of Contents

Archival Education: Mission and Goals
Administration, Faculty and Infrastructure
Conclusion and Footnotes

Graduate programs in archival studies must define their mission, goals, and objectives. Some programs educate generalists with a broad knowledge of records and archives administration while others prepare specialists in areas such as digital materials management, historical manuscripts, or management of institutional archives. Still others 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.

Programs should state their mission, goals, and objectives in terms of the educational results they seek.  These should be consistent with the parent institution's mission and culture, and developed through a broad-based planning process that involves the program’s constituencies.[4] The curriculum should express these program objectives and faculty should review and evaluate them 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 based on core archival knowledge complemented by knowledge drawn from other disciplines such as anthropology, economics, education, history, law, library and information science, management, museum studies, and sociology. A fully developed graduate program in archival studies must establish a curriculum that:

  • 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 allied and complementary disciplines;
  • Assists students to develop critical thinking and decision-making skills related to all forms of records 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 records as well as relevant materials regardless of format;
  • Prepares students to conduct and communicate scholarly research;
  • Prepares students to teach classes and workshops in archival literacy and the uses of archival resources; and
  • Communicates to students the ethical and legal dimensions of their work and impresses upon them a sense of their professional and social responsibilities for the public good and serving diverse groups.

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 increasingly digital and hybrid nature of records in our 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.

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. Different programs offer different emphases and specializations, ensuring students have a range of options in archival education.  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. 

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