Context

Group 1 was asked to discuss the concept of context in terms of archives and record management.   As context is a significant factor in considering all the concepts we discussed in our debate, we decided to each take one of the other five terms, and write a few sentences on how context relates to them. Graham also wrote a introduction on context.

Graham – Context To describe the context of something is to describe its relationship to the wider environment, physical, intellectual or temporal, in which it originated or exists.  Without understanding this relationship it would be impossible to understand an object or thing itself. Nothing, whether physical objects, which are defined by their differences from and interactions with other objects, or texts, which consist purely of symbols meant to describe and invoke the image of something other than itself, would have any value or have any meaning beyond their physical appearance if they were considered in absolute isolation.

Edith: Context – Value Value is arguably all about context. The value of a record will depend on its audience, and for what purpose that audience utilise said record. Such values could range from a record’s legal implications for a business to directly emotive and political outcomes – including the shaping of identity and collective memory.

Claire: Context – Format /Layout Context and format are very closely linked; so much so that I would suggest that they are in fact interdependent on one and other in regards to how we read and develop a fuller understanding of a record. Whilst context can be described as the unique set of circumstances that lead to the creation of record; format is often the key to our understanding of it, as it can organise the content of a record in such a way that it is able to convey context. For example, a letter written on headed paper, that includes addresses, a formal greeting, and a seal, could imply that it is in fact a formal record of some significance and authority. The format of a record is decided not just by its creator or creators, but also by accepted conventions of the context that it was created in.

Elizabeth Shepherd and Geoffrey Yeo, Managing Records: Managing Records: A Handbook of Principles and Practice, London: Facet Publishing, 2003, Ch.1.

Kate: Context – Authority/Authenticity Authority validates the integrity of a record. The provenance of a record may include errors, intention to deceive, plagiarism or corruption. When acknowledged these characteristics can amplify confidence and trust; therefore the authenticity of the record. The authority of the record permeates our understanding of all aspects of its context.

Graham: Context – Purpose All artificial objects, such as texts, were consciously created for a specific purpose and are defined by them, whether it is to be used directly or to convey information. It is difficult to appraise the significance of an object or text without understanding its intended purposes, as that will dictate its relationship to its environment. While the purpose of many objects or documents may seem self-evident, explicitly so in some texts, a better understanding of it may require knowledge of who created the text or object, and who was its intended user or audience and thus of the technological, cultural and linguistic conventions and restrictions of their time and place. It must also be considered whether this text or object was intended to be used or experienced by itself or was part of a larger whole. The purposes of some documents or objects may be ambiguous or contrary to what they first appear, which has led some theorists to believe that the interpretation of those viewing the object is is more important than its intended purpose. However, attempting to understand the purpose behind an object or text creation is essential to assessing its reliability, and to investigating the nature of its creators.

Ursula – Context – Audience Context is key to the relevance and usefulness of a collection, and the records within it, to the audience. Essentially, does that collection or record satisfy a need (for information, service, evidence, memory etc) that they have? E.g. The minutes of a bank’s AGM from the 1950s – can for the bank form part of it’s corporate memory; for a student of gender studies, provide evidence of the changing role of women in business; for an economic historian, help to plot changing business trends, but to an average member of the public may hold no interest whatsoever.

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