On (Archival) Odyssey(s)

  • Verne Harris


This article closely resembles the author's keynote address to the Association of Canadian Archivists conference (2001), which had as its theme "The Archival Odyssey." At one level, it is an extended meditation on the resonances of meaning suggested by the conjunction of the three words in the conference theme. At another, it is a highly focused deconstruction of the theme. Harris lays bare the assumptions informing the theme as an exercise in meaning construction, and shows how these assumptions hold at bay, or exclude, significant dimensions of meaning construction. His concern is to invite these "spectres" in. If he has a conclusion, it is that "odyssey" is an unfortunate metaphor, or archetype, for archival endeavour. He proposes "adventure" -- destiny without destination -- as a potentially more enriching metaphor. 

Cet article est basé sur la conférence d'ouverture présentée par l'auteur au congrès de 2001 de l'Association of Canadian Archivists dont le thème était "The Archival Odyssey". À un premier niveau, il s'agit d'une méditation étendue sur la résonance des différents sens suggérés par la conjonction des trois mots du thème de la conférence. À un autre niveau, c'est une déconstruction très focalisée de ce thème. L'auteur dévoile les postulats sous-tendant le thème comme exercice de construction de sens et montre comment ces postulats masquent ou excluent certaines dimensions significatives de cette construction. Son but est d'inviter ces «spectres» à apparaître au grand jour. S'il a une conclusion, c'est que le terme d'odyssée est une métaphore ou un archétype malheureux pour désigner l'entreprise archivistique. L'auteur propose plutôt le mot «aventure» -- un destin sans destination -- comme une métaphore potentiellement plus enrichissante. 

Author Biography

Verne Harris
Verne Harris is Director of the South African History Archive, an independent archive established in the 1980s to document the struggles against apartheid. He also lectures part-time in archives for the University of the Witwatersrand’s postgraduate programme in heritage studies. Between 1985 and April 2001 he was with South Africa’s State Archives Service and the postapartheid National Archives, rising to the position of Deputy Director in 1993. He holds an M.A. in history from the University of Natal, and has published widely in the fields of archives, records management, history, music, and fiction. He participated in a number of key processes leading to the transformation of South Africa’s apartheid public records system: from 1992 to 1993 he served on the African National Congress Archives Sub-Committee; in 1995 he chaired the working committee of the Consultative Forum which drafted the National Archives of South Africa Act; and from 1997 to 1998 he was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigative team responsible for investigating the destruction of records by the apartheid state. He was editor of the South African Archives Journal between 1988 and 1998, and was recently appointed to the editorial boards of the international journals Archivum and Archival Science. In 2000 he was appointed chairperson of the national Standards Generating Body for Archives and Records Management.
How to Cite
Harris, Verne. 2001. “On (Archival) Odyssey(s)”. Archivaria 51 (May), 2-13. https://www.archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/12791.