Invitation to take part in a conference

8th Toruń Archival Confrontations
Free and slow archives in the light of changes

Toruń, Collegium Humanisticum of Nicolaus Copernicus University, 2 - 3 December 2021

Contemporary archives operate under conditions of constant changes in culture, technology, politics, demography and environment. These changes also affect the archival field. Can archives initiate, support or counteract them? Certainly they feel the need to document them, but it is possible that rapid changes, which are more perceptible and easily visible, will be better documented than slower changes. How should archival science respond to these variations? What methods should be used to study them? How to educate archivists in a constantly changing archival field? How to develop a sensitivity towards changes among the students of archival science so that they can react to changes rather than remain ambivalent towards them?

Our approach to finding answers to the challenges of constant changes is through slow and free archives [1]. We refer to the concept of slow archives, which assumes a certain slowing down of the archival perspective so that archives and archivists can achieve a liberating distance towards the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the pressure of the present moment but also all kinds of external pressure of cultural, social, political and administrative nature. But the said liberation is also directed towards something - slow archives can afford to be more reflective and to be more attentive in their work. Thus, through slowing down, archival freedom is achieved, and it is only free archives, and free archivists within them, that seem to be an opportunity to properly perceive the changes that take place in the world and their consequences for the archival field, an opportunity to support or even initiate activities that foster the desired changes, an opportunity to effectively and comprehensively document the changes that take place in the world. Archival freedom seems to be a universal and timeless value under conditions of constant change.

We propose that the above diagnosis be verified or falsified by looking at the following specific issue groupings:

  1. The recognition of those cultural, technological, political, legal, demographic and natural changes which influence the shape of the archival field. The recognition of the consequences of these changes for the archival field and the possibilities of counteracting unfavourable consequences.
  2. The social impact of archives by supporting desirable processes such as democratisation, human rights, social justice, access to knowledge. The role of archives in breakthrough periods.
  3. The effective and comprehensive documentation of changes occurring in the world in order to capture them in informational and affective (emotional) terms. The special significance of documentation activity under the conditions of rapid change, wars, revolutions, political transformations, natural disasters.
  4. The death of the archive as the ultimate change. Isn't the death of archives a natural and inevitable process? Can it be prevented?
  5. Archival freedom as an attitude of detachment from cultural, social, political and administrative pressure, giving rise to a perspective that enables us to perceive and analyse changes.
  6. Freedom of archives or freedom of archivists? Can an archivist be free from structural pressures within a system of an institutional archive in which he or she operates? What is the possible scope of this freedom for the maximum well-being of the archival field? A possible delineation of freedom of actions under the conditions of public archives as an integral part of public administration. A possible range of freedom in non-public, community, private, family archives.
  7. Archival science able to respond to the changing archival field. How should it reformulate the research problems and research methods of the changing reality? Can't archival freedom be strengthened and aided in this by university freedom as a constitutive value of Western culture? Doesn't the archival slowness contribute to the perception of important phenomena in the archival field, such as the mutual relations between the archive and change, the formation of a new, more mature archival science?
  8. How to create a model for the professional training of archivists that would make them capable of perceiving changes in the world and their consequences for the archival field, of planning activities that foster the desired changes and counteracting the unwanted ones, of conducting effective activities aimed at comprehensive documentation of the changing reality?

[1] In the original, we use the term wolne archiwa - it is a word game in the Polish language and this phrase can be translated into English both as 'slow archives' and as 'free archives'.