You are on page 1of 16

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500 DOI 10.

1007/s10502-012-9175-4 ORIGINAL PAPER

What nding aids do: archival description as rhetorical genre in traditional and web-based environments
Heather MacNeil

Published online: 9 May 2012

Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Abstract Research and scholarship in the elds of rhetoric and composition have been instrumental in developing a framework for treating non-literary texts (e.g., scientic articles, memoranda, instructional handbooks) as part of social processes. Rhetorical genre theorists have developed methodologies and modes of analysis for studying both texts and their contexts, that is, their content and structure, the processes involved in their production, transmission, and interpretation, and the temporal, institutional, and rhetorical contexts in which these processes take place. Approaching archival description as a rhetorical genre creates opportunities for examining the social actions that nding aids participate in and accomplish and the ways in which these descriptive texts work to construct a community of writers and readers. It also creates opportunities for examining the impact of the World Wide Web on the communicative aims of archival nding aids. This article reports on the rst stage of a research project exploring archival description through the lens of rhetorical genre theory with a specic focus on the nding aids that archivists create as part of the process of making historical records available for use. Its aim is threefold: to explain the rationale for the research, to identify and elaborate the elements of a conceptual framework for studying archival description as rhetorical genre, and to sketch the parameters of such a study and the questions to be addressed within those parameters. Keywords Archival description Finding aids Rhetorical genre theory

H. MacNeil (&) Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, 140 St. George St., Toronto, ON, Canada e-mail: h.macneil@utoronto.ca

123

486

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

The study of genres has been around since Aristotle, if not before, in the traditional taxonomies of types of oratory and of types of literary works. Rhetoricians and literary scholars have differentiated ceremonial from legislative discourse, tragedy from comedy and tragicomedy, argument from persuasion from exposition from narration from description. What is new about this renewed turn toward genre is the study of genres as action rather than form, as a text-type that does something rather than is something. This rhetorical turn has changed the way genre theorists think about genre (Devitt 1996, pp. 605606).

The concept of genre traditionally has been employed as a means of classifying texts based on regularities in form and content (Duff 2000). Contemporary genre theorists have developed methodologies and modes of analysis for studying both texts and their contexts, that is, their content and structure, the processes involved in their production, transmission, and interpretation, and the temporal, institutional, and rhetorical contexts in which these processes take place. Rhetorical genre theorists are specically concerned with developing frameworks for understanding non-literary texts (e.g., scientic articles, accountants reports, and instructional handbooks) within both local and generalized contexts. This article reports on the rst stage of a research project exploring archival description through the lens of rhetorical genre theory with a specic focus on the nding aids that archivists create as part of the process of making historical records available for use. For the purposes of this article (and as a starting point for this research) the term nding aid is dened as any tool that aims to provide users with intellectual and/or physical access to the holdings of archival institutions; also for the purposes of this article the terms nding aid and archival description are used interchangeably. These provisional denitions may change as the research project progresses. The overarching aim of this research project is to identify and analyze the social actions archival nding aids accomplish and to assess whether and to what extent the generic identity of nding aids is changing as they move out of archives reading rooms and onto institutional websites. The aim of the present article is threefold: to explain the rationale for the research, to identify and elaborate the elements of a conceptual framework for studying archival description as rhetorical genre, and to sketch the parameters of such a study and the questions to be addressed within those parameters.

Rationale for a study of archival description as rhetorical genre There is a substantial body of research focused on writing and genre in various workplace and professional contextsscience, medicine, law, and accounting among othersrepresenting useful examples of how rhetorical genre theory has been applied, tested, and rened based on empirical study (Bazerman and Paradis 1991; Spilka 1993; Orlikowski and Yates 1994; Freedman and Medway 1994b; Coe et al. 2002; Yates and Orlikowski 2002; Bazerman and Prior 2004; Bazerman et al. 2009; Bawarshi and Reiff 2010). These empirical studies have been conducted by researchers in a range of disciplinary elds, including rhetoric and composition, communication studies, sociology, and linguistics. Rhetorical genre theory has also been applied by researchers working in the elds of knowledge organization and

123

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

487

information retrieval (Andersen 2008). Rhetorical approaches have been adopted for m the purposes of analyzing scholarly editions as bibliographic tools (Dahlstro 2004), examining the ways in which classicatory, indexical, and editorial texts are being recongured in the hypertextualized scholarly archive (Dalgaard 2001), and explicating the rhetorical dimensions of a bibliographic record (Andersen 2002). One strain of research concerns itself explicitly with the transition of genres from one medium to another (i.e., from print to digital) and the impact of that transition on the producers and consumers of those transformed genres (Kwasnick and Crowston 2005; Miller and Shepherd 2009; Giltrow and Stein 2009). The generic character of archival nding aidstheir dependency on particular historical media settings, their socio-cultural roles and functions, and their rhetorical dimensionis recognized, implicitly, in recent archival literature examining the socially constructed and mediated nature of archival description (Ketelaar 2001; Duff and Harris 2002; Yakel 2003, 2011a, b; MacNeil 2005, 2008; Head 2007; Opp 2008) as well as in the literature critiquing traditional models of description and the archival theory that underpins them (Brothman 1991; Millar 2002; Schwartz 2002; Podolsky-Nordland 2004; Nesmith 2005; Douglas and MacNeil 2009). The idea that archival nding aids carry out social actions is intimated in literature advocating the development of more participatory models of description that promote social inclusion and cultural pluralism (Archival Education and Research Institute (AERI) 2011; Bastian 2006; Flinn 2007; Shilton and Srinivasan 2007), and in the literature encouraging greater accountability and transparency in descriptive practices (Light and Hyry 2002; MacNeil 2005, 2009). There is also a growing body of archival literature focusing specically on the opportunities new and emerging technologies present for improving access to information about archival holdings and, more broadly, for reinventing the nature and purpose of description. Recurring themes in this literature are the need for archival institutions to shift from traditional record-centric to user-centric models of delivery (Hallam-Smith 2003; Sexton et al. 2004; Huvila 2008); the experiences of users in navigating online nding aids (Feeney 1999; Prom 2004, 2011; Roth 2001; Scheir 2005; Daniels and Yakel 2010); the strengths and weaknesses of digital images of archival documents as means of augmenting and enhancing access to archival holdings (Lynch 2002; Hill 2004; Conway 2010; Conway and Punzalan 2011) as well as the potential of social media tools for engaging users in archival descriptions (Light and Hyry 2002; Krause and Yakel 2007; Theimer 2011a, b) and for supporting indigeneous communities in their efforts to reclaim their identities and memories (Payne 2006; Smith 2008; Christen 2011; McKemmish et al. 2011). An in-depth exploration of the generic character of archival description is proposed here as a potentially powerful way to locate and frame the commonalities and connections between and among these disparate yet related archival discussions. Approaching archival description as a rhetorical genre creates opportunities for examining the social actions that nding aids participate in and/or accomplish and the ways in which these descriptive texts work to construct a community of writers and readers. It could be argued, for example, that archival nding aids are vehicles for carrying out a range of explicit and implicit social actions, among them: making archival holdings visible and accessible, conrming the cohesion and authenticity of

123

488

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

a body of records, validating the authority of archivists and archival institutions to preserve cultural resources and make them available for use, and enshrining particular perspectives on the notions of community, identity, and cultural heritage. Viewing archival description through the lens of rhetorical genre theory is an opportunity to tease out and test that argument. Approaching archival description as a rhetorical genre also creates opportunities for examining the impact of the World Wide Web on the communicative aims of archival nding aids. Traditionally, the archivist has served as a mediator between nding aids and users, explaining the relationships between and among the inventories, lists, and indexes typically found in the reading rooms of archival institutions. The development of computer network technology has led to the adaptation of traditional nding aids to electronic formats, mounted locally or available worldwide via the Internet. The emergence of web-based nding aids opens up archival holdings to vast numbers of invisible users, and archival institutions face increasing pressure to reinvent themselves as virtual, as well as physical, spaces. Some researchers working in the area of digital document genres observe that: As documents have migrated to the web, their identity as genres has also evolved. New document genres have emerged, while older ones have blended, changed, and been incorporated into different social endeavours. Many researchers, and indeed the public at large, assume that there are signicant and fundamental differences in how these adapted and new genres will now function and be used. As with many new technologies, there are fond hopes that these genres will be socially transformative, enabling better communication, as well as more exibility and expressiveness (Kwasnick and Crowston 2005, p. 79). Systematic examination of the processes involved in the production and transmission of nding aids through the lens of rhetorical genre theory could provide a solid foundation on which to identify and assess the forms of social transformation that web-based nding aids promote and constrain in principle and practice.

Conceptual framework Genre theorists afliated with the rhetorical turn in genre studies have developed a number of conceptual tools for analyzing the broad socio-historical contexts in which genres are enacted as well as the far-reaching effects of genre in directing human activity. A number of these conceptsthe term genre itself, as well as genre system, discourse community, background knowledge, and meta-genreprovide a starting point for considering archival description as rhetorical genre. In this section of the article, I will introduce each of these concepts and suggest their relevance to a study of archival description as rhetorical genre. Rhetorical denitions of genre Carolyn Millers article, Genre as Social Action (1994a) has been a formative inuence on the rhetorical turn in genre studies. In it, she dened genre as typied

123

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

489

rhetorical actions based in recurrent situations (1994a, p. 31). While the denition has been reworked over the years by Miller herself and other rhetorical theorists of genre, the basic building blocks of that denition remain unchanged. According to Miller, a theoretically sound denition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish (1994a, p. 24). The action itself must involve situation and motive (p. 24). A situation is a social construct or semiotic structure that develops through the recognition of relevant similarities, which then become constituted as a type (p. 29). What recurs in a recurrent situation, therefore, is not a material situation (a real, objective, factual event) but our construal of a type (p. 29). At the core of the rhetorical situation sits motive or exigence, which Miller denes as a set of particular social patterns and expectations that provides a socially objectied motive for addressing recurrent situations (pp. 3031). Millers original denition of genre has been complicated and recongured by the composition scholar Devitt (2004) who argues that describing a genre merely as a response to a situation oversimplies the reciprocal and dynamic relationship between situation and genre (2004, p. 23). As she observes: If genre responds to recurring situation, then a particular texts reection of genre reects that genres situation. Thus the act of constructing the genreof classifying a text as similar to other textsis also the act of constructing the situation (2004, p. 21). She proposes, therefore, that genre be seen not as a response to recurring situation but as a nexus between an individuals actions and a socially dened context. Genre is a reciprocal dynamic within which individuals actions construct and are constructed by recurring context of situation, context of culture, and context of genres (2004, p. 31). Embedded in Devitts denition of genre is an explicit recognition that writing takes place within three distinct yet overlapping contexts: a situational context (the people, languages, and purposes involved in every action), a cultural context (the material contexts and learned behaviors, values, beliefs, and templates [that] inuence how situation is constructed and how it is seen as recurring in genres), and a generic context (the already existing textual classications and forms already established and being established within a given culture, the set of typied rhetorical actions already constructed by participants in a society) (2004, pp. 27, 25, 28). Genres simultaneously shape and are shaped by these recurring contexts of situation, culture, and other genres (2004, p. 214). The genre archival description surfaced in the nineteenth century in response to the opening of archival institutions to the public and the consequent social need to make the holdings of these institutions available for use by the public. Over time, archivists and archival institutions developed strategies to address this need, and these strategies have evolved into recognizable text types (e.g., calendars, inventories, catalogs, indexes) and conventions for their preparation (institutional policies and procedures, professional standards and guidelines). To study archival description as a rhetorical genre in Devitts terms entails an examination of how the genre has shaped and been shaped by a recurring situational context, that is, the

123

490

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

reciprocal communicative actions of archivists providing information to users about archival holdings through nding aids of various kinds and of users seeking to locate relevant archival documents through these nding aids; a recurring cultural context, that is, the socio-historical role of archivists and archival institutions; and a recurring generic context, that is, the antecedent nding aids that have inuenced the form and content of contemporary ones. Genre system Devitts notion of generic context is an attempt to capture the intertextuality of genres, that is, the multiple synchronic relationships that exist between and among genres, as well as the diachronic relationships that link contemporary genres to their antecedents. Her notion of genre sets is a complementary concept that pinpoints the specic ways in which these relationships manifest themselves. One type of genre set Devitt identies is a genre system, which is a genre set identiable by those who use it that has clearly linked genres with a common purpose (2004, p. 56). The concept of genre system captures one of the ways in which a communicative action breaks down into specic text types and how those texts interact and accomplish specic activities within a broader function. It is possible to characterize archival description as a genre system, the common purpose of which is to make archival holdings accessible to users. Within this broad purpose, we can identify separate but related activities such as providing intellectual access to archival holdings and facilitating physical access to them. The descriptive genres that, historically, have served the former purpose include inventories, catalogs, and calendars whose primary purpose is to provide researchers with the intellectual means of understanding and interpreting bodies of records. Such purpose is quite distinct from that served by other descriptive genres such as indexes and le lists, which are designed primarily to provide researchers with a means of identifying and physically locating archival holdings. Nevertheless, the specic purposes of these nding aid genres may be subsumed under the broad purpose of making records accessible to users. This characterization of archival description as a genre system requires some qualication because it could be taken to imply that all nding aids are created for a single purposeto provide access to archival holdingsand are directed to a specic audienceresearchers seeking access to archival holdings. As Yakel (2003) points out, however, archival nding aids: are more than access tools. For better or worse, they have also been collection management tools for archivists. Accession numbers record the yearly growth of an entire archives or manuscript collection. Storage numbers connote incompletely processed collections. Call numbers reect an attempt to incorporate the materials in a larger library classication scheme (pp. 45; 12). If we take into account the wide range of resources and tools that could t under the heading nding aid and the diversity of data elements contained within them, it is clear that nding aids serve multiple purposes and audiences and may participate in any number of genre systems. Situating archival description primarily in relation to

123

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

491

one of those purposes, that is, making archival holdings accessible to secondary users, reects the chosen focus of this particular study, which is the nding aids that archivists create as part of the process of making historical records available for use. Analyzing archival description in relation to that purpose does not obviate consideration of other possible purposes that have informed the construction of nding aids, however, since these other purposes may help to explain complexities and apparent incoherencies within the genre system. Discourse communities As both Millers and Devitts denitions make clear, genres are inherently and necessarily social, being [embedded] in groups and hence social structures (Devitt 2004, p. 36). The concept of discourse communities has been invoked by a number of genre theorists as a means of specifying and localizing the social nature of genres, that is, their embeddedness in disciplinary, professional, and other kinds of groups. John Swales (1990) denes discourse communities as sociorhetorical networks that form in order to work towards sets of common goals (p. 9). His conceptualization of discourse community derives from the linguistic notion of a speech community. Other genre theorists locate discourse communities within a social constructionist perspective. Olsen (1993), for example, traces the idea of discourse communities back to Thomas Kuhns Structure of Scientic Revolutions, in which he argued that science and scientic knowledge develop through a series of revolutionary changes in what a community accepts as knowledge (1993, p. 182: See also Bazerman 1988). According to this view, discourse communities are based on the existence of shared languages and conventions that structure the production and interpretation of texts. Texts belong to discourse communities when they comply with shared standards and expectations; similarly, individuals become members of discourse communities when they learn and use the communitys languages and conventions. Over the past 20 years or so, the concept of discourse community has come under attack for being too utopian, hegemonic, stable, and abstract (Devitt et al. 2003, p. 541) and for emphasiz[ing] too heavily the role of discourse in constructing groups and not enough the role of groups in constructing discourse (Devitt 2004, p. 39). These criticisms have resulted in recongurations of the concept itself (Swales 1998; Killingsworth and Gilbertson 1992; Miller 1994b; Porter 1992), an increased attention to the diverse ways social groups come together and use discourse (Devitt 2004, Bawarshi 2000; Freadman 1994), and more explicit recognition of the existence of conict as well as consensus within these groups. As Coe et al. observe, For all their commonalities, communities are typically hierarchical and heterogenous. Genres will inscribe not only common perspectives, attitudes, values, methods, and subject positions, but also the divisions and distinctions that exist in and constitute social situations (2002, p. 6). That recognition has led, in turn, to a more intense focus on the ways in which genres reect and reinforce the ideology of the group whose purposes they serve (Coe et al. 2002; Devitt 2004; Berkenkotter and Huckin 1995; Winsor 2000). At its most basic level, the concept of discourse community directs attention to the interaction between a given social group and the genres used by that group to

123

492

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

communicate its aims and promote its values. Discourse communities revolving around archival description and comprising archivists and/or users may be instantiated and constructed at the institutional level (in workplace and academic settings), at the professional level (within local, regional, national, and international professional associations), or as ad hoc responses to particular events or situations. It would be premature to speculate about the specic dynamics of such groups; it is possible, however, to identify some of the means by which discourse communities rhetorically structure and maintain their interests (Bazerman and Paradis 1991, p. 7) and suggest how they might apply to a generic study of archival description by looking at the related concepts of background knowledge and meta-genre. Background knowledge and meta-genre The concepts of background knowledge and meta-genre capture some of the ways in which a groups ideologyits values, epistemology, and power relationships (Devitt 2004, p. 60)is made manifest through genre. According to Giltrow (1994), genres work to construct communities of writers and readers, in part, through the assumption and use of background knowledge, which refers to propositions unstated by a text but necessary for its interpretation (1994, p. 155). Background knowledge operates on two levels: at one level, users share knowledge of the genres conventions and at another level, writers assume on behalf of readers some knowledge of the world that readers can consult in order to interpret discourse (1994, p. 156). As part of the process of inducting outsiders into social groups, genres position peoples perspectives of the world and often demand the 2002, p. 66). adoption or development of new subject positions and identities (Pare In cases where readers of generic texts are not members of the discipline or profession within which the genre originates, the genre may constitute a transactional domain in which expertise is converted to everyday knowledge (Bazerman and Paradis 1991, p. 8). Archival nding aids both shape and are shaped by professional perspectives of reality and, in so doing, could be said to participate in the construction of a discourse community comprising archivists and users of archives. In order to become members of that discourse community, both archivists and users must acquire background knowledge of nding aid conventions and archival descriptive practices. As a genre system, archival description operates within a transactional domain, since nding aids are directed, at least, theoretically, to users rather than to other archivists. Nevertheless, even as a transactional domain genre, nding aids assume some knowledge on the part of readers and induct readers into particular perspectives. Related to background knowledge is the concept of meta-genres, which Giltrow has developed to apprehend the atmospheres of wordings and activities, demonstrated precedents or sequestered expectationsatmospheres surrounding genres (Giltrow 2002, p. 195). Guidelines and standards as well as academic discourse could all be considered forms of meta-genre, which function both to enable and constrain writers and readers and implicate them in institutional systems. For Giltrow, meta-genre is an effective conceptual tool for analyzing how writers

123

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

493

learn to compose in a particular genre and a critical instrument for investigating the sociopolitics of sites of writing and reading (2002, pp. 196, 199). Description standards such as ISAD(G) and EAD, institutional guidelines for arranging and describing archival holdings, as well as the archival theory underpinning arrangement and description are all examples of archival metagenres. Studying these meta-genres can provide insights into how they enable and constrain the archivists who use them to prepare archival descriptions and the readers who then use those descriptions to access archival holdings. As Yakel (2003) observes, [t]he very act of archival representation, designed in order to provide access to collections through nding aids, can also create barriers to use. Researchers must know the schemas and codes and understand the underlying systems of privileging, classifying, and selecting that comprise both arrangement and description (2003, p. 2). The concepts of genre, genre system, discourse community, background knowledge, and meta-genre are helpful tools for analyzing the situational, generic, and cultural contexts that have shaped and been shaped by archival description over time and across institutions. They also draw attention to issues of power and authority by investigating the forms of communication and knowledge that genres encourage and inhibit (Coe et al. 2002, pp. 67). The concepts thus provide a promising starting point for an examination of archival description as rhetorical genre. The next step is to situate these concepts within a structure.

Structuring a study of archival description as rhetorical genre In an effort to identify the observable constituent elements of a genre within the and Smart (1994) have proposed a framework of rhetorical genre studies, Pare denition of genre based on distinctive regularities across four dimensions: textual features, composing processes, reading practices, and social roles (of writers and readers). Archival nding aids may be dened on the basis of similar regularities: their structure and content (textual features); the procedures associated with their production and transmission (composing processes); their use and interpretation by users (reading practices); and the socio-historical, disciplinary, and institutional framework in which they have been prepared (social roles). Textual features and composing processes relate to the representation of archival holdings through nding aids of various kinds and the policies, procedures, and activities that underpin those representations. Reading practices and social roles, on the other hand, relate to the use, interpretation, and wider effects of these representations. In and Smarts four dimensions will provide a preliminary this nal section, Pare structure within which to sketch out the parameters of a study of archival description as rhetorical genre and identify some of the questions to be addressed within those parameters.1
1

and Smart focus on workplace settings and their dimensional analysis emphasizes the ways in Pare which genres regularize and conventionalize writing and reading practices in order to reduce idiosyncrasy in reading practices (1994, p. 153). Thus, the ideological aspects of genre, while not ignored, are not their primary focus. Such aspects do, however, fall within the parameters of this research project.

123

494

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

Textual features and Smart, textual features are repeated patterns in the structure, For Pare rhetorical moves, and style of texts (1994, p. 147). In the context of archival description, such features would include the organization and structure of a nding aid, its descriptive and visual elements, its use of terminology, and its explicit and implicit modes of argument. The silences in nding aidswhat Devitt (2009) calls notable absences of generic formalso may be considered an aspect of textual features. As she explains, generic form/substance includes choices that are not made as well as ones that are visible. Absences of forms may be as revealing as presences, just as what is not taken up, what is silenced, can be as signicant as what receives response (p. 34). Although some preliminary work has been done in this area in relation to particular nding aids and description standards (Yakel 2003; MacNeil 2009), a more comprehensive analysis of the effect of these notable absences across a range of nding aid text types and over time has yet to be undertaken. Examining the textual features of nding aids also entails an exploration of the genre system in which they participate: What are the various text types that operate within the genre system of archival description? When did they emerge and how have they evolved over time? How do they interact with one another and what particular roles do they play in fullling the overarching function of making archival holdings available to users? What ancestral genres still inform their contemporary instantiations? What is the relationship between, for example, a nineteenth-century inventory and its contemporary counterpart? As nding aids move out of reading rooms and onto institutional websites, a rhetorical genre study also needs to consider how and in what ways, the interactions between and among the various nding aids are changing. Put another way, what is the nature and shape of intertextuality in a hyperlinked environment? Increasingly, web-based nding aids are being linked to digital images of the holdings themselves. What role do these images play in a web-based genre system of archival description? What social actions do they accomplish within that genre system? Composing processes If textual features are the surface traces of underlying regularities (Freedman and Medway 1994a, p. 2), composing processes are where those regularities are and Smart, composing processes codied, either implicitly or explicitly. For Pare include, among other things, gathering and analyzing information, writing and rewriting, and the technological production of generic texts (1994, p. 150). These activities conform roughly to the ones typically associated with accessioning, arranging, and describing archival holdings, and they all assume and use background knowledge and meta-genres (arrangement principles, description conventions and standards) to some degree. In considering composing processes, therefore, it is important to look at what background knowledge arrangement and description practices assume and use: What do the conventions and standards

123

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

495

foreground? What do they ignore? Many of the legacy nding aids that are being converted for use on institutional websites were designed in an earlier time period and for an imagined community of so-called expert users. To what extent are these nding aids being redesigned and refashioned to address an exponentially broader audience possessing very different levels of expertise? Composing processes traditionally have been the prerogative (more or less) of archivists and archival institutions. That exclusive authority has fragmented and diminished over the last number of years for a range of reasons: two are worth mentioning in the present context. First, as archival institutions acquire more and more born-digital records, they are relying increasingly on creator metadata of various kinds to supplement and even replace archival description. Second, the trend toward archival institutions licensing digital images of their holdings to commercial publishers such as Ancestry has resulted in the provision of access to at least some of those holdings being shared between archival institutions and third parties. How do (or might) these developments affect the generic identity of institutional nding aids? If we turn our attention to archivists, a related question is, How closely is the generic identity of nding aids linked to the professional identity of archivists? Put another way, does the fragmentation and decentralization of authority over archival description imply the fragmentation and decentralization of archival professional identity? Reading practices Reading practices encompass the operational force of nding aid texts and the sites of reading (Bazerman and Paradis 1991, p. 8). Such practices include the way a reader approaches a text, how the reader negotiates her way through the text, how the reader constructs knowledge from the text and how the reader uses the resulting and Smart 1994, p. 152). In the context of archival description, knowledge (Pare analyzing reading practices means, among other things, analyzing how users make meaning from nding aids (Duff et al. 2011; Yakel and Torres 2007); and how they make sense of the digitized images of records that, increasingly, augment online nding aids (Conway 2010; Conway and Punzalan 2011). Composing processes draw attention to the assumption and use of background knowledge and meta-genres on the part of the writers of nding aids (i.e., archivists). Reading practices foreground the effect of background knowledge and meta-genres on the readers of nding aids (i.e., users). If, as was suggested earlier, archival description constitutes a transactional domain where the specialized knowledge of the archivist is translated into the everyday language of users how successful has that translation been? As many archival user studies can attest, the structure and terminology of nding aids often bewilder users because they do not possess the background knowledge or archival intelligence necessary to navigate them successfully (Yakel 2004; Yakel and Torres 2003). The traditional site of reading practicesthe archives reading roomhas always been a fairly complex genre system in which the interaction between and among nding aids is often opaque. From a users point of view, the processes involved in identifying and locating relevant records can seem like a hidden objects game where the hidden

123

496

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

object may be information about the structure and content of the records, or about record creators, or about the physical location of the records. These different kinds of information are embedded in a range of different nding aids and if user studies are any indication the relationships between and among these nding aids and the information they contain do not readily reveal themselves to users. Frequently, the archivist has to play a mediating role between the user and the descriptive system. The virtual reading room of the institutional website is designed to obviate or at least reduce the need for archival mediation, but it may be as complicated in its own way as the physical reading room because users must learn how to navigate the architecture of that site to nd what they are looking for. Increasingly, institutional websites are not just one place, but a multiplicity of places with linkages to other websites and other online catalogs, each of which carries its own baggage of background knowledge and meta-genres. In this respect, the institutional website is more akin to a shopping mall with the online catalog functioning as the anchor store. The question is, when users click on a particular link in the course of an online search, do they know they have left Harrods and are now in The Dollar Store? Perhaps it is no more confusing than the traditional reading room, but it is a different kind of confusing and potentially creates new forms of rhetorical disjunction for online users. Social roles Social roles focus on the roles of writers and readers within organizations and in the creation and use of texts. According to Anis Bawarshi, enacting these roles enables writers and readers, to function within particular situations at the same time they help shape the ways [writers and readers] come to know these situations (Bawarshi 2000, p. 340). To understand the historical and contemporary roles played by archivists and users as writers and readers of nding aids requires that we probe the identities and subject positions(p. 355) archivists and users assume and reproduce through the genre of archival description. What are the recurring contexts of situation, culture and genre that shape and are shaped by these roles? The rise of participatory culture in the wake of Web 2.0 is encouraging users to shift from being passive consumers of archival descriptions to becoming active contributors to those descriptions; that shift, in turn, is pushing archival institutions in the direction of promoting greater user engagement and peer production of nding aids (Theimer 2011a, b; Yakel 2011a, b). As archival institutions make provision for users to tag and annotate online descriptions, where do these user contributions sit in relation to the so-called authoritative descriptive record? How much or how little moderation is necessary or desirable from the point of view of the archival institution and from the point of view of users? Moderation protocols for managing user-contributed content are an emerging meta-genre and like other meta-genres such protocols have the potential to both enable and constrain users because they dictate the forms of social participation and social organization allowable within the descriptive genre system. Moderation is but one dimension of a much larger issue concerning the kinds of discourse communities that are beginning to take shape in the so-called Archives

123

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

497

2.0 world (Theimer 2011a). What role do communities of writers and readers play in constructing the emergent genre system of online archival description and what role does the emergent genre system play in constructing these communities? How are conict and consensus negotiated within multiple, disparate, and overlapping groups? As the boundary separating the writers and readers of nding aids begins to blur, is the generic identity of nding aids changing in fundamental ways? If so, do those changes signal, in turn, a technological adjustment or paradigm shift (Taylor 19871988) with respect to the cultural role of archivists and archival institutions? Conceptualizing archival description as rhetorical genre provides a starting point for analyzing the social actions performed by nding aidswhat they do rather than what they are, to paraphrase Devitt (1996, p. 606). This article has focused on the rst stage of a research project investigating archival description as a rhetorical genre in traditional and web-based environments. The aim of the article has been to make the case for a generic study of archival description, to identify and elaborate the elements of a conceptual framework for such a study, and to sketch out its parameters and the questions to be addressed within those parameters. The next stage of the research project will build on this foundation by exploring the past, present, and possible future of archival description as rhetorical genre within specic institutional settings.
Acknowledgments This article is based on research undertaken as part of a project entitled Archival Description as Rhetorical Genre in Traditional and Web-based Environments, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). I wish to thank my student research assistant Rebecca Russell whose exhaustive review of the literature on genre theory in general and rhetorical genre theory in particular contributed substantially to the development of the SSHRC research proposal. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers of the draft version of this article who offered many helpful suggestions for improvement.

References
Andersen J (2002) Materiality of works: the bibliographic record as text. Cataloging Classif Q 33(34):3965 Andersen J (2008) The concept of genre in information studies. Annu Rev Inf Sci Technol 42:339367 Archival Education and Research Institute (AERI), Pluralizing the Archival Curriculum Group (PACG) (2011) Educating for the Archival Multiverse. Am Arch 73:69101 Bastian JA (2006) Reading colonial records through an archival lens: the provenance of place, space and creation. Arch Sci 6(34):267284 Bawarshi A (2000) The genre function. Coll Engl 62(3):335360 Bawarshi A, Reiff JA (2010) Genre: an introduction to history, theory, research, and pedagogy. Parlor Press, West Lafayette Bazerman C (1988) Shaping written knowledge: the genre and activity of the experimental article in science. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison Bazerman C, Paradis J (eds) (1991) Textual dynamics of the professions: historical and contemporary studies of writing in professional communities. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison Bazerman C, Prior P (eds) (2004) What writing does and how it does it: an introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices. Routledge, New York Bazerman C, Bonini A, Figueiredo D (eds) (2009) Genre in a changing world. Parlor Press, West Lafayette Berkenkotter C, Huckin T (1995) Genre knowledge in disciplinary communication: cognition/culture/ power. L. Erlbaum, Northvale

123

498

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

Brothman B (1991) Orders of value: probing the theoretical terms of archival practice. Archivaria 32:78100 Christen K (2011) Opening archives: respectful repatriation. Am Arch 74:185210 Coe R, Lingard L, Teslenko T (eds) (2002) The rhetoric and ideology of genre: strategies for stability and change. Hampton Press, Creskill Conway P (2010) Modes of seeing: digitized photographic archives and the experienced user. Am Arch 73:425462 Conway P, Punzalan R (2011) Fields of vision: toward a new theory of visual literacy for digitized archival photographs. Archivaria 71:6397 m M (2004) How reproductive is a scholarly edition? Lit Linguist Comput 19(1):1733 Dahlstro Dalgaard R (2001) Hypertext and the scholarly archive: intertexts, paratexts and metatexts at work. In: Proceedings of the 12th ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia: Aug 2001, Aarhus. ACM Press, New York, pp 175184 Daniels M, Yakel E (2010) Seek and you may nd: successful search in online nding aid systems. Am Arch 73:535568 Devitt A (1996) Review: genre, genres, and the teaching of genre. Coll Compos Commun 47(4):605615 Devitt A (2004) Writing genres. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale Devitt A (2009) Re-fusing form in genre study. In: Giltrow J, Stein D (eds) Genres in the internet: issues in the theory of genre. John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam, pp 2748 Devitt A, Bawarshi A, Reiff MJ (2003) Materiality and genre in the study of discourse communities. Coll Engl 65(5):541558 Douglas J, MacNeil H (2009) Arranging the self: literary and archival perspectives on writers archives. Archivaria 67:2539 Duff D (2000) Introduction. In: Duff D (ed) Modern genre theory. Longman, Toronto, pp 124 Duff W, Harris V (2002) Stories and names: archival description as narrating records and constructing meanings. Arch Sci 2:263285 Duff W, Monks-Leeson E, Galey A (2011) Contexts built and found: a pilot study on the process of archival meaning-making. Arch Sci 12:6992 Feeney K (1999) Retrieval of archival nding aids using world-wide-web search engines. Am Arch 62(Fall 1999):206228 Flinn A (2007) Community histories, community archives: some opportunities and challenges. J Soc Arch 28:151176 Freadman A (1994) Anyone for tennis? In: Freedman A, Medway P (eds) Genre and the new rhetoric. Taylor and Francis, London, pp 4366 Freedman A, Medway P (eds) (1994a) Learning and teaching genre. Boynton/Cook, Portsmouth Freedman A, Medway P (1994b) Locating genre studies: antecedents and prospects. In: Freedman A, Medway P (eds) Genre and the new rhetoric. Taylor and Francis, London, pp 122 Giltrow J (1994) Genre and the pragmatic concept of background knowledge. In: Freedman A, Medway P (eds) Genre and the new rhetoric. Taylor and Francis, London, pp 155180 Giltrow J (2002) Meta-genre. In: Coe R, Lingard L, Teslenko T (eds) The rhetoric and ideology of genre: strategies for stability and change. Hampton Press, Creskill, pp 187206 Giltrow J, Stein D (eds) (2009) Genres in the internet: issues in the theory of genre. John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam Hallam-Smith E (2003) Customer focus and marketing in archive service delivery: theory and practice. J Soc Arch 24(1):3553 Head RC (2007) Mirroring governance: archives, inventories and political knowledge in early modern Switzerland and Europe. Arch Sci 7:317329 Hill A (2004) Serving the invisible researcher: meeting the needs of online users. J Soc Arch 25(2):139148 Huvila I (2008) Participatory archive: towards decentralised curation, radical user orientation, and broader contextualisation of records management. Arch Sci 8:1536 Ketelaar E (2001) Tacit narratives: the meaning of archives. Arch Sci 1:131141 Killingsworth M, Gilbertson M (1992) Signs, genres, and communities in technical communication. Baywood, Amityville Krause MG, Yakel E (2007) Interaction in virtual archives: the Polar Bear Expedition digital collections next generation nding aid. Am Arch 70:282314 Kwasnick B, Crowston K (2005) Introduction to the special issue: genres of digital documents. Inf Technol People 18(2):7688

123

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

499

Light M, Hyry T (2002) Colophons and annotations: new directions for the nding aid. Am Arch 65:216230 Lynch C (2002) Digital collections, digital libraries, and the digitization of cultural heritage information. First Monday 7(5). http://www.rstmonday.org/issues/issue7_5/index.html MacNeil H (2005) Picking our Text: archival description, authenticity and the archivist as editor. Am Arch 68(2):264278 MacNeil H (2008) Archivalterity: rethinking original order. Archivaria 66:124 MacNeil H (2009) Trusting description: authenticity, accountability and the general international standard for archival description. J Arch Organ 7(3):89107 McKemmish S, Faulkhead S, Russell L (2011) Distrust in the archive: reconciling records. Arch Sci 11:211239 Millar L (2002) The death of the fonds and the resurrection of provenance: archival context in space and time. Archivaria 53:115 Miller C (1994a) Genre as social action. In: Freedman A, Medway P (eds) Genre and the new rhetoric. Taylor and Francis, London, pp 2342 (corrected reprint of 1984 article) Miller C (1994b) Rhetorical community: the cultural basis of genre. In: Freedman A, Medway P (eds) Genre and the new rhetoric. Taylor and Francis, London, pp 6778 Miller C, Shepherd D (2009) Blogging as social action: a genre analysis of the weblog. In: Gurak L et al (eds) Into the blogosphere: rhetoric, community, and culture of weblogs. http://blog.lib.umn.edu/ blogosphere/blogging_as_social_action_a_genre_analysis_of_the_weblog.html Nesmith T (2005) Reopening archives: bringing new contextualities into archival theory and practice. Archivaria 60:259274 Olsen L (1993) Research on discourse communities: an overview. In: Spilka R (ed) Writing in the workplace: new research perspectives. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, pp 181194 Opp J (2008) The colonial legacies of the digital archive: the Arnold Lupson Photographic Collection. Archivaria 65:319 Orlikowski W, Yates J (1994) Genre repertoire: the structuring of communicative practices in organizations. Admin Sci Q 39:541574 A (2002) Genre and identity: individuals, institutions, and ideology. In: Coe R, Lingard L, Teslenko Pare T (eds) The rhetoric and ideology of genre: strategies for stability and change. Hampton Press, Creskill, pp 5772 A, Smart G (1994) Observing genres in action: towards a research methodology. In: Freedman A, Pare Medway P (eds) Genre and the new rhetoric. Taylor and Francis, London, pp 146154 Payne C (2006) Lessons with Leah: re-reading the photographic archive of nation in the National Film Board of Canadas Still Photography Division. Vis Stud 21(1):422 Podolsky-Nordland L (2004) The concept of secondary provenance: re-interpreting Ac Ko Mok Kis map as evolving text. Archivaria 58:147159 Porter J (1992) Audience and rhetoric: an archaeological composition of the discourse community. Prentice, Englewood Cliffs Prom CJ (2004) User interactions with electronic nding aids in a controlled setting. Am Arch 67:234268 Prom CJ (2011) Using web analytics to improve online access to archival resources. Am Arch 74:158184 Riley J, Shepherd K (2009) A brave new world: archivists and shareable descriptive metadata. Am Arch 72:91112 Roth J (2001) Serving up EAD: an exploratory study on the deployment and utilization of Encoded Archival Description nding aids. Am Arch 64:214237 Scheir W (2005) First entry: report on a qualitative exploratory study of novice user experience with online nding aids. J Arch Organ 3(4):4985 Schwartz J (2002) Coming to terms with photographs: descriptive standards, linguistic othering, and the margins of archivy. Archivaria 54:142171 Sexton A, Turner C, Yeo G, Hockey S (2004) Understanding users: a prerequisite for developing new technologies. J Soc Arch 25(1):3349 Shilton K, Srinivasan R (2007) Participatory appraisal and arrangement of multicultural collections. Archivaria 63:87101 Smith D (2008) From Nunavut to Micronesia: feedback and description, visual repatriation and online photographs of indigenous peoples. Partnersh: Can J Library Inf Pract Res 3(1):119. http://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/330/848

123

500

Arch Sci (2012) 12:485500

Spilka R (ed) (1993) Writing in the workplace: new research perspectives. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale Swales J (1990) Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Swales J (1998) Other oors, other voices: a textography of a small university building. L. Erlbaum, Mahwah Taylor HA (19871988) Transformation in the archives: technological adjustment or paradigm shift? Archivaria 25:1228 Theimer K (2011a) What is the meaning of Archives 2.0? Am Arch 74:5868 Theimer K (ed) (2011b) A different kind of web: new connections between archives and our users. Society of American Archivists, Chicago Winsor D (2000) Ordering work: blue-collar literacy and the political nature of genre. Writ Commun 17:155184 Yakel E (2003) Archival representation. Arch Sci 3:125 Yakel E (2004) Encoded archival description: are nding aids boundary spanners or barriers for users? J Arch Organ 2(12):6377 Yakel E (2011a) Balancing archival authority with encouraging authentic voices to engage with records. In: Theimer K (ed) A different kind of web: new connections between archives and our users. Society of American Archivists, Chicago, pp 75101 Yakel E (2011b) Who represents the past? Archives, records, and the social web. In: Cook T (ed) Controlling the past: documenting society and institutions. Society of American Archivists, Chicago, pp 257278 Yakel E, Torres DA (2003) AI: archival intelligence and user expertise. Am Arch 66:5178 Yakel E, Torres DA (2007) Genealogists as a Community of Records. Am Arch 70:93113 Yates J, Orlikowski W (2002) Genre systems: structuring interaction through communicative norms. J Bus Commun 39:1335

Author Biography
Heather MacNeil is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto where she teaches courses in archival concepts and issues, the history of recordkeeping, and archival representation. Her research and publications focus on the theory and methods of arrangement and description and the trustworthiness of records. In her current research, she is exploring archival description as a rhetorical genre in traditional and web-based environments. Dr. MacNeil is the author of Without Consent (1992) and Trusting Records (2000) and co-editor, along with Terry Eastwood, of Currents of Archival Thinking (2010).

123