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Scarcity or abundance? Appraisal, selection and preservation of the past


Admission requirements


Appraisal and selection can be regarded as a process of building public memory, but have almost always been on bad terms with the historians. After all selection imposes restrictions on research possibilities. On the other hand there have always been private initiatives to build ‘archives of the world’ like Hubert Howe Bancroft (USA), Albert Kahn (France) or the ‘Mass Observation Project’ (UK) tried to. In this seminar we will investigate the relation between appraisal, selection and the building of public memory. How did professional historians and archivists value appraisal and selection in the past? Based on which concepts did archivists appraise and select? What was the influence of ‘societal interests’ and ‘societal pressure’ in deciding what should be admitted to the public memory? But we will not only look to the past. As in the rest of the world, since the last decades of the 20th century archivists and records managers in the Netherlands are confronted with an overwhelming flood of digital born information. What are the effects of this digital born information on the availability of archival information and documentary heritage? What are the effects of the digital evolution on the idea of building of a public memory? What is the necessity and meaning of appraisal and selection in a digital environment? How does the overload of information affect the historian in his search for relevant information?

Course objectives

The first aim of this research seminar is to gain insight into the role and importance of appraisal and selection of archives for historical research. The second aim is to get insight into the mechanisms of building a public memory.


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Lecture, study of academic literature and study of archival documents

Assessment method

Paper and presentation



Reading list

  • Roy Rosenzweig, ‘Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era’ in American Historical Review 108, 3 (June 2003): 735-762

  • Antoinette Burton (ed) Archive Stories. Facts, fictions and the writing of history (Durham-London 2005)

  • Geoffrey J. Giles, “Archives and Historians: An Introduction,” in Archives and Historians: The Crucial Partnership (Washington, D.C., 1996).

  • Hugh Taylor, ‘Transformation in the Archives: Technological Adjustment or Paradigm Shift?’ Archivaria 25 (Winter 1987–1988): 12–28

  • Richard J. Cox, No innocent deposits. Forming archives by rethinking appraisal (Lanham 2004)

  • John Ridener, From polders to Postmodernism. A concise history of archival theory (2009)


See enrolment-procedure

Contact information

Prof. dr. K.P.J.F.M. Jeurgens


Some lectures will be given in the National Archives in The Hague