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Do archivists make history? Appraisal and selection of archives and the consequences for historical research


Admission requirements

  • Reading of Dutch handwriting is recommended.


Appraisal and selection of archives may be regarded as the most responsible task of archivists. After all selection determines what kind of archival material will be available for future historical research. As in the rest of the world, in the last quarter of the 20th century archivists and records managers in the Netherlands were faced with an overwhelming flood of information. The traditional, craftsman like manner of appraisal and selection of individual documents became a hopeless enterprise as hundreds of kilometres of unprocessed archive material began to pile up within government agencies. The quantities involved demanded a thorough review of the methods for appraisal and selection. In the traditional way, selection was geared towards documents appraised in their documentary context. The documents’ contents were appraised according to their value as evidence or as research sources. In the new methods of macro-selection that were developed, appraisal was geared towards the activities of government that brought about the creation of the documents within their institutional context. Appraisal no longer dealt primarily with documents and their content, but with activities and institutional context.
In the last few years some doubts have arisen about the identification of records (the documents) by this new method in which functions are appraised instead of documents. Some historians and archivists question whether the correct documents are selected by this method macro-appraisal. In this research seminar we will analyse the Dutch method of macro-appraisal, reconstruct the practice of identification of the records based on functions and analyse and evaluate the results of this method of appraisal and selection by comparing the archival descriptions with the real content of archival documents.

Course objectives

  • To gain insight into the role and importance of appraisal and selection of archives for historical research.

  • To develop a critical research attitude

  • Discover the accuracy of the archival methods

  • To develop an institutional and process-based approach of archives.


See here.

Mode of instruction

Research seminar.

Course Load

  • Total course load for the course is 280 hours.

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 28 hours.

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature: 80 hours.

  • Time to write a paper (including reading / research): 182 hours.

Assessment method

Presentation & participation (20%) and paper (80%).



Reading list

  • Agnes Jonker, ‘Macroappraisal in the Netherlands. The first ten years, 1991-2001, and beyond’ in Archival Science 5(2005) 203-218

  • Brian Beaven, ‘‘But am I getting my records?’ Squaring the circle with terms and conditions expressed in relation to function and activity’ Archival Science 5(2005) 315-341

  • Catherine Bailey, ‘Turning macro-appraisal decisions into archival holdings: crafting function-based terms and conditions for the transfer of archival records’ in Archivaria 61 (2006) 147-179

  • Robbert Jan Hageman, Charles Jeurgens and Ruud Yap, ‘A new approach to appraisal: building blocks for a new appraisal method for archives. COMMA. International Journal on Archives – Revue Internationale des Archives Vol. 2008 (pp. 125-132). International Council on Archives.

  • Charles Jeurgens, ’Maken archivarissen geschiedenis? Waardering en selectie onder de loep.’ Archievenblad, 114 (2010) nr 10, p. 42-45.


via uSis.

Contact information

With the tutor: Prof.dr. K.J.P.F.M. Jeurgens.


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