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Comparative Studies on Finding Aids as Genre – an EHRI Workshop in Bad Arolsen

Ten participants from Israel, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

Between 17 and 21 December 2012 the International Tracing Service hosted a workshop convened within the framework of the Work Package for standards and guidelines of the EU project “European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI)”. Chaired by the renowned Dutch archival scientist Peter Horsman, ten participants from Israel, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands pondered over and discussed issues of comparative research on finding aids as products (“artefacts”) of representing archives. In this context, the attendants resumed the thread of the current discussion in archival science interpreting finding aids as a “genre”.

Focusing on comparative case studies on selected finding aids of the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Dutch abbreviation NIOD-KNAW), the Israeli remembrance authority Yad Vashem and the International Tracing Service, the debates brought to light clear differences with regard to the amount of historical background information, the amount of information on the description process and with regard to the differentiation of the field types for the registration of data and the description of archival units.

The workshop managed to show that the specific mandates consigned to the care of the collections holding institutions by their bodies had left their characteristic marks on both, the introduction and the formation of titles on the lower levels of description. “We came to realize that a description of the archives as institutions according to standards and consequently a description of their mandates are already suitable for giving the user important information on how the finding aids are to be read and understood“, said ITS archivist Karsten Kühnel. “Although archival science theoretically starts out from the idea that all users get the same good service in an archival institution in the form of finding aids, the mandate of an institution may impose a matter-of-fact prioritization of one or more user groups by providing for this or that sort of description”, explained Peter Horsman.

Aside from other issues the workshop also dealt with the handling of copies’ holdings in archives, their status or value and their quality as “collection entity” and with the possibility to authorize them by means of references to their originals. Peter Horsman emphasized that the conference results were a most substantial contribution to the concept of the EHRI portal and rejoiced that – though it had not been on the official EHRI events’ agenda initially – this workshop had come about nevertheless thanks to the commitment and spontaneity of the representatives of the institutions involved. The evaluation of the results shall lead to the production of both, a report to be submitted to the EHRI consortium early in March 2013 and a comprehensive article in the international specialist journal “Archival Science”.