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Archival Virtue: Relationship, Obligation, and the Just Archives

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  • Written by Scott Cline

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  • Archival literature is full of examples of what archivists do and how they do it. In Archival Virtue, Scott Cline raises questions that grapple with the meaning of what archivists do and, perhaps more important, who they are. Embracing the language of moral philosophy and theology, such as relationship, obligation, care, faith, transcendence—what one commentator calls “soul words”—Archival Virtue explores ideas of moral commitment, truth, difference, and just behavior in the pursuit of archival ideals.

    Cline proposes that if virtues are sources of power that inspire us to act justly on behalf of a better world, then archival virtue is a form of radical empowerment, one that obligates us to cherish and sustain human dignity, which is the essence of archival justice. With this in mind, Cline invites readers to purposefully examine fundamental questions around archival work:

    • What meaning do we, as humane beings, bring to the archives?
    • How does that affect and define archivists’ place in the world?
    • How do personal values influence our understanding of obligation and care in the archives?
    • How do they guide our relational encounters?

    Absorbing, stimulating, and insightful, Archival Virtue is about archivists as individuals and as a community. For archivists, information professionals, and students, this book strikes at the heart of archival relevance today and into the future.

    Product Details

    Publisher: Society of American Archivists (2021)
    Paperback: 212 pages
    Product Dimension: 6x9 inches
    Weight: 1.0 pounds
    ISBN: 978-1-945246-71-5

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Praise for Archival Virtue
  • “Drawing from the writings of philosophers, religious scholars, progressive activists, historians, poets, and archivists—to name a few—Scott Cline weaves together a compelling argument for why archivists need to deploy the multi-layered idea of virtue into their everyday work. In this way, he challenges archivists to use whatever area of archival administration in which they work to continually and conscientiously embrace a framework of faith, integrity, truth, duty, wisdom, trust, and justice . . . all for the common good. ” —Louis Jones, Wayne State University

    “Building on his American Archivist articles as well as extensive reading of philosophers, theologians, archivists, and other thought leaders, Scott Cline challenges his fellow archivists to be thoughtful about grounding our practice in things moral, ethical, just, and faithful. At a time when the profession is addressing issues of justice and power, Archival Virtue provides us with important new ways to frame our work into the future.” —Margery Sly, Temple University Libraries

    “What do concepts of faith, radical self-understanding, intention, integrity, and covenant have to do with archives and the work that archivists do? Everything! In Scott Cline’s seminal book, these concepts are not merely terms you would encounter in the study of ethics, philosophy, and theology, but are inextricably interwoven with the individuals and archivists who perform the everyday tasks and decisions that must be accomplished for the archival collections which affect those who encounter them. ” —Vince Lee, University of Houston

    “Weaving together ideas from philosophy, religion, literature, and history with personal reflection and practical experience, Scott Cline charts a brave and bold path for archivists to contemplate the deeper meanings of our work to preserve and provide access to archives—what it means to be an archivist, what our work means in the world, what it means for others. Archival Virtue is at once an invitation to connect with the spiritual elements of our work as archivists as well as a powerful invocation of the spirit that infuses the mind and the matter of archives, breathing life and meaning into archival work. Whether we dive deep or dip our toes into this book, the experience will offer new insights and bigger views for imagining and practicing archives with purpose in our current moment.” —Jennifer Meehan, Penn State University Libraries

    "Cline's contribution to the continuing discussion on archival ethics, social justice in the archives, and critical archival theory from an openly spiritual lens is a unique approach that deserves serious consideration. His description of archival faith and the archives as a spiritual force for change adds new dimensions to these current issues. Cline's religiously inspired rhetoric may be uncomfortable for the secular professional world, but his attempts to re-enchant archival work with an active, spiritual facet is a thoughtful antidote to professional archivy's typically unfeeling, bureaucratic, and abstract worldview."
    Ted Lee, American Archivist

    "Archival Virtue is the beginning of an important conversation in the archival profession. It begins to elucidate a framework for thinking about what it means to be an archivist and why we should engage with the world in particular ways. It also begins to provide a rationale for archival engagement in social justice and the building of a moral order. This book should be required reading for all archivists."
    J. Gordon Daines III, Journal of Western Archives

    "Archival Virtueis a well-written, thoughtful book. It offers a much-needed perspective on our field as we continue to grapple with questions of justice, equity, and making the archives better for all."
    Meghan R. Rinn, Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies