What is an archive?

After Tuesday’s class, I’ve been stuck thinking about what exactly an archive is. Of course, as we discussed, it’s a way to have a collective memory across time. But what really gets me is the distinction between archives and collections.

The dictionary says an archive is, “a repository or collection especially of information.”

Thus, can we conclude all archives are collections? Perhaps. But, again, what makes a particular collection an archive? The idea of some sort of value or attention given to the collection was brought up in class. However, I believe a counter-examples could be a collection of stamps or baseball cards. These things certainly have value, sometimes thousands of dollars, but does that make it an archive?

I think the answer is no, and here’s why. Though a single person, or even a group of people, may place value in collectible items, society as a whole does not see a specific collection as historically significant. In an archive, there can perhaps be a collections of cards, but what that represents is the culture of collectibles, especially among young people. It defines a continued tradition that changes as time goes on.

Archivable items and photographs give us insight into the past. They paint a picture of life in the past as “we” choose to remember it. This “we” may be a select group of people, but each member studies society in an effort to best represent the common person in a region.


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