català | castellano | english home   sitemap   aviso legal   créditos   contacto  
home home

Marie-Dominique Mouton, Laboratoire d'ethnologie et de sociologie comparative, CNRS - Université de Paris 10-Nanterre

"The preservation of anthropological records: an overview of the French situation"

About fifteen years ago we began to house anthropological archives in our libraries.  The first papers came by a sort of coincidence and after a short time, we decided that, from that time, one of our major projects would be the preservation and treatment of these documents, and among them we would pay a special attention to field notes.

Today eight record groups have been deposited in our institution: four of them were created by some of the first French ethnologists in Africa: Marcel Griaule, Denise Paulme, Annie and Jean-Paul Lebeuf, and Louis Gabriel Roux; another belongs to Pertev Naili Boratav who collected oral traditions in Anatolia between 1939 and 1951; two of them are composed of the scientific productions of two researchers Eugène Fleischman and Henri Collomb. More recently we began to work on the materials collected by Julian Pitt Rivers during his life, mainly in South America and in Spain.

We decided that for general scientific archives creating finding aids was a good solution. But we thought that for field notes - which are often, in our case, written with pencil on small pieces of paper - we would facilitate their use and preservation if we computerized them and allowed two means of access: archival access, referring to the structure of the records, and documentary access by keyword. At the same time we began to organise workshops: during the first one, in 1999, we talked with researchers about their wishes and their fears regarding the deposit of their papers.

In 2001 we organized a meeting of people in charge of anthropological archives in few countries in Europe (England, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal) in order to compare ways of working with those kinds of documents and to examine the possibility of creating a network of anthropological archives in Europe.

My presentation partly comes from all the ideas shared during these workshops. It will focus on three points: first, I will explain the characteristics of anthropological archives and compare them with other scientific archives; then I will expose the importance of anthropological archives and the situation of their preservation in Europe and more precisely in France; and I will, finally, explain our on-going projects and the problems we have to face.

Special Features of Anthropological Records
 
1.      A few remarks to begin with.
 
· I will only speak about personal papers of anthropologists and not about archives of institutions or associations dealing with anthropology.

· These are ‘half private’ archives (research done with public founding, documents kept most of the time at home, scientific data mixed with private information). So it is difficult to say whose records they are.

· They are archives of people spending a part of their activity on the field and working most of the time alone (except for the first scientific missions)
 
2. Why are field notes are the most interesting part of anthropological records?
 
Like other researchers, anthropologists produce many documents. I will not talk about publications, lecture notes, preparation and drafts for monographs, articles or presentations, editorial and scientific correspondence, sometimes teaching material for courses, seminars and conferences.  I will focus on what seems to me the more interesting part of anthropological records: field notes and, more generally speaking field materials, and try to explain their characteristics.

Anthropological field material as archives

 
· It is collected or created in the field by the ethnologist himself.

· Organized by the ethnologist, it constitutes a private archive, a raw data from which he will elaborate its research.

· It differs from other researchers like historians who work, most of the time, on archives constituted by others people.
 
What items can be found?

Types of documents:
Paper: journals and diaries, notebooks, questionnaires and surveys, index-card files, letters to friends, colleagues, institutions; series of photographs, films, video, audio tape, ethnographic items, and now more sophisticated and various electronic media
 
Types of data:
Observations of the village, of the inhabitants, of a specific categories of person (for instance women or children), or of activities (games); life histories; genealogies; day by day records of local life, of the local political development; records of conversations and rumours; taxonomies and knowledge of plants, of animals, of material culture; information about health, nutrition, birth, marriage, and mortuary traditions; descriptions of ceremonies; linguistics data, vocabularies; transcriptions or translations of folktales, epics.
 
A great part of these data have never been published and will never be published

How is this material unique?

· Scientific and private information are mixed: many documents contain ethnologist’s intimate remarks - his/her feeling about the Observed, his/her fears, his/her difficulties, his/her hopes in a specific time - the field which used to be a sort of ‘rite de passage’ to become a real anthropologist.

· Most data deal with human beings and human situations – the Observed

· Most data are recorded for the first time: previously they have always been only said, in societies belonging to oral tradition.

· This information belongs to the World memory and are part of the Indigenous knowledge
 
Are anthropologists’ field materials different from field materials of other researchers?
 
· Anthropological field materials are different from archaeologists’ and geologists’ materials, because a greater part of the information concerns human beings, their problems, and their relationships. For that reason many document cannot be shown or communicated (e.g. photographs of American Indians in USA).

· They may not be very different from human geographers’ materials. It depends on the nature of the data collected.
 
The Why and Where of Preserving Anthropological Archives

1. For what purposes do we keep anthropological archives?

• For scientific reasons:
• To write the history of anthropology.
• To be re-used by younger anthropologists.
• To keep trace of disappeared societies.
• For non scientific purposes: e.g. to furnish materials for writing novels.

 2. Where are anthropological records are usually kept?
 
It depends on the countries and the situation of anthropology in the different countries.
 
In USA and Great Britain

• A great deal of work has been done on collecting archival data, helping scientific researchers to understand how it is important to preserve their personal papers, offering them places to deposit them, and organising information about these documents (e.g. the anthropological archives of the Smithsonian Institution, Copar in USA; Qualidata, A2A, NCUACS for the UK, even if these are not specifically for anthropological archives).  It is important to stress the fact that, in these two countries, universities have scientific archives repositories (LSE, SOAS and so on).
 
In France and in some other European countries
• Anthropological archives are kept in various places and most of the time it is very difficult to know why and where.

• Very often, the earliest ones have been stored in anthropological museums with the anthropological items which have been gathered during the different missions.  Sometimes they are preserved in a specific area.


• Others are in public libraries, local museums and departmental archives. Most of the time nobody knows about these deposits, so it is very difficult to find where they are, even to know if they are somewhere.

• Many are still in private hands, with the threat that they will be thrown away after the death of their owner.

• A few anthropologists say they wish to deposit their personal papers somewhere but are unable to find an appropriate repository.

Issues Facing the Exploitation of Anthropological Archives

I will try to list our major projects since 1998, to stress the fears and hopes of the anthropologists (or of their heirs), to explain how we are trying to make easier anthropological data access. And to end I will explain our long-term projects

1. Our major efforts since 1998 are

• To persuade anthropologists to organize the preservation of their personal papers
• To find places to deposit them
• To facilitate access to the data

 
2. The fears and hopes of the anthropologists (or of their heirs):
 
• They fear that their data could be plagiarized or used in a wrong perspective, or that their work could be re-examined critically

• They have a great awareness of the interest in their documents and most of them are ready to face up their responsibilities.

o       They (or their heirs) wish that
o       Deposited collections will continue to be available for them or can only be communicated with their agreement.
o       Appropriate protection (copyright) can be instituted.
o       Archival process can facilitate access to their data
o       Exhibitions and publicity can highlight the value of their data, and …themselves (or their husband, father, mother).
 
3. Facilitating anthropological data access
 
The realizations:
• Computerization
• Indexation
• Publication on the web
 
The problems we have to face are of different kinds:

• Problems of the choice of descriptors: referring to vocabulary used at the time of the constitution of the data or to the actual way of naming ethnographic facts, people and places (ethnic and geographical names).

• The importance (obligation) of working with the creator of the archives or, if it is impossible, with a researcher working in the same field.

• The de-contextualization of the data involved by documentary treatment of the data (access by key-words)

• Difficulties of choosing what can be published on the net (only samples in our case)

4. Long-term projects
 
• Create an information unit on the web to help researchers wishing to deposit their personal papers and for research institutions willing to house these archives.

• Establish a network for locating anthropological archives in France and also in Europe.

On our website: http://web.mae.u-paris10.fr/recherche/beinforma.htm

You can find:

-  A short description of our main record groups.

- A presentation of the meeting hold in November 2001

You can see also in Gradhiva, n°30-31 (2001-2002), some of the presentations of the 1999 meeting:

- Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, De l’exploitation des archives de terrain. Une textualisation en chaîne, 73-80.

- Eric Joly, Du fichier ethnographique au fichier informatique. Le fonds Marcel Griaule : le classement des notes de terrain, pp. 81-103.

- Marie-Dominique Mouton, Archiver la mémoire des ethnologues, pp. 67-72.




bottom