I can still remember the little tingle of excitement I felt ten years ago, as I sat in the lecture hall of Maynooth College as the first lecture on Historical Archives began. This was an entirely new subject for me. I knew absolutely nothing about archival science. I could not name a single book on the subject. I knew nothing of its history. A whole new field of learning was about to unfold before me!
And here I am ten years later still working with archives… How do I feel now about the subject? Have I become bored with the routine nature of the work, with removing staples, with filing and cataloguing and trying to decide what deserves to be kept for posterity or shredded into oblivion? What about the days when nothing spectacular appears…? Or, do I still feel that thrill of excitement when I open a dusty box, or make sense of a crazy, complex batch of documents, or admire the exquisite penmanship on parchment, or find information on a long lost relatives or sometimes even find a grave…Do these days still inspire me?
Taken from the 1915 Annals of Skibbereen Convent, Co Cork
I can truthfully say that ‘yes’ I still feel excitement and enthusiasm for archives. I see the value in preserving our records, our heritage. Perhaps, now more than ever, we need to guard and truthfully preserve our heritage. In modern times our works, our identities seem to be questioned and misunderstood or at least misinterpreted. Opening our archives to skillful researchers will be of great benefit to us to restore our integrity in the future when, hopefully, the climate will be more receptive to us. The work of the archivist is vital for research but of course the archivist depends on the home community to preserve the documents in the first place. We are all important when it comes to preserving our precious heritage. Here I would like to make a plea for the writing of annals. The annals are one of the most valuable sources of historical information available to succeeding generations of Sisters of Mercy and to historians. Would that we would take them seriously…
Nowadays archivists have to be aware of some general principles regarding processing of personal data laid out in Article 5 of General Data Protection Regulations. These principles have many practical consequences for archival services and must be kept in mind. Archivists are familiar with the importance of ‘confidentiality’ as it is standard practice in archival services yet some of the implications may be less obvious. GDPR is an ever important consideration in the work of the Archivist.
Working in the archives is really taking part in the preservation of our wonderful heritage.
I regard it as sacred work which gives me insight into the early history of the Congregation and the lives of the Sisters who have gone before me and I never cease to be inspired by their dedication, single-mindedness, resourcefulness, and great love for the poor.
“History is made with documents. Documents are the imprints left of the thoughts and the deeds of the men of former times. For nothing can take the place of documents. No documents, no history.”1
1 Charles Seignobos, Histoire de la civilisation contemporaine (1920).
Translated by Eamon de Valera in a letter from prison to Kathleen O’Connell, his personal secretary, 2nd February 1924, enjoining her to safeguard his papers.
Dora Lynch rsm