How do we cross-reference (and cross-fertilize) what is by now almost axiomatically considered as the “central and most important archival function” — that of appraisal, with a relatively recent paradigm shift, now referred to as “critical archival studies”? A partial explanation could be found at a point where we start to examine what the latter actually means and how it came to be. Critical archival studies could now stand as a common denominator for all archival research and scholarship that draws heavily from critical theory – primarily, its analysis of power, social relations and structures, as well as its critique of the status quo – producing, in turn, a refined understanding of information and its role in society. Most common questions are readily apparent: how does one measure or assign value, acknowledging the issues of subjectivity and power; how do we assemble a “socially representative” archival record; how is this representation achieved; etc. A more rounded answer to the initial question then comes to the fore as we backtrack contemporary appraisal theories. While noting the paradigm shift back in 2011, Terry Cook elaborated on what was basically a convergence of appraisal thinking with critically reshaped archival theory. But as this paper will argue, such convergence was not a sudden burst of ideas, but a continuous, lasting process. Critical engagement empowered archival thinking for decades. Archival practice, social praxis and critical theory are, in fact, multiple parallel directions that crossed paths and intertwined. In order to update our appraisal theories with challenging new directions of critical archival studies, we are also challenged to place these directions in a wider historical context. In other words, this paper will not only re-frame appraisal in critical archival studies, but it will also attempt to retrace critical archival thinking in a rich history of appraisal theory.
I am a doctoral candidate in contemporary global history at the University of Banjaluka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. My doctoral thesis is titled, in translation, “Yugoslavs, the Spanish Civil War and the War Émigrés”. My historical research background is based in social and labor history, with a special focus on “workers’ self-management” in Yugoslav Socialism. Since January 2013 I have been employed as an archivist in the Archives of Republic of Srpska, an institution with combined tasks of historical archives and public records supervision. I work on the acquisition, arrangement and description of records. My archival research focuses on the heritage of Yugoslav state socialism, the interplay between record-keeping, social history and critically engaged humanities, as well as on issues of appraisal and documentation strategies. I am a published author in both history and archival studies.