A New Landscape? The Archival Mission in the Post-Truth Era

Richard Cox


Over the past couple of years, in the protracted presidential election campaign, we have witnessed, in often glaring and jarring ways, an assault on truth and evidence. Truth and evidence, in somewhat different ways, rest at the heart of the archival mission. While archivists themselves have debated the notion of truth in recordkeeping, challenging Positivist ideas, for some decades, the notion of evidence and its value for a broad array of purposes, such as memory and justice, has seemed not to waiver. Now, at least in populist terms or political realms, such notions seem not to be relevant in our society. What does this mean for how archivists articulate their mission, advocate for that mission, and educate the next generation of professionals? Indeed, what doe this mean for how archivists view themselves as professionals? This paper will address the changing nature of the archival mission over the past century, what it seems to be now, and some thoughts on how we ought to proceed in what is now being termed by some as the “Post-Truth” age. The paper will especially focus on how archivists might or should promote and articulate the archival mission in this turbulent and uncertain time.


Richard J. Cox is a Professor in Archival Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Computing and Information, Department of Information Culture and Data Stewardship. Dr. Cox has served as Editor of the American Archivist and the Records & Information Management Report. He has written extensively on archival and records management topics and has published numerous books and articles in this area, winning the Society of American Archivists’ Waldo Gifford Leland Award for the best book on archives three times. Most recently, he co-edited with Alison Langmead and Eleanor Mattern selected essays from the 2014 AERI conference published by Litwin books. Dr. Cox was elected a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists in 1989.