Oddo Bucci (2000) notes the effects of this approach on archival science, an impetus to

channel, to structure, to organize systematically, and to establish order in the subject matter of archival knowledge.
(p. 11)

This positivist understanding or archival science is at its base “pre-modernist and modernist” (p. 14), Isto Huvela (2008) observes.
Even more important than the conceptions of archivists and archival science that such a positivist perspective encourages are the related understandings of archives themselves in the context of this world view. These repositories, when woven into the “tacit narrative” of positivism (Schwartz & Cook, 2002), become imbued with the aura of historical “sites of evidentiary validity” (Skinnell, 2010). They become containers of records and information carefully and neutrally preserved by experts.

In contrast to this more traditional understanding of archives as neutral, scientifically derived containers of historical artifacts, U.S. scholars (Cook, 2001; Skinnell, 2010) turn to theorists such as Derrida and Foucault, and with them to more postmodern understandings of archives.

As Ryan Skinnell (2010) points out, Derrida wrote about archives not as containers that “hold the proof of events passed” but rather as mediating technologies themselves, as interested, constructed collections “imposed from outside by interested persons to store carefully chosen and curated traces of events.”


Archivists…handle valuable records, documents, or objects that are retained because they originally accompanied and relate specifically to the document...

Archivists often specialize in an area of history or technology so they can better determine what records in that area qualify for retention and should become part of the archives....

("Other views," 1998-99 Occupational Outlook Handbook")


The postmodern distrusts and rebels against the modern. The notions of universal truth or objective knowledge based on the principles of scientific rationalism from the Enlightenment, or from employing the scientific method or classic textual criticism, are dismissed as chimeras....

Nothing is neutral. Nothing is impartial. Nothing is objective. Everything is shaped, presented, represented, re-presented, symbolized, signified, signed, constructed by the speaker, photographer, writer, for a set purpose.

(Cook, 2007, p. 7)