Once again, I’m skipping a year in our review of Society of American Archivists (SAA) presidential addresses.  As with the 1943 meeting, I find no evidence of a presidential address in the published notes from the November 1945 meeting.

So that brings us to the October 1946 meeting in Washington, DC, where Solon J. Buck, the second Archivist of the United States (AOTUS), delivered his address at the tenth annual SAA meeting.  This address was published in the American Archivist in January 1947.  Buck succeeded Robert D.W. Connor in 1941 and served until 1948, when he moved to the Library of Congress.  Buck’s tenure as AOTUS spanned U.S. involvement in World War Two, and this address reflected the impact of that conflict.

Buck began with an expansive view of the role of archivists — beginning with the premise that in 1946, “in the place of the multitude of distinctive tribal, racial, and national cultures of earlier times, mankind possesses one human culture or civilization, with many local variants and adaptations,” and going on to suggest that documentation was the prerequisite for the development of civilization (9).  Just in case people weren’t quickly following his point, Buck tagged librarians, archivists, museum curators as “documentalists” who preserve and provide access to recorded ideas (10).

The National Archives was in its second decade of existence by 1946, and Buck emphasized the value to researchers of having consolidated government records under one agency.  But he didn’t stop there, instead postulating about the creation of “the archives of mankind” (12).  Leaving the nebulous world of conjecture, Buck provided two specific challenges to the international archival community (13):

  1. There needed to be an international archives agency.
  2. There needed to be an international archives association.

Buck also listed twelve urgent archival problems that he felt deserved international attention and cooperation:

  1. “preservation of the archives of international government”
  2. “rehabilitation of war-damaged archives”
  3. “defense of archives against the destructive agents of modern warfare”
  4. “archives in the international peace settlements”
  5. “problems of dealing with modern records in bulk”
  6. “handling modern types of records — such as motion pictures and sound recordings”
  7. “photographic reproduction of records”
  8. “international exchange of photographic facsimiles”
  9. “uniform archival terminology”
  10. “more effective finding aids to research in archives”
  11. “training of archivists”
  12. “preparation of a new edition of the International Guide to Archives

Some of these goals will take a while to accomplish, but part of Buck’s dream was realized in the United Nations Archives and Records Management Section, an idea that was born in April 1945 at the San Francisco conference and culminated in 1949 when the organization became the custodian of records not only for the United Nations but for its predecessor agencies, including the War Crimes Commission.

Another monumental accomplishment came in 1948 with the creation of the International Council on Archives, which operates with these aims and objectives:

“Archives constitute the memory of nations and societies, shape their identity, and are a cornerstone of the information society.  By providing evidence of human actions and transactions, archives support administration and underlie the rights of individuals, organisations and states.  By guaranteeing citizens’ rights of access to official information and to knowledge of their history, archives are fundamental to identity, democracy, accountability and good governance.”

Buck’s address ranged from confident to uncertain — perhaps reflective of the confidence that came from the U.S. being one of the last two remaining superpowers after World War Two alongside the uncertainty that resulted from the use of atomic weapons to end that war.  But in the end, he found hope in the work of archivists:

“The only true fortresses in these times are fortresses of the mind.  They cannot be built in a day.  It is my belief that they will be built, as they always have been, on the foundation of the reservoir of recorded ideas that, constantly supplemented by new ideas, makes civilization possible” (24).

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