In November, the Oxford Dictionaries announced their word of the year for 2016 — post-truth:

“an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’”

They cited the frequency of its usage related to the politics of the EU “Brexit” referendum along with the American presidential election.  They explained the prefix has taken on a connotation not tied to a particular time but instead “belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant.”

Archivists have been attuned to ends of eras and changing applications of the prefix post — consider the postcustodial theory of archives that emerged with the growth of electronic records in the 1990s, wherein “archivists will no longer physically acquire and maintain records, but that they will provide management oversight for records that will remain in the custody of the record creators.”  Although truth is not a term defined in the SAA Glossary, related terms such as trustworthiness and accountability and authenticity do warrant attention.

In my opinion, what archivists can offer to a post-truth world — in hopes this is a passing condition — is context.  I believe much of what has fed the post-truth tidal wave is prooftexting, or plucking quotes out of context to support a presupposed conclusion.  This is certainly not a new phenomenon, for humans seem predisposed to seek out opinions that validate our own.  But I plan to do my part to fight the good fight in 2017 by interspersing my reviews of archival literature with contextual studies of quotations — some of which will be familiar and others of which will come from some of my favorite books.  In all cases, I will try to illuminate the meaning of the quote by identifying the context of its origin.  Join me on my journey!

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