I’ll conclude this trilogy of Scott Cline reflections with a look at his 2009 article in the American Archivist.  He took inspiration from a number of SAA presidential addresses:

Cline based his title on a Hugh Taylor quote:

“‘Only by exploring and extending our professional reach to the limit of our integrity, as I have tried to do, will we escape that backwater which, though apparently calm and comfortable, may also be stagnant with the signs of approaching irrelevance’” (339).

Cline used integrity as one of the four values deemed critical to archival being, which he defined as “ the manner in which we are engaged in the world, both individually and collectively, as archivists and as a profession” (333).  He argued authenticity – “the intersection of how we think about our lives and our commitments to certain courses of action” (333) – is critical to our archival being and is facilitated by four values.

  1. Faith. Cline posited archival faith is not religion-based but instead,“archives assumes a genuine faith in humanity, a faith that there will be a future and generation to which archives will matter” (334).  He referenced the work of geography professor Kenneth Foote to confirm the notion that the permanent preservation of records is an act of faith.
  2. Radical Self-Understanding.  Cline looked to Jewish philosopher-theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel to define radical self-understanding: “‘it is thinking about thinking . . . a process of analyzing the act of thinking, as a process of introspection, of watching the intellectual self in action’” (337).  Heschel incorporated the term radical to emphasize the roots or origin of something, and Cline boiled this concept down to two questions: “why do we engage in this work and what does it mean?” (337).  Cline went on to emphasize that this value needs to be collective rather than individual.
  3. Intention.  Just as with radical self-understanding, the value of intention requires a community effort.  Cline incorporated the Hebrew concept of kavannah, which Heschel defined as “‘the direction of the mind toward the accomplishment of a particular act, the state of being aware of what we are doing, of the task we are engaged in’” (339).  Cline clarified that archival work in particular must be outward and future-directed.
  4. Integrity.  Cline concluded where his title began, with Taylor’s notion of integrity.  Cline referenced philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre for his idea that “values appear or come into play only when the individual is at some level engaged” (340).  Cline urged archivists to reflect on “the central question of moral philosophy posed by [Immanuel] Kant, ‘What ought I to do?’” (340).  Summing it up, Cline concluded, “an outward-focused engagement with the world is an obligation, and that our individual and collective work in self-cognition, awareness, and the ethical must be focused toward the other ‘at every moment’” (341).

Running throughout this article was a story of an innkeeper that was recounted by philosopher Martin Buber.  A student who yearned to learn the mystery of serving God was sent by his rebbe to an innkeeper, and over several weeks what he gleaned was that the innkeeper “‘seemed only to attend to his business’” (335).  While the student failed to see the import of this, the moral of the story was that we must live our lives and accomplish our work in intentional and meaningful ways and with an outward focus.  Only by doing this can archivists maintain our relevancy and avoid stagnation.

 

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