I’ve been combing through back issues of the American Archivist for a bibliography project — more on that when it’s complete — and I had a bit of serendipity.  I came across the first presidential address to the Society of American Archivists (SAA), delivered by Albert R. Newsome at the 1937 annual meeting held in Washington, DC.  It was initially printed in the SAA Proceedings and was reprinted in the July 1963 issue of the American Archivist.  You can also find my reviews of his other presidential addresses from 1938 and 1939.  At the time of this address, he was head of the history department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he had previously served as the Secretary of the North Carolina Historical Commission (the predecessor to the State Archives of North Carolina).

Newsome spoke of the “nationalization of archival interests in the United States” — referring to the creation of the National Archives and the establishment of SAA (299).  He reflected on the first third of the 20th century as a time of pioneering for the archival realm:

  • local activity
  • public recognition
  • establishment of state archives
  • passage of relevant legislation
  • developing consciousness of an archival community
  • assistance from the American Historical Association and the Public Archives Commission

In the second third of the 20th century, much of this pioneering work came to fruition with the expansion of state archives, the formation of the National Archives, numerous surveys conducted of archives, and the creation of SAA.  As for this new organization, Newsome said “the Society faces its immediate problems with caution and conservatism; its future, with optimism and boldness” (300).  Elaborating on the SAA constitution, he laid out these objectives for the organization (301):

  • “appropriate the lessons of successful experience anywhere”
  • “accumulate and disseminate useful information”
  • “facilitate the discussion of problems and the sharing of experiences and discoveries”
  • “stimulate experimentation, discovery, and improvement”
  • “seek a wholesome degree of uniformity in archival practice, procedure, and ideology”
  • “encourage productive scholarship in many fields of knowledge”

Newsome then acknowledged three categories of archival problems: internal economy, external relations, and professional development.  By internal economy, he meant problems concerning “the collection, preservation, availability, and use of archives” (301).  To address the issue of what archives should collect, he suggested better cooperation among government officials, standards for appraisal, and procedures for the transfer and accession of archival materials.  He presented preservation as a technical issue that could be addressed through training by SAA meetings and publications.  He contended the availability of archives would be enhanced by better classification and filing systems, research room rules, inventories, and publication of materials to broader audiences.  He concluded archivists should have a goal “of a more extensive use of archives by scholarly investigators” (302).

As for external relations, Newsome determined that all archival organizations should cooperate — “to plan the interchange of information, to prevent overlapping effort, and to discover ways of mutual aid” (303).  He also promoted interaction with other learned societies, the development of public support, passage of relevant legislation, and the public exhibition of archival materials.  He concluded, “Archival science cannot live unto itself.  The character of its external relations may be basic to the solution of its problems of internal economy” (304).

Finally, Newsome challenged SAA to develop the archival profession in the U.S., suggesting it could be shaped by standardizing archival terminology, by developing educational standards, and by a bibliography and a manual of archives.  He concluded his address with an oft-cited analysis:

“A hospitable Providence was the place of the Society’s birth.  May a kindly Providence bless and immortalize its career” (304).