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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ARCHIVAL STUDIES:Preserve and prosper --Usha Albuquerque

Imagine being able to see and read letters written by Mahatma Gandhi or Nehru or even older manuscripts from the Moghul period? With a rich historical repertoire stretching back centuries, there are probably millions of records of events, major declarations, treaties and also simple letters in museums, libraries and even homes across the country.
Institute watchOsmania University, Hyderabad
PG Diploma in Archival Science and Manuscriptology (one-year) Eligibility: Graduation with a three-year work experience.
Annamalai University
PG diploma in Archives Keeping (part-time)
Gandhigram Rural Institute, Gandhigram
PG diploma in Archives and Documentation and Management. Eligibility: Graduation with experience in library/archives/certificate in library science.

While many of these are today available for us to see, read or research upon, there are probably thousands of documents across the country still waiting to be discovered and thus professionals are needed to catalogue, maintain and preserve them for posterity.
This is the work of an archivist — they are scholars and curators who collect and preserve archives or records of historical, cultural, administrative and artistic interest, and of art and other objects. They plan, devise and implement systems for the safekeeping of records and historically valuable documents. Archives can include manuscripts, letters, papers, maps, drawings most of which were handwritten hundreds of years ago, as well as printed historical documents and microfilmed material.
In India, most of this material has been housed in the national archives gallery in New Delhi and in hundreds of museums and offices across the country.
The work
Archivists are specially trained in evaluating and preserving records for administrative, historical, legal, evidential and other purposes. The work involves:
  • Researching the origin, distribution and use of materials and objects of cultural and historical interest. Often they are called upon to read and interpret old-fashioned hand-writing and archaic words and phrases.
  • Organising, developing and maintaining collections of artistic, cultural, scientific or historically significant items
  • Directing or undertaking classification and cataloguing of museum and art gallery collections and organising exhibitions. This is painstaking and time consuming work as each unit - volume, map, paper or bundle of papers - has to be described and given a reference number.
  • Preserving historically significant and valuable documents such as government papers, private papers, photographs, maps, manuscripts, audio-visual materials
  • Preparing scholarly papers and reports
  • Archivists are also required to organise exhibitions and special displays at museums and art galleries for general or specialised interest, and to source and acquire archival materials so as to build and develop al collection for research purposes.
  • With increasing efforts to maintain computerised records of data, they also need to manage electronic records and microfilmed archives.
  • Other jobs in this field are those of conservators, who work with archivists to carefully clean and repair damaged and delicate materials of historical relevance. Conservators are especially knowledgeable about chemicals, tools, and methods used during conservation treatment.
  • As more and more records are being preserved electronically, there are also requirements for computer specialists, and digital imaging specialists and other information science specialists.

Getting in

In order to get into this field you must have an interest in history and in research and documentation work. To work in the national archives, or to become a curator, you need a master’s degree in ancient/medieval Indian history or an MA/MSc. in archaeology/ anthropology or professional training from the School of Archival Studies, attached to the National Archives — the institute set up by the government to train specialised professionals in researching and maintaining the national archives. It runs short-term courses for professionals and those interested in the subject. These courses cover a diploma in archival studies, management of records, reprographics covering microfilming and handling of automated information, and information science. The training involves fieldwork, laboratory work as well as theoretical knowledge, and students are exposed to the latest in the field through regular contact with other internationally renowned archives, such as the Smithsonian Institute and the London Archives.
The courses at the School of Archival Studies include:
  • Diploma in Archival Studies (one-year): A minimum of 50 per cent in MA (history) with at least one paper in Modern Indian History
  • Certificate courses (eight weeks): In archives administration, reprography, care and conservation of books, manuscripts and archives. Minimum qualification is graduation degree.
  • Certificate course (four weeks): In records management for personnel employed in archival repositories and record rooms in government, public and private organisations.
  • Sub-professional course (eight weeks): In servicing and repair of books for personnel employed in record rooms of ministries, libraries and other departments.

Job prospects
The major openings for archivists are with the National Archives of India which houses all historical data at its headquarters in Delhi and regional offices in Bhopal and Jaipur, The National Museum in New Delhi and the many state museums across the country, as also specialised museums and organisations such as the Indian national Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Defence Services that run and maintain their own records, the Films Division where old films need to be preserved, the All-India Handicrafts Board and others also take on specialists from this field. Research and training opportunities are also provided by the Indian Council of Historical Research, and INTACH. The historical division of the Ministry of External Affairs also takes on researchers in the Cultural Affairs Division. There are also several private collectors who provide employment for researchers and conservators. Business houses such as the Tatas, Mahindras, Birlas and others have set up their own museums and maintain archives of historical value.
However, there are ancient and valuable historical records and archives at state level institutions, universities and libraries housed in old buildings, in deteriorating and deplorable condition and badly need to be kept in sealed, temperature-controlled environment where trained archivists can research, classify, catalogue and preserve this vital heritage of the country, offering many opportunities for those who come into this field.
Archival studies is not a well known or popular career and just a handful of students venture into this field in India as compared to those in other countries. But it can be an enriching and fascinating career for anyone with a strong interest in history, and a perceptive and probing mind.
— The writer is Director, Careers Smart Private Ltd, New Delhi

Source: The Tribune, 18 July 2012

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