I'd like to thank Chris Kitching for his reassurance that the archives profession is now very strongly represented on the Commission. Certainly other interest groups should be represented; I would not wish to imply that it would be desirable for even a majority of the Commissioners to be professional archivists.
However I think we should have enough confidence in our professionalism to assert that most of the functions of HMC outlined by Chris - "to discover the nature and whereabouts of
archive sources, to disseminate information about them, (and) to give independent advice on issues concerning them" - might best be undertaken by professional archivists.
The strong archives presence on the agenda of Re:source and in the regions suggests that the NCA has been able to take account of users' points of view, but still successfully expressed the profession's concerns to DCMS. I'm sure HMC agree that there is still some way to go in establishing the perception that it has got the right balance.
Senior Assistant Archivist
London Borough of Hackney
>>> <[log in to unmask]> 08/23 5:12 pm >>>
Martin Taylor complains that less than a quarter of the HMC
Commissioners are professional archivists. This is true, but what does
it portend? HMC is not, and was never intended to be, a strictly
representative body (of which the profession already has several:
ACALG, ACW, NCA, Society of Archivists, etc). Rather, it is a body
appointed by the Crown to discover the nature and whereabouts of
archive sources, to disseminate information about them, to give
independent advice on issues concerning them, and in general to be a
'watchdog'on behalf of the British people with regard to the protection
of the sources for their history.
Until the 1980s the composition of the Commissioners (who by the way
are appointed not by HMC itself but by the Crown on the advice of the
Secretary of State and the Prime Minister) was almost exclusively a
mixture of private owners of archives and distinguished historians.
Practising professional archivists were excluded almost as a matter of
policy, on the grounds that there could be a conflict of interest when
it came to discussing such issues as the allocation of manuscripts to a
particular institution in lieu of tax.
Those traditional constituencies - owners and historians - are still
well represented among the present Commissioners, whose remit covers
the whole of the United Kingdom. But in individual cases they are
nowadays almost always linked with other attributes such as a wide
awareness of and involvement in public life (Parliament, business,
academe, the church, local government, the law and so on).
In recent times, however, with new rules as to conflict of interest
firmly in place there has been a quite deliberate - and from our point
of view very welcome - drive to increase the proportion of
Commissioners who are practising archivists. When you add to their
experience that of the Commission's staff, a fair proportion of whom
(including, as it happens, myself as the chief executive) are qualified
archivists, the profession can be confident that its concerns are now
very strongly represented at Commissioners' meetings.
Dr CJ KITCHING
Secretary, Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts
Quality House, Quality Court, Chancery Lane
London WC2A 1HP United Kingdom
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Tel. 020 7242 1198
Fax 020 7831 3550