Evidence of Me… by Sue McKemmish

It has been a long hiatus from blogging for me, but I just finished reading the article “Evidence of me…” by Sue McKemmish from Archives and Manuscripts the Journal of the Australian Society of Archivists” 24(1) 1996 and feel compelled to write a blog post on the topic.

“Evidence of Me…” discusses the reasons why people keep and destroy records.  McKemmish questions what documents people keep, why they keep them, for how long they keep them and why they keep them.  She also looks at the reasons why people destroy or burn documents.  She looks at this from the point of view of Patrick White, a writer, who at the beginning of his career destroyed his manuscripts and letters out of “morbidity” and later on in his career became less afraid of privacy and more concerned with leaving some trace of his life for the future.  McKemmish also looks at libraries and archives as targets in the 1990s during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the immediate destruction of documents to insure on an immediate level that  against future claims by dispossessed persons and on a more profound level to destroy all evidence and memory that those people ever lived in that place and that those cultures ever existed at all.  In this article McKemmish also considers electronic documents and how archivists are finding ways to get involved at the beginning of records at corporate and administrative environments and discusses what archivists can do for personal papers that will become future archives collections.

It is really just beginning to occur to me that with  “paperless” office environments and with the proliferation and ease of personal computing that many people have turned to using electronic documents and that there personal papers will become lost, destroyed, and forgotten.  With actual paper the act of destruction is generally more deliberate than with electronic files that can easily become lost, forgotten, corrupted or obsolete.  It made me think of the diaries that I wrote as a kid and (deliberately) destroyed as a teenager.  I could not bear reading them in my teenage years.  Sometimes I wish now that I had kept them and hid them from myself instead, not that there was anything in them of much importance to my life today, but I would find it interesting to look back to see evidence of how I thought as a child and memory of events in my life.

The article also has made me consider my (rather lengthy) post-secondary education route and how I’ve gone from taking paper notes and graduating college with many notebooks filled with paper, to currently studying for a masters degree and having far less written on paper, yet though reading and writing far more than I ever did in college.  If someone looked back at the traces of my education what would they think?  I only have final essays printed and many of my papers from my undergraduate degree were lost when my computer crashed.

I think too about children now growing up in a world of digital cameras.  Many children won’t even have their picture recorded on film – instead it’ll only be recorded by digital cameras.  There are many more photos taken on digital cameras than were taken on film, but far fewer pictures printed.  This may be good for the environment, but what will it mean when it comes to traces being preserved into the future?  What will the cost be to transfer these files to other formats when technology changes?  What will the cost/barrier be?  How many people with personal computers and digital cameras out there are making back ups?  If they are doing back ups then how are they backing up files – are they using multiple file formats and media types?


One response to “Evidence of Me… by Sue McKemmish

  1. This is really interesting. I had never thought of the lack of pictures before. Facebook, flikr, etc makes it so easy to share photos that a lot of people do not print them off. We do rely on computers heavily. I am thinking maybe I should go print some pictures off and maybe find a post apocalyptic fiction book to remind myself that computers may not be around forever.

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