Research Issues in Archival Bond
Luciana Duranti and Maria Guercio
Electronic Records Meeting
May 29, 1997
The general goal of the UBC research project was "to identify and define in a purely theoretical way both the byproducts of electronic information systems and the methods for protecting the integrity [e.g., the reliability and authenticity] of those which constitute evidence of action."
The traditional definition of record refers to it as the written testimony or evidence of a juridical fact, produced by a natural or juridical person in the course of practical-administrative activity, and kept for action or reference by that same person or its legitimate successor(s). This definition suited perfectly the purposes of diplomatics and, for a time, served well enough those of archival science, but did not prove very useful for the UBC research purposes. The reason became quite obvious when the research team tried to apply it to the records creation environment.
In jurisprudence, and consequently in evidence laws, evidence is not an entity, but a relationship. It is the relationship shown to the trier of a fact between the fact to be proven and the fact that proves it. Such relationship can be found in a written document, but, in common law countries, only if such document is admissible in court under relevancy and exclusionary rules of evidence (e.g., the best evidence rule, the authentication rule, or the hearsay rule), while, in civil law countries, only if it is directly relevant to the case. Thus, in both juridical systems, the concept of evidence is at one time much broader than that of record--as it encompasses oral testimony, material evidence, and written documents that are not generated in the course of business--and much more specific, as it requires a specific relationship.
Does this mean that the diplomatic definition is wrong? No, it does not. Diplomatics was conceived for the purpose of assessing the authority of centuries old documents in proving the existence of patrimonial rights of the church. The diplomatic wars were fought in courts, where the reliability and authenticity of old titles and privileges as proof of territorial jurisdictions was questioned. The facts to be proven were clear, the facts proving them had to be the records in the name of which they existed and which embedded the relationship necessary to consider them evidence. To diplomatists, therefore, a record is the most conclusive form of evidence of a juridical fact that it puts into existence (dispositive record) or of which constitutes required proof (probative document). This is the reason why diplomatists did not take into consideration supporting and narrative documents, which only incidentally impinge upon juridical facts. In the nineteenth century, when diplomatics began to be considered an auxiliary science of history and its teaching moved from the faculties of law to those of arts, the original definition still held true, even if there was a subtle shift from the term evidence to the term testimony, witness. The reason is that the record was still regarded as a source, as the potential proof of the hypothetical fact the researcher had construed in his quest for understanding the past. In the mind of the scholar, there is a very specific relationship between what he tries to discover and the document embedding it.
As to archival science, when it began to develop from diplomatics, it shared very similar purposes. The first definitions of records predate Mabillon's treatise, but clearly refer to them as sources of proof of rights, as they serve the purpose of--paraphrasing the words of Bonifacio--winning disputes by right rather than by war or weapons.
The UBC research project's first objective aimed at establishing what a record is in principle, independently of its possible uses, and even independently of whether it is complete or not, reliable or not, authentic or not, destined for continuing preservation for one minute, one year or one century. The reason for this is that, if we want to preserve an entity or a faithful reproduction of it intact overtime, we must know what it is that we are trying to preserve, and what it looks like at creation. Thus, in relation to the definition of record, the project's perspective was that of the creator, and its purpose was that of establishing when a record is created and whether it changes over time. This automatically excluded the use of the term "evidence," which, by definition, expresses a user's retrospective view as opposed to a creator's forward view. In fact, the expression "create evidence" is an oxymoron, as nothing that is generated for the sole purpose of serving as evidence of something--unless this is required by law, that is by an entity external to the creator itself, as in the case of probative records--is admissible as evidence.
The fact that the definition of record provided by diplomatics and archival science was not useful when looking at records from the perspective of the creator did not imply a rejection of the diplomatic or archival theory of the record. On the contrary, they were both essential to understanding the nature of the entity.
At the core of diplomatics lies the idea that all records can be analyzed, understood and evaluated in terms of a system of formal elements that are universal in their application and decontextualized in nature. The essential assumption of diplomatics is that the context of a document's creation is made manifest in its form and that this form can be separated from, and examined independently of, its content. Thus, diplomatists view records conceptually as embodying a system of both external and internal elements, consisting of a) acts, which are the determinant cause of record creation, b) persons, who concur in record formation, c) procedures, which are the means by which acts are carried out, and d) record form, which binds all the elements together.
At the core of archival science is the concept of archival bond, that is, the network of relationships that each record has with the records belonging in the same aggregation.
Besides determining the structure of the archival fonds, the archival bond is the primary identifying component of each record, as several identical documents become as many distinct records after they acquire the archival bond. Because the archival bond is what transforms a document into a record, one cannot say that records are "recorded transactions." Documents that are expression of a transaction are not records until they are put into relation with other records, while documents that are not expression of a transaction become records in the moment in which they acquire an archival bond with other documents participating in the same activity.
On the basis of the diplomatic and archival concepts, the UBC research project has defined the record as any document created by a physical or juridical person in the course of practical activity, where "created" means made or received and retained ("set aside") in order to act or for reference. Its necessary and sufficient components are: medium, physical form, intellectual form, content, context, persons, action, and archival bond. Among these necessary and sufficient components, the crucial one for the purposes of the UBC research is the archival bond. The archival bond should not be confused with the general term "context." Every record has a juridical-administrative context, a provenancial context, a procedural context, and a documentary context,
The archival bond, being expression of the development of the activity in which the document participate (as it contains within itself the direction of the cause-effect relationship)--rather than of the act that the document embodies (e.g., appointment, grant, request)--determines the meaning of the record. This is the reason why selection at item level has always been considered unacceptable: it would destroy the archival bond and, consequently, the remaining records as records. While every selection, by hurting the integrity of the archival whole, would alter its meaning (as it would destroy parts of the documentary context, which is the only tangible expression of all the other contexts), selection carried out at the higher levels of aggregation does not interfere with the nature of the record or of the cause-effect connection between records. This is also the reason why archival description, as the means of elucidating the nature of the archival bond in its documentary context, has been traditionally considered the primary way for perpetuating and authenticating the meaning of the
The definition of electronic record is not different from that of any record. However, the components of an electronic records may manifest themselves in new ways, and therefore need to be made recognizable. Moreover, such components may exist separately in the electronic system, and therefore must be first explicitly identified, and then purposefully and inextricably linked. The UBC research has decided to tie those components together in the record profile, that will remain attached as an annotation to the record for the length of its life.
In relation to the archival bond in electronic records, further research has to investigate methods of long term preservation capable of maintaining intact the essential link between the record and its profile.
Another component of electronic records that manifests itself differently from traditional records is physical form, that is, the sum of the attributes of the record constituting its external make-up and determined by hardware and software. Because the physical form of the record is meant to convey meaning, any migration, by changing such form, generates a new record, unless the reproduction is designated as a "conformed copy" (i.e. "an exact copy of a document on which has been written explanation of things that could not or were not copied; e.g. written signature may be replaced on conformed copy with notation that it was signed by the person whose signature appears on the original." From Black's Law Dictionary, 5th edition, "conformed copy"). Therefore, further research is needed to ascertain whose responsibility it should be to issue conformed copies. This is related to the preservation of the archival bond because each migration must be capable of recreating that bond and such re-creation must be authenticated.