Book Launch and Panel DiscussionDefining a Discipline: Archival Research and Practice in the 21st Century – Essays in Honor of Richard J. Cox, eds. Jeannette A. Bastian and Elizabeth Yakel (Society of American Archivists, 2020), and “Archival Science – Discipline or Profession” (with David Wallace, Lindsey Mattock, Joel Blanco-Rivera, and Ricky Punzalan, as panelists).

The second day of ICHORA 2020 started out with a book launch and panel in honor of Richard J. Cox, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the titans in the fields of archival education and archival history. Addressing the title of the Festschrift, Defining a Discipline: Archival Research and Practice in the 21st Century – Essays in Honor of Richard J. Cox, edited by Jeannette A. Bastian and Elizabeth Yakel (Society of American Archivists, 2020), a panel of Cox’s former students (David Wallace, Joel Blanco-Rivera, and Lindsey Mattock), as well as Ricardo Punzalan (University of Michigan, USA), reflects on Cox’s influence as an academic mentor and discusses the perceived dichotomy of archives-as-a profession versus archives-as-a-discipline. 

Jeannette A. Bastian (Simmons University) states that this online book launch had become the pandemic-alternative to what was originally planned as a traditional reception, while Elizabeth Yakel (University of Michigan) emphasizes that the intention to launch the book in conjunction with ICHORA had always been envisioned, especially since Richard Cox and the ICHORA conference are known generators and promoters of new ideas about the meaning of archives. After opening remarks by the co-editors outlining how the discussion would precede a congratulatory toast to Professor Cox, the panel engages with the topics addressed in the book:  “Are we really a discipline or a profession?”, “What does a discipline do that a profession does not?”, “How do we keep the discipline healthy?”, “What are the greatest challenges to fostering a discipline?”, and “Would you teach differently if archives were a discipline or were a profession?”

 Richard J. Cox, archival pioneer, speaking during the ICHORA 2020 Book Launch, October 2020.

In response, David Wallace (University of Michigan) reflects on Richard Cox as a pioneer of archives as a discipline, as a field of study and theory in its own right, which Cox saw as contrary to the then-dominant practice-focused professionalism. Joel Blanco-Rivera (Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museografía in Mexico City, Mexico) echoes some of Wallace’s remarks. Blanco-Rivera emphasizes that, despite the continuing tensions between disciplinarity and professionalism in the field,  both are connected to and definitional elements of the 21st century archival landscape. Lindsay Mattock (University of Iowa) looks back at the training received at the University of Pittsburgh and comments on the incorporation of that training in archival theory and practice to the LIS and Digital Humanities related courses that Mattock has taught at Iowa. Through these non-traditional classes, Mattock raises awareness among LIS and Humanities students about the distinction between the archive and the archives and encourages “students across the humanities” to understand “the intellectual labor of archival practice that shapes the collections that they study.” Ricardo Punzalan (University of Michigan) classifies Richard Cox as one of the few people who are allowed “to live rent-free in [his] head.” Cox was from the beginning an ‘archival hero’ who shaped Punzalan’s thinking. With regard to the posed questions, Punzalan states that ‘doing something for a while’ alone does not yet constitute the belonging to a profession but that belonging requires reflection which is where he sees the intersection between profession and discipline. After a warm if virtual toast of “fizzy water,” the session closed with audience comments and words of thanks from Richard Cox.

Dr. Sebastian Modrow

Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries

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