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Records, Archives, Memory Studies, May 2013 , Zadar . Document Theory A document-centered view of the universe.

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Records, Archives, Memory Studies, May 2013 , Zadar.Document TheoryA document-centered view of the universe

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Everysociety is an ‘information society’ because all communities (human and animal) are formed by communication, interaction and collaboration. All depend on communication, on information.

There cannot be a ‘non-information society’.

Documents. Members of communities (humans and other animals) communicate through gesture, language, and the use material objects to signify something.

Social interactions and social control are increasingly through documents. We depend more and more on documents. So ‘document society’ is better.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar


Document (verb) To make evident, to make an explanation.

Document (noun) Historically, something you learned from, including lesson, lecture, or example. From 17th century, primarily text, but retaining a sense of evidence.

In 20th century information used with many meanings:

- Information-as-knowledge: Knowledge imparted.

- Information-as-process: Becoming informed.

- Information-as-thing: Bits, bytes, books, etc.

Any thing perceived as signifying = “Document.”

And every document is authentic.

Important is what you believe about it and why.

Every record is a document. Is every document a record?

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

A little history of documents

Prehistoric communication: Gestures, language, and objects.

Writing. Writing mediates speech, makes it permanent.

Effects: Continuity. Controls time. Control. Commerce.

Who can image life without writing?

Printing. Extreme multiplication of writing. More productive. Consequences: Reformation; modern science; . . .

Telecommunications. Person on foot, horse, or ship.

Semaphore, telegraph, telephone, radio, fax, television.

Reduces distance and time. Coordination. Propaganda.

Copying. Photostat, microfilm, electrostatic (xerox).

Consequences: More writing. Image modification.

All definitions of document would include these four.

Social consequences. Standardization. Coordination.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Document copying: 3 important technologies:

Photostat, microfilm, xerography.

Photostat camera: Negative image on photographic paper.

45° mirror corrects left-right reversal. Photostat of photostat yields positive image. Designed by René Graffin, editor of early Syriac texts, Paris, 1900. Rapidly adopted to replace copying by hand and by typewriter. Dominant copying technique 1910 to late 1930s.

Photostat as intermediate for microfilm, photolithography, etc.

Xerography designed to replace photostat.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar


In 1839: Daguerrotypes; Fox Talbot photos on paper; and J. B. Dancer miniature texts.

Decisive application: Using 35 mm movie film to copy bank checks to reduce fraud, then newspapers.

Widely adopted in late 1930s with safety film, better cameras, continuous flow camera (Recordak).

Variants: Opaque microcard and rectangles of film (“microfiche”).

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Document forensics: Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography blocked by ink spill.

Librarian used orange filter and image enhancement, makes text legible.

Restoration of erasures, forgeries, facsimiles, secret writing, altered paintings, damaged records.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Medieval vellum palimpsest. blocked by ink spill.

Ultraviolet light to read erased writing pioneered by G. Kögel,

P. R. Kögel & R. Kögel.

Forged credit note.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Ordinary Light Infrared light blocked by ink spill.

De Bry’s Collectiones expurgated by the Spanish Inquisition.

Infrared light penetrates censor’s ink, not the printer’s ink.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Popular Mechanics Magazine blocked by ink spill.1936

Lodewyk Bendikson, 1875–1953.

Photocopying led to image enhancement and forensic analysis.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

But . . . blocked by ink spill.

Meaning is constructed by the viewer.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Documents and facts
Documents and Facts blocked by ink spill.

Paul Otlet 1868-1944: Extract facts from texts. Organize into hypertextual an encyclopedia (“world brain”). Traité de documentation, 1934.

Ludwik Fleck 1896-1961: Genesis and development of a scientific fact, 1935. Facts as narrative simplification. Triad: concept, individual, cultural mindset / thinking style.

Paracelsus 1493-1541: Physician, botanist, metallurgist in the transition from medieval alchemy to modern science.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Documents and technology blocked by ink spill.

1. Phenomenological aspect: Documents are objects perceived as signifying something. The status of being a “document” is not inherent but attributed (given to) an object. Meanings are always constructed by observers.

2. Cultural codes:All forms of expression depend on some shared understandings, language in a broad sense.


3. Media Types: Different type of expression have evolved: Texts, images, numbers, diagrams, art …

4. Physical Media: Paper; film; analog magnetic tape; bits;….

Any document has cultural (2), type (3), and physical (4) aspects. Genres are culturally-situated combinations.

Being digital affects directly only aspect 3, but the consequences are very extensive.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

The “Documentation Movement” blocked by ink spill.

1895 Paul Otlet and Paul LaFontaine: “Flood” of documents!

Documentation = the management of documents.

What kinds of ‘document’? Globe, models, museum objects, natural history specimens, . . . New forms of ‘book’.

W. Ostwald, H.G. Wells, Otlet: “World brain”: Encyclop. on cards.

Suzanne Briet. What is documentation? French 1951, English 2006. “A document is a proof in support of a fact.”

“Is a star a document? Is a pebble rolled by a torrent a document? Is a living animal a document? No. But the photographs and catalogues of stars, the stones, in a museum of mineralogy, and the animals that are catalogued and shown in a zoo, are documents.” e.g. Antelope of a new species placed in a taxonomy and in a cage.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

After 1945 Documentation movement largely forgotten until blocked by ink spill.

1990s. History and theory of documentation / information science. University of Tromso. Document Academy (DOCAM).

Niels W. Lund’s ‘complementary’ theory: Documents have three simultaneous, inseparable, complementary aspects:

1. Technical / technological aspects of documents;

2. Social role of documents; and

3. Intellectual / cognitive aspects of documents for individual.

Two literatures: Professional; and Social.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Professional Theory of Documents: About Documents blocked by ink spill.

Documentation as organization of knowledge objects. No basis for limiting to texts on flat surfaces, extend to maps, plans, images, diagrams, photographs, sculpture, educational toys, museum objects, archaeological finds, &c. Overlaps with . . .

- Bibliography and bibliographical description: The making of lists. Patrick Wilson’s Two kinds of power (1968): Power of description; and power to find good documentary means for some purpose.

- Information Retrieval: Two simple operations: Modify; and sort. Problematic assumptions: Sets of discrete documents. Relevance.

- Bibliometrics (Citation analysis, etc.): Like Information Retrieval, Quantitative virtuosity based on weak assumptions.

- Paratext: Interpretative examination of textual relationships. Bibliography is form of paratext; paratext is a extension of bibliography (Roswitha Skare).

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Documentation of documents
Documentation of Documents blocked by ink spill.

“a new cultural technique” and

“a necessity of our time.”

(Susan Briet, What is documentation? 1951. (English, 2006.)

Libraries, museums, archives, . . .

are engaged in cultural agendas

. . . through the suitable management of documents.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Social theory of documents
Social Theory of Documents blocked by ink spill.

What do documents do? What is done with documents?

Governments to control us

Schools to direct what we learn

Religions to instill beliefs

Advertisers to make us buy

Politicians to induce consent

Entertainers to amuse us

Individuals to attract our attention

Libraries to . . . etc., etc.

Documents are everywhere in our lives and shape our society and culture.

Use of documents not only fact-finding and problem solving.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Literature on Social Theory of Documents blocked by ink spill.

Largely outside of LIS.

“Histoire du livre.”

J. S. Brown & P. Duguid. Social life of documents.

Michel Foucault: Documents in construction of reality / control.

Karl Mannheim: Documentary meaning = unintended meaning.

JoAnn Yates. Control through communication. 1986.

D. McKenzie. Bibliography and the sociology of texts. 1986.

Bernd Frohmann, e.g. Deflating information. 2004.

Ron Day. The modern invention of information. 2001.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Frontiers and agendas: Document blocked by ink spill.

The definition of document is still not settled. Three views:

Conventional materialview: Graphic records, usually text, made on paper (or similar clay tablets, microfilm, and word-processer files). Localized, transportable. Globes and sculpture? (Otlet).

Functional view: Almost anything can be made to serve as a document, to signify something, to constitute evidence of something. Models, educational toys, natural history collections, archaeological traces, . . . Briet’s antelope. Bibliography (and documentation) concerned with evidence not just records.

Semiotic view: Anything can be considered to be a document if is regarded as evidence of something.

Progressively more inclusive.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Frontiers and agendas: Bibliography blocked by ink spill.

Bibliography as the documenting of documents (of any kind).

Requirements: Manuscripts, printed books, data sets, . . .

0. Created, exist.

1. Discovery: Does a suitable document or data set exist?

2. Location: Where is a copy?

3. Permission: May I use it? Legal constraints?

4. Too deteriorated and/or obsolete to use?

5. Interoperability: Standardized enough to be usable?

6. Description: It is clear enough what it represents?

7. Trust: Origin, lineage, version, and acceptable error rate?

These differ so require different sorts of remedy, some more feasible and/or more affordable than others.

All need to be resolved for satisfactory document use.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Frontiers and agendas: The Third Theory blocked by ink spill.

Two document theory literatures:

1. Professional document theory (more or less technical), and

2. Social document theory.

Three complementary aspects of documents:

1. Technical; technological.

2. Social; and

3. Cognitive/ intellectual.

3. There ought to a third! Cognitive document theory.

What should that include? What elements exist?

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Frontiers and agendas: Foundations blocked by ink spill.

Documents substitute for a shared work environment.

Documents as the work of others. cf Marx on technology as past labor.

Documents as the means of monitoring, influencing, and negotiating relationships with others.

Oral society.

Literate society (= Oral & literate)

Document society (= Oral, literate, and records we never see).

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

A little future of documents . . . blocked by ink spill.


Writing, the recording of speech Recording everything.

Printing, the multiplication of text Representation of anything.

Telecommunications, doc. transport Simultaneous interaction.

Document copying Analysis of resources.

The change in underlying technology enables new genres.

Also creates an environment in which different genres cans be woven together – a new tapestry.

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar

Literature on blocked by ink spill.document theory is very small compared with communication and information but various related work

Good survey:

Niels W. Lund. Document theory. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 43 (2009): 399-432.

Roswitha Skare et al., eds. A document (re)turn. (Lang, 2007).

Links to several papers on document concepts, history:

Assignment: Compose the third (Cognitive, intellectual) theory of documentation!

RAMS Document Theory, Zadar