GPAS Curriculum

GPAS Table of Contents

Archival Education: Mission and Goals
Administration, Faculty and Infrastructure
Conclusion and Footnotes

A graduate program in archival studies should provide students with a solid foundation in archival theory, methodology, and practice augmented by instruction in allied fields.  Courses in complementary areas should be informed by an understanding of the nature of archives and the ways in which the methods and perspectives of these fields contribute to professional archival practice.  Because archivists have responsibilities to their institutions, to the profession, and to the public at large, a graduate program in archival studies should also ground its instruction in matters of archival ethics, professionalism, advocacy, and justice.

As stated above, the body of knowledge that a student should master as part of a graduate archival education comprises a) core archival knowledge and b) complementary knowledge, both supplemented by ethical and public interest concerns.

  1. Core archival knowledge provides the theoretical and practical basis necessary to work as a professional archivist. This includes knowledge of archival ethics that promote responsibility toward the standards of the profession and the public good.
  2. Complementary knowledge introduces students to other disciplines, knowledge of which will deepen their understanding of archival work, support its accomplishment, and teach others how archives function for the public good. Complementary knowledge also allows students to specialize in specific aspects of archival work or to function in cross-disciplinary settings.

Graduate programs should require eighteen (18) semester credit hours (or equivalent) of core archival knowledge. Based on the demands of the graduate program's institution and the interests of the student, the remaining credits may be in complementary knowledge areas. The curriculum should integrate research throughout, and an important element of any program should be an original research project resulting in a scholarly paper, thesis, or professional project. The program should also include practical experience such as a practicum or internship.



The identity of a profession is founded on a discrete body of knowledge and on a professional culture that arises from a common history, a united purpose, a shared vocabulary, and collective values, norms, and standards. Consequently, core archival knowledge is the heart of an archival studies program. It should occupy a dominant position in the curriculum and should be taught by full-time archival educators, professional archivists, or other individuals with a depth of archival knowledge relevant to the topic. Core archival knowledge embraces three separate but interrelated facets of archival studies: Knowledge of Archival Material and Archival Functions (theory and methodology associated with specific areas of archival work); Knowledge of the Profession (history of the profession and evolution of archival practice); and Contextual Knowledge (the contexts within which records are created, managed, and kept). Because archival knowledge and professional culture transcend geographical, national, and social boundaries, each component should incorporate international and multicultural perspectives.


1. Knowledge of Archival Material and Functions

Archival education should teach the fundamental concepts concerning the nature of records and archives as well as archival functions (archival theory), the techniques for performing archival functions (archival methodology), and the implementation of theory and method in real situations (archival practice). Instruction should cover the history of archival theory and methods and their articulation in the professional literature (archival scholarship). The scope of archival education should encompass all archival functions and current best practices.  It should also address knowledge of project management and archival organizational management.

a) The Nature of Records and Archives: The archival concept of records through time regardless of form or medium; the characteristics of records  and their components, formal elements, and attributes; the trustworthiness of records  and authentication; the perfection of records; the way records aggregate and their forms of aggregation; the diversity of ways in which individuals and groups create, maintain, and access records; the concept of archives  and its history; the records tradition versus the manuscripts tradition in the United States; the concept of papers; the structure of archival bodies of material; and archives as a place and as an institution.

b) Selection, Appraisal, and Acquisition: The theory, methods, policies, and procedures used to identify, evaluate, acquire, and authenticate archival materials, in all forms, which have enduring value to records creators, institutions, researchers, and society. Appraisal entails, among other things, understanding what makes organizational records and personal collections authentic, reliable, and useful to institutions, individuals, legal and financial authorities, and other constituents.  Instruction should go beyond the theoretical to offer techniques that help archivists manage problems of backlogs and hidden collections they will face when practicing appraisal and processing.  This instruction should also include donor relations, assessing creators, and the macro approach versus the micro approach to appraisal.

c) Arrangement and Description: The intellectual and physical organization of archival records and papers in all forms, according to archival principles and institutional considerations, and the development of descriptive tools and systems that provide both control of and access to collections. Teaching methods and technology applications should link theory to practice.

d) Preservation: The physical and intellectual protection of records and papers in all forms, including the activities required to ensure their continuing accessibility, such as digitization, reformatting, or migration. Preservation knowledge comprises a firm grounding in preservation history; research into the nature of the materials and treatments; current techniques and technologies; and administrative studies and management issues. 

e) Reference and Access: The policies and procedures designed to serve the information needs of various user groups, based on institutional mandates and constituencies, the nature of the materials, relevant laws and ethical considerations, user needs, and appropriate technologies. Instruction in this area should also include the study of user behavior, discovery and access techniques and technologies, user-based evaluation techniques, and the interaction between archivist and user.

f) Outreach, Instruction, and Advocacy: The theories and practices used to identify archival constituencies and their needs and to develop programs that promote increased use, understanding of archival materials and methods, resources, visibility, and support.  Includes primary source and information literacy as well as methods of promoting the value of archives to the public and other audiences.  This component should also articulate the benefits the profession provides to society beyond competent management of the organizational records and personal collections in archivists' care.

g) Management and Administration: The principles and practices used to facilitate all aspects of archival work through careful planning and administration of the repository, unit, or program, its institutional resources, and its policy making practices. At all career levels, archivists manage resources and make decisions, and often must demonstrate programmatic vision and innovation. Thus graduates should know the fundamental principles related to organizational management and policies, strategic planning, systems analysis, project and program planning, budgeting, administrative leadership, human resources management, financial management, resource allocation, fundraising, grant writing, and the management of buildings, facilities, storage systems, and other equipment.

h) Records and Information Management: The principles involved in managing records and information from creation and for as long as the records will be needed by their creator for the purposes of its business, functions, or activities. The work of archivists relates closely to the responsibilities of records and information managers, and in some institutional environments the duties of each are blended together in a single function. All graduates of archival studies programs should be able to analyze a creator's structure, decision-making, and recordkeeping systems and apply that knowledge to decisions regarding other archival functions.

i) Digital Materials Management: Graduates of archival studies programs should be able to apply their knowledge to archival materials in all forms. They should have an understanding of the nature, issues, and preservation challenges of digital organizational records and personal collections. They should have knowledge of file formats, media types, and complex information technologies for the creation, maintenance, use, and preservation of all types of records. Additionally, archival studies programs should teach students to develop management systems for records and to identify and implement appropriate technological solutions to facilitate all aspects of archival work.  Although a graduate program might offer a distinct course in digital materials management, consciousness of the application of archival concepts and practices to digital materials should permeate all archival coursework.

2. Knowledge of the Profession

Archival education should provide students with an understanding of how the profession has developed and how its specific practices have evolved. It should teach students about the nature of archival institutions, units and programs; the values and ethics that archivists bring to their work; and the perspectives that archivists contribute to the information professions.

a) History of Archives and the Archives Profession: A graduate program in archival studies should teach the historical development of record-making and recordkeeping systems and of archives in various civilizations. This instruction should cover the structure of the archival community internationally and in North America in particular; the types of archival repositories and programs in the United States and Canada, along with their policies and procedures; and the legislation and regulations governing records, archives, and archival work in the United States and Canada. Instruction also should address the history of the archival profession; its missions, roles, and values; and the profession's contemporary concerns.

b) Records and Cultural Memory: Organizational records and personal collections in all forms constitute the documented memory of individuals and society. They provide the basis for holding governments and organizations accountable and for protecting the rights of individuals and groups. However, they are only part of the fabric of cultural memory. Archivists and archives work in cooperation with other professionals and colleagues (including, but not limited to, those who work for or on behalf of governments, organizations, historical societies, libraries, and museums) to preserve and provide access to cultural memory. Students should understand the interrelationships among archives and other stewards of cultural memory and the ways in which records complement that heritage and protect communities' documentation and rights.

c) Ethics and Values: Our profession bases its ethics and values on the responsibilities of archivists to identify, preserve, protect, and make available records and papers. Graduate programs should make students familiar with the SAA Code of Ethics, its underlying principles and perspectives, and its relationship to related professions’ codes of ethics. Students should understand how the archival profession’s ethics and values inform decisions and how to apply those ethics and values to their work and to the public good.

3. Contextual Knowledge

Graduates of archival studies programs should understand the contexts in which records are created and kept and the theories and practices of management and technology as they apply to archival work. This knowledge should be integrated in the core curriculum wherever applicable to foster a sound working knowledge that graduates can apply to their daily activities. Some of these areas of knowledge may also be studied more fully as disciplines in their own right; therefore, they are also listed under Complementary Knowledge below.

a) Social and Cultural Systems: Knowledge of social and cultural systems is important for two reasons. First, graduates must understand the institutional and individual structures and systems that form the context in which records and papers are created, maintained, and used. They should also understand the recordkeeping implications of social and cultural systems; the diversity of ways that individuals and groups create, maintain, and access records; and the organizational structures and procedures used by all types of institutions and organizations to ensure documentation and accountability. Second, graduates must understand the political, social, and economic dynamics within their organizational contexts to achieve their goals and objectives.

b) Legal and Financial Systems: Records and papers, and the recordkeeping systems of both institutions and individuals, result from and, therefore, reflect the legal and financial systems in which they were created and demonstrate organizational and individual accountability. Archival core knowledge incorporates the origin, development, structure, and functioning of legal and financial systems, including federal, state, and local laws as well as the regulatory environment. This should include both public and private sector jurisdictions. Knowledge of legal issues also includes privacy rights, freedom of information legislation, and a wide variety of intellectual property rights, display and performance rights, and literary rights related to recorded material in all forms.




Archivists must rely on knowledge, methods, and perspectives derived from disciplines beyond their own. The interdisciplinary nature of archival studies arises from the complexity of archival materials, the contexts of their creation, the multiplicity of their potential uses, and the many roles that graduates of archival studies programs fill. Graduates should be knowledgeable about significant theories, methods, and practices in the following fields.


1. Information Technology

Most contemporary records are created, stored, maintained, used, and preserved in digital form. Familiarity with networking, hardware, software, and digital systems in general is fundamental to performing archival functions in the 21st century. Graduates of archival studies programs should understand human/computer interaction (to design and develop effective systems for users), the importance of information standards, and how to evaluate systems and related services effectively.  The curriculum could include opportunities to train in database design and management, spreadsheet applications, information architecture, website design and creation, desktop publishing, metadata schemas, markup languages, and basic programming skills.

2. Conservation

Beyond the core archival knowledge of preservation, appropriate knowledge may be needed in conservation practices, that is, a range of intervention activities to stabilize materials in their original format by physical, chemical, or digital means. Graduates should have sufficient understanding of this discipline to be able to judge the efficacy of conservation treatments and to evaluate the appropriate conservation treatment for a document or group of documents. For digital materials, graduates should have sufficient understanding of digital object recovery techniques and digital security technologies.

3. Research Design and Execution

Understanding multiple methods of research design and execution is important to enable graduates to provide effective service to a wide variety of researchers and to evaluate archival operations from the perspective of users. Knowledge of and experience with research also allows graduates to assess the status of research in their own discipline, to undertake new research, and to blend theoretical and empirical aspects of archival studies into scholarly investigations.  Finally, knowledge of research may allow archivists to use their repositories' collections to advance their own scholarship and provide enhanced reference and access.

4. Organizational Theory

The study of theories of organizational development, management, and culture is important in archival education because it provides the tools for understanding the evolution, nature, and structure of organizations that create records and assists students in understanding how to successfully operate within the institutions that will employ them. Knowledge of different models of organizational structure, operations, behavior, and institutional culture provides valuable perspectives for understanding recordkeeping systems and the context of records creation, management, and use.

5. Library and Information Science

Institutions often administratively connect archives, libraries, and special collections. Departments relating to the information science profession can share physical space, technical resources, staff, stakeholders, and skill sets. Students in graduate archival education programs benefit from understanding the similarities and differences in these closely related fields in order to build collaborative relationships with information science colleagues, as well as complementary knowledge.

6. Liberal Arts and Sciences

Frequently, students beginning archival studies already have a broad background in the liberal arts. Nonetheless, further graduate work in such disciplines can directly augment archival knowledge. Especially valuable is education in fields that help explain the context of records creation and the practice of recordkeeping, including accounting, anthropology, economics, law, philosophy, political science, and sociology, as well as science and the arts. Because the holdings of many archival institutions emanate from or concentrate on specific social sectors or movements, specialized knowledge in one or more humanities, social science, or science disciplines may be an important asset for appraisal and reference work in some settings.

7. Allied Professions

The work of archivists and archival institutions intersects with that of other professions and endeavors involved in the identification, protection, and dissemination of recorded information. Among these are library and information science, computer science, museum studies, oral history, historic preservation, historical editing, social and community organizations, and public history. Archives administration is not a branch of any related profession; however, exposure to the distinct purposes and methods of allied fields will be advantageous to archives students.