Foremost early 20th century archival theorist, Sir Hilary Jenkinson wrote that the role of the archivist is the ‘physical and moral defence’ of archives. So what have scales got to do with this? Well firstly, we’re dealing with the physical defence by making sure that none of the material goes missing. But perhaps more crucially, we’re charged with the moral defence of the material. Now, we all know the archives are evidence of a transaction (you knew that, right?) but what makes them so important and useful to historians is their ‘impartiality’ and ‘authenticity’, i.e. the fact that we know the records haven’t been messed with and are the same today as they were when the transaction occurred.
But why would anybody want to add material to our records? One reason is that if you alter the records you can alter the history of an event. There was a recent high-profile case of documents being inserted into second World War records held at the National Archives by a historian in order to support fictitious claims relating to certain aspects of the war, see here for an article about the case.
If you want to discover more about forgeries in archives, there are a number of articles and a podcast available on the National Archives site (you can accuse me of lazy blog writing by sending you to read other blogs but why reinvent the wheel?):
So next time you see us weighing items to be served in the Wolfson Centre you don’t need to ask why, you will know that we are carrying out the moral defence of the archives!
N.B. We also hold records relating to the famous and historic weighing scale manufacturers Averys Ltd. (collection reference: MS 1588)