ARST 515 (3) Arrangement and Description of Archives *


MAS and Dual students take this course as part of the MAS core. The course will be taken in the first term of the program along with ARST 510, ARST 516 and ARST 573. Core courses in the MAS program can only be taken by students registered in the MAS or Dual MASLIS program.

GOAL: As part of the Master of Archival Studies core, the goal of this course is to provide students with the foundational theoretical and methodological knowledge needed to be able to arrange and describe aggregations of archival documents in professional archival settings. The course also introduces a critical lens on arrangement and description as an archival function and on the principles that underpin it that is more fully explored in ARST 545 – Advanced Arrangement and Description.


Upon completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the characteristics of aggregations of archival documents (e.g. fonds, record groups, series, etc.) and their interrelationships [1.1, 2.1]
  • Demonstrate understanding of the archival principles of provenance, respect des fonds and respect for original order [1.1, 2.1]
  • Apply the principle of provenance to archival aggregations by undertaking the systematic identification and critical evaluation of an archival aggregation (e.g. fonds, record group) and its parts (e.g. series, file, item) [1.2, 3.2]
  • Demonstrate understanding of the principles and methods of archival description, and apply these using descriptive standards adopted by different archival communities [1.2, 2.1]
  • Begin to critically engage with and assess the strengths and weaknesses of foundational theories and practices of arrangement and description as they are applied in different contexts, and in particular in the contexts of (1) Truth and Reconciliation in Canada and (2) the challenges posed by digitized and born-digital records [1.5, 3.1, 4.1]

* Student learning outcomes reference the MAS Program Learning Outcomes


  • Power and positionality in archival arrangement and description
  • Archival aggregations: what are they and why do archivists work with aggregates?
  • The principles of provenance, respect des fonds and respect for original order
  • Purposes of and best practices for accessioning records
  • Methods for analyzing the internal and external structure of a fonds or record group
  • Types of finding aids and other descriptive instruments
  • The development of descriptive standards in North America and internationally
  • The structure, content and application of Rules for Archival Description (RAD)
  • The structure, content and application of other national and international descriptive standards (e.g. DACS, ISAD(G), ISAAR(CPF), RIC, EAD, EAC, etc.)
  • Introduction to challenges posed to the paradigmatic theory and practice of archival arrangement and description by records created in diverse contexts (e.g. digital archives, personal archives, non-textual archives, non-Western archives, etc.)
  • Archival arrangement and description and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
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