Concepts & Contexts: a module review

Concepts & Contexts is a core module, meaning that everyone on the MA in Archives & Records Management at UCL has to complete it to graduate. The module was spread over the Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017 terms, comprised of weekly lectures and bi-weekly seminars. The whole year group (and part-time students from previous years) attended the weekly lectures, but the module group was broken down into 4 smaller bi-weekly seminar groups.

The weekly lectures focussed on nine themes, with two lectures and one seminar for each theme: the nature of records and information, the context for creation, management and compliance, recordkeeping theory, selecting and preserving records, access: user-centred approaches?, the recordkeeping profession and the ethical profession, changing thoughts on recordkeeping roles, memory and accountability, and the future of the profession. Our lecturers and guest lecturers from the archives and records community introduced these themes, providing contextual and conceptual frameworks for understanding the challenges of managing archives and records.

For each seminar we had set and optional texts to read, along with compiling a 500-word literature review on a relevant article of our choosing, and the seminars were used to discuss our literature reviews and the wider theme with the set reading in mind. I found the literature reviews quite hard at times. The 500-word limit was quite restricting, and I sometimes found myself a bit confused by the theory or the hardcore academic writing style. However, having the seminar sessions to discuss the reviews and the wider theme was helpful, and I usually came away feeling that I understood things much better, and hearing others’ reviews about different sources also gave me an understanding on different views on particular subjects.

As the module was spread over two terms, there was one piece of coursework to be handed in each term. The first piece of coursework was a 1,200-word critical reflection on one of three subjects. I chose to discuss whether the ‘record’ is a conceptual or physical entity and surprised myself by receiving a merit for this essay. I found the research and writing process fairly easy, as I had just graduated from my BA and was used to researching and writing essays. I had a clear opinion on the subject from the start, which also made it easy to focus the essay in a particular direction.

The second piece of coursework was a portfolio of 4 x 500-word literature reviews and a 2,000-word critical and analytical reflective piece. The literature reviews were to be chosen from the 8 literature reviews that we had written in the course of the module for the seminars, and the reflective piece was based on one of the nine themes that had been covered by the module. As we had already written our literature reviews, it was just a case of picking our best ones, and working through re-drafts and editing them. for the reflective piece, I already had a theme in mind that I had strong opinions and lots of thoughts about, and I think that having this picked out already served me well. I’m still waiting for the grades to be returned for this second piece of coursework, but I’m happy with the portfolio that I submitted.

The final part of this module was an exam in May. I’ve mentioned the exam in my May Goals blog post so I won’t repeat myself too much, but it was a really testing three-hour exam. I had revised and prepared for the exam but even so it was very hard. Historically I am not very good in exam situations, but I’m hoping that I’ve done enough to pass. (Added in June 2017 – I ended up passing the exam with a merit, so although it was really tough, I must have answered the questions quite well!)

Concepts and Contexts has been the hardest module so far. I find my archive job and any practical archive work a lot easier than thinking about it theoretically or conceptually. Conceptual thinking is not my forte. However, this module has been interesting, and I’ve certainly learned a lot about different concepts and different views within the field of archives.



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