DirectorYan, Deputy Director Ding, distinguished guests, ladies and
On behalf of Governor Parris Glendening and Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, it is my pleasure to be here as a representative of your sister state, Maryland, and in my capacity as Archivist of the State of Maryland.
Let me begin by thanking you for being such wonderful hosts. My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in scenic Anhui Province and will be sure to recommend to all of our friends and their acquaintances that they visit you as tourists. We have marveled at your ancient monuments and your cool man made stone grottos carved out with such care, at your well-kept archives, and your peaceful mountain retreats, but most of all we have found the Chinese people very wise, thoughtful, kind and helpful wherever we have gone.
This is an auspicious occasion on which we mark the beginning of an exchange program between our archives that I know will lead to a better understanding our cultures and our professional objectives as archivists. We look forward to hosting your delegation and returning some of the many kindnesses you have favored us with over the past several days.
I am here today as much to learn, as to teach about what we do as archivists in Maryland, but I will speak briefly to what we see as the major challenges to being the collective memory of the government and the source of the official history of our state. I am particularly concerned about the impermanence of the electronic record. That which was once thought to be preserved on paper is now largely consigned to the volatile and tenuous world of electronic devices. If we don't pay attention to how we should be preserving those records, we will know more in the future from the terra cotta figures of Xian, the inscriptions in a bronze age 'ding' that we saw in a museum in Shanghai, and the clay tablets of Mesopotamia than about our own era.
Yet that same precarious record is symbolic of a tremendous opportunity for archivists to expand our knowledge of the past and to make it more readily accessible to millions of people who hitherto were not aware of the breadth and extent of their heritage. If the medium is fragile to the extent of easy extinction, it is a vehicle unparalleled for study and reflection. This is the paradox of the modern archival world. We can explain more, faster than ever before, but if we are not very careful, retain far less.
The Archives in Maryland does not contain as old a history as yours. Our first original records date from the end of the Ming Dynasty (1632) and extend to the present. It is my pleasure to present Director Yan with a facsimile of our Charter which was granted by the King of England in 1632 to Cecil Calvert. Until the American Revolution, Maryland was the private estate of theCalvert family, but the Charter from the King gave the people some fundamental powers that constituted the first written recognition in America that all free men have the right to participate in formulating laws.
We have archival records in every form imaginable, as you do, ranging from paper to microfilm and electronic media. We are the official custodians of all the permanent state records of Maryland including the legislative, executive and judicial (our three branches of government), as well as private manuscripts, newspapers, and a small but important art collection which we display in public buildings in our State Capital, Annapolis. While we do not have a state museum, we are responsible for historical exhibits in our State House, the oldest public legislative building in America still being used for the purposes for which it was built. Today it houses the offices of the Governor and the meeting chambers of the legislature, while the judiciary has a new building of its own across the boulevard from the Maryland State Archives.
We even have a few items in Chinese in our special collections that came to us a gifts, including copies of charcoal rubbings of a stone engraved with a poem of Su Tung Po (Su Shih, 1036-1101) who some have called the greatest poet of the Sung Dynasty. My wife and I arrived in China under a full moon, one of Su Shih's favorite times of year, and enjoyed visiting some of the places where he lived and composed his poetry. Our rubbing is of a prose poem he wrote about the red cliffs in which he tells of a good wife, good wine, good company, and inspiring scenery, a good summary of my own visit to China.
The Maryland State Archives is also the compiler and publisher of the register of state officials. Recently your province was visited by our State Secretary of Economic and Business Development, Mr. David S. Iannucci. You can find his biography and an outline of the work of his department in this register called the Maryland Manual. Today the Maryland Manual is live on-line, in print as a book, and as a CD, copies of which I am pleased to present to Director Yan today.
It was my privilege to brief your then Governor in 1979, when the Sister State Agreement was first being considered, and today we are the official repository of that signed agreement. In my briefing of then Governor Wan Lee, I provided him with copies of an exhibit we arranged for him of the first cargo of Chinese goods shipped to Maryland which arrived in 1785. Recently we were pleased to send Director Yan a facsimile of that document on CD, symbolic of the rapid changes that have taken place in the reproduction of documents since the introduction of the computer as a useful tool of the Archives.
I invite you all to visit our web site at http://www.mdsa.net where you will find a full description of our archives, including a comprehensive on-line catalogue of our holdings. Today I would like to tell you about two of our newest projects for making Archives more readily accessible, one of which also helps finance the work of the Archives. The first is the electronic Archives of Maryland at http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us. The second is maps and plats on-line at http://www.plats.net..
The electronic Archives of Maryland is our effort to make the most important archival documents available on-line electronically. We now have several hundred volumes of official documents on-line that tell the history of our state. Before 1994, such an effort would have been impossible, but with the advent of the world wide web and some extra funding from the Governor and the Legislature for technological development (we call it seed money, because it helps us 'grow' new ideas), we were able to launch what I have called elsewhere "A Revolution in Archives." Today you can search the historical texts of Maryland by word and read transcripts of some of the most hard to read documents in our collections, as easily here in China as in any village in Maryland with Internet access. This approach to automating archival information permits a wide appreciation of the importance of Archives and greatly enhances their use without damage to the original record. In 1994, we probably reached no more than 30,000 people every year who either came to visit the Archives or wrote us letters requesting information. Today our web site receives approximately 38,000,000 inquiries a year, most of which are answered by what the researcher finds on the web site, but which can be further handled by an email response. Because of the fragility of the electronic record, however, we have new and expensive costs associated with bringing such archival records to the web (expensive new equipment and technical expertise), which in turn requires us to find sources of income for preserving the electronic record. Public funds (tax dollars) for such good work are scarce. To preserve what we have done already, to keep it on the air on the world wide web, and to add more, we find it necessary to find ways to supplement our official funding (called appropriations) by charging private companies and individuals for some of our services.
That is why we instituted a special project at the Archives for preserving large archival documents such as maps and plans of buildings as images on the web in what we call plats.net. A plat is a surveyor's drawing of land under development or of a high rise apartment building called a condominium. By placing those very large archival documents on-line as images, we save the originals from heavy public use, allow direct printing in the offices where they are most needed, and by retiring the originals to less expensive storage space, we save the government a large amount of money in equipment and premium rental space that otherwise would be needed in each of the courts where they are legally recorded. We are permitted by law to charge for such services. Last year we earned over $2,000,000 (2 million dollars) which is 1/3 the total cost of operating the Maryland State Archives for one year.
For an archives to be most useful to the people and to the state, it must find ways to preserve the records entrusted to its care and to make them available as widely as possible through what I callvalue added information about the records themselves. It is the archivist's role to tell people why records are important, to explain to them what those records mean, and to make them as easily accessible to the general public use as possible. As the Vice Mayor of Huangshan recently pointed out at a wonderful dinner he hosted for us, without archives to tell us of our cultural heritage and to document even our most recent achievements, we will remain forever ignorant and unable to think new thoughts or chart new courses of development.
In Nanjing, we visited the lane of the black robes where there is set
in stone the calligraphy of Chairman Mao of a poem about the swallows who
have flown from their nests in the eaves of the rich to eaves of the people.
Setting archives out on the web is like watching the swallows fly to the
eaves of the people. May we continue to be able to do so with speed,
with care, and with as much accuracy as our scholarship and technology
Permit me to close, by stressing how much I appreciated the welcome and remarks of Director Yan, and, anticipate with pleasure signing the exchange agreement between our two archives, which our governor, Governor Glendening, warmly endorses. We look forward to having our visit returned by archivists from Anhui. We hope that we will be able to show them as much hospitality as you have shown us, and that they will be able to enjoy their stay with us, as much as my wife and I have enjoyed our stay with you.
Director Yan, to help you and your staff know more about Maryland in preparation for your next visit, it is my pleasure to present you with a book I helped write as a small token of our appreciation for helping us enjoy and learn so much about Anhui.
© 2001, Maryland State Archives