If you want to understand the present, you have to know your past! India, with its long and diverse history has a cultural wealth of hundreds and thousands of manuscripts, records, inscriptions, documents etc. Preserving and restoring such ancient documents is the role of an archivist,” explains Bhaskar Dhatavkar, director of the Maharashtra State Archives housed in the heritage building of Elphinstone College. In these premises surrounded by over five million documents dating from the 16th century, stacked on towering, dusty shelves, Dhatavkar researches the history of the Maratha and Peshwa dynasties of modern day Maharashtra.
The National Archives of India (NAI) is the official custodian of all non-current records of the government of India and its predecessor bodies. It is the premier records repository in Asia and has four regional repositories in Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Jaipur, and Pondicherry. NAI provides financial assistance to state archives (each state has its own), voluntary organisations, and other custodial institutions, so that the nations documentary heritage is preserved and research and writing of history is facilitated.
The job of a professional archivist is to meticulously collate, classify, and preserve ancient documents, parchments, records, and materials, so they remain in good condition. As such she has to combine scholastic research with the aggregation, preservation, cataloguing, and description of documents, records, and objects of historical value. Archivists could also work with specialised forms of records viz. manuscripts, photographs, electronic records, sound recordings etc.
An appropriate academic base for archival studies is history or the library sciences. Specialisations include public administration and political science. A Ph D is preferred for high-ranking positions in academic institutions. There are, however, specialised courses in archival studies/science of one-year duration.
National Archives of India, New Delhi, offers a diploma programme in archival studies (12 months); certificate courses in archives administration, reprography, care and conservation of books and manuscripts (eight weeks); certificate courses in record management for personnel employed in archival repositories and record rooms in government, public and private organisations (four weeks); sub-professional course in servicing and repair of books for personnel employed in record rooms of ministries, libraries and other departments (eight weeks).
Other courses on offer are:
Diploma programme in archives maintenance (part-time), Annamalai University
One-year postgrad diploma programme in archival science and manuscriptology, Gandhigram Rural Institute, Gandhigram, Tamil Nadu
Postgrad diploma course in archival science and manuscriptology (one-year), Osmania University, Hyderabad
One-year postgrad diploma programme in archival studies, Pondicherry University
12-month certificate course in archives, Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad
A Ph D in archival studies, history, or library science is generally the prerequisite for advancing to the highest position of director of state government archives.
A number of business houses like the Tatas have set up their own archives and with so many Indian companies tying up with MNCs, demand for trained archivists is rising,” says Dhatavkar, a dedicated archivist, who has published 12 history books and was recently awarded a Ph D for his dissertation entitled Creation of State Archives and its function from 1821 to 2000.
An avid student of history since his school days, Dhatavkar is a history postgraduate of Pune University. In 1978, he joined as lecturer in history at JSM College, Alibag. In 1980, he was appointed assistant director of state archives in Mumbai. In 2002, he was promoted to the position of director.
Aware of the cultural and historical importance of archives, Dhatavkar says, Our archives are important documents for historians. Every year scholars from India and abroad use our archives to research their Ph D theses and for writing history texts
Almost three decades into his job, Dhatavkar predicts a promising future for professionals in this field. The demand for archivists will keep increasing following the recent enactment of the Public Records Act. This makes it mandatory for every semi-government and government office to maintain records. With aplenty jobs available in this profession, more universities are offering archival studies as a specialised subject,” says Dhatavkar.