CITRA 41: opening ceremony 17th November

CITRA 41 – opening ceremony Tues 17 November

Charles Farrugia, National Archivist of Malta, welcomed some 230 delegates from 91 countries to CITRA.  He referred to Malta’s historic location as a bridging post, a theme taken up by other speakers during the ceremony.  Charles is closely involved with networks of EU, Commonwealth and Mediterranean archivists, and referred to the APENET project (Archives Portal Europe www.apenet.eu).  He expressed his thanks to all those who had been involved in bringing CITRA to Malta and remarked on the significance for Malta of playing host, a theme elaborated by subsequent speakers.

Farrugia introduced the first of two musical interludes given by a flute trio from the Johann Strauss School of Music – a sonata by the Maltese composer Michel’Angelo Vella (1710-1792), of which the autograph score is held in Dresden.  The second interlude was a Scherzo by another Maltese composer, Carmelo Pace (1906-1993) whose autograph scores are held by the Manoel Theatre and Cathedral Museum.  The live performance/consumption of pieces published from autograph scores held by three institutions in two European countries seemed somehow appropriate as a use of archives and an exemplification of what the international archives profession is about.

Between the music Nolda Romer-Kenepa, CITRA vice-president, laid out the issues for archival education and training which this CITRA is addressing.  She painted a picture of a not-too-distant future, where trees are too precious to be made into paper, where archives users demand instant access to all content, and where the widespread use of social networking/Web 2.0 software challenges archivists to demonstrate themselves to be “a dynamic group of information professionals” able to negotiate the demands of the producers and the consumers of archives with our skills and advocacy.

Ian Wilson, President of the International Council on Archives, followed.  He referred again to Malta’s historic location bridging the Mediterranean and the surrounding cultures and the dynamism of its sea-faring people.  He amplified the theme of digital challenges expounded by Romer-Kenepa, referring to the demands of our users – the younger generation of digital natives, and “amateur scholars” who are today’s users as opposed to the restricted and rarefied access by academics in the not-too-distant past who were the typical archives user.  Ian sees digital/digitized records as the most accessible heritage resource, and also believes that as a profession we have the methodology to ensure that the primary needs of evidence and secondary needs of culture continue to be met.*  He has previously used the words of his 1924 predecessor as National Archivist of Canada (paraphrasing, as the intrusive photographer was capturing my best side at this point) that archives are a gift of one generation to the next and that their preservation is a measure of our civilisation.

The final speech was given by the Hon. Dolores Cristina, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport of Malta.  A former history teacher, she sees Malta’s prehistoric sites and ancient artefacts as part of the historical record which archives continue and bring down to the present day.  She referred to the importances of archives to the people of Malta and to their identity as a people historically ruled by outsiders, and in particular to the Maltese language – as exemplified by the oldest extant document in Maltese, the “Cantilena”, a poem by Petrus Caxaro (t.a.q. 1485).**  The Minister referred to the Maltese contribution to the international profession, of which CITRA 41 is the most recent and highest profile but by no means only example.  She referred to the changing landscape of the archival sector in Malta over the last decade, including the availability of diplomas in archives and records management at the national University for the first time.  Her warm words of welcome and her bold statement that the achievements of the past are valuable only insofar as they serve the future set the context of this particular CITRA.
* did he use “methodology” as distinct from “theory”, or as a synonym?  Not just a semantic question;
**Interestingly this document is appended to the deeds of Caxaro’s nephew, the notary Don Brandon Caxaro (1533-1536) – a document from his ancestor preserved for posterity as an historical curiosity among the evidential records of ownership.  Caxaro’s use of a collapsed buliding as a metaphor for a failed romance, shows that Maltese was already a mature language with poetic tradition and posibility by the mid 13th century.

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