“All Shook Up”

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Tom Nesmith, Greg Bak, and Joan M. Schwartz, eds. “All Shook Up”: The Archival Legacy of Terry Cook. Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists; Ottawa, CA: Association of Canadian Archivists/Association canadienne des archivistes, 2020. Paperback, 538p. $39 (ISBN: 978-1-945246-30-2); ePub, 538p. $39 (ISBN: 978-1-945246-31-9); PDF, 538p. $39 (ISBN: 978-1-945246-32-6).

Terry Cook—always supportive, positive and open-minded—was a mentor to innumerable archivists and archival educators. Canada was my home for nine years, and I also consider Terry Cook one of my mentors. The news of his sickness and untimely death (in 2014) brought tears and a heavy heart to everyone who knew him. As I started to read this beautiful new book, the tears came back. The book immediately brings you into Cook’s life and the power of his work. It is a well-balanced illustration of the fundamental contributions that Cook made to archival theory, practice, and education at the Canadian and international level.

The book takes us through a journey; it gives the reader a very well-rounded impression not just of Cook’s work, but of the complex implications of archival work. As legendary archivist and activist Verne Harris (Nelson Mandela Foundation) writes in the epilogue, Cook “contributed seminally to the Canadian praxis of total archives. He gave Canada and many other countries the tool—one both conceptual and practical—that he called ‘macro-appraisal’… In Canada, he supported advocacy interventions on many issues, from state funding for archives to the destruction of records, from access to information to truth commission archiving… He opened practitioners and students to the possibilities vouchsafed by deconstruction and postmodernisms” (479). This book is important and useful on many levels: as a way to honor Cook’s contributions; as a reflection on decades of archival practice and thought; and as a general introduction to recent archival thinking. The book is therefore relevant to a wide and international audience, catering to the needs of expert archivists as well as of students and young archival professionals. It is also relevant to any reader interested in reflecting on how society shapes history and perspectives through records.

“All Shook Up” has a clear “beginning, middle and end.” The opening and closing contributions, and the comprehensive bibliography, frame Cook’s life and career and provide context to understand Cook’s work. The central part of the book contains thirteen of Cook’s foundational articles. As the editors say in their preface, the articles span Cook’s “career as an archivist, starting with one of his first forays into archival literature in 1979 and ending in 2013, a year before his death” (xi). Each article is introduced by an essay: Cook’s own words interact with the interpretation and contextualization provided by a “group of leading scholar-archivists from several countries,” who reflect “on Cook’s legacy as scholar, colleague, educator and mentor”, and whose “commentaries…highlight his pivotal contributions to archival thought and practice” (Preface, xi). This book effectively presents a great amount of information and makes it easy to access and understand fundamental archival concepts.

Cook approached archives and archival work from many different perspectives: he could see the needs of researchers, in part based on his own education as a historian; he could understand organizational needs (his involvement with the national archives in Canada helped shape his thinking); he could see the needs of archivists, as part of a complex and well-rounded profession, and the related need for formal archival education; and he could see the needs of individuals and society. He emphasized that records shape history and support power; he advocated for uncovering and addressing power dynamics, and supporting communities and individuals silenced or marginalized by archives and society. He effectively reconciled the uniqueness of the Canadian approach with international thinking, and his work became a catalyst for many archivists who were looking for a dynamic and open-minded professional approach to archives. For example, the concept of macro-appraisal, building on Hugh Taylor’s contributions, acknowledges that “behind the actual document, is the ‘function or activity’ that leads to its creation” (“Mind Over Matter,” 112). Records are not neutral “by-products” of activities, maintained by impartial archivists/custodians: Cook invited archivists to look closely at the complex functions and structures of institutions and society, take on a more active role, and acknowledge the impact of their actions. He addressed the cultural role and professional identity of archivists in a changing landscape, and advocated for social justice and community archiving. His thorough knowledge of archival theory and practice enabled him to maintain a rigorous approach and contribute to all aspects of archiving, including transitioning to the digital age and addressing formal archival education. Many of Cook’s ideas and proposals sparked debate, and modernized the work of generations of archivists.

At 538 pages, this book is very easy to read, because it is very well structured: short and insightful essays guide us through the articles, and the clear beginning, middle and end frame the articles and make them easier to understand in context. As an object, the book is easy to consult: the digital versions are quite easy to navigate; the printed version is easy to read, and the well-crafted index really helps locate concepts and other information; it is also very useful that the articles bear a grey strip on the side, so that the reader can immediately tell the difference between introductory essays and the actual articles. Cook was a brilliant educator, and this book will be ideal for use in archival classes. “All Shook Up” will become a fundamental archival text. — Francesca Marini, Texas A&M University