What Does Archive Mean – Or What Are Some Of The Meanings Of Archive

Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.
~ African Proverb

Continuing the theme of yesterday’s post which was what does i.e. mean, I figured why not continue on that tangent and see if we can make understanding the word archive a little easier for most of us.

So today we’ll explore the topic “what does archive mean?”.

Most of us are perhaps familiar with the idea of the word archive in so much as we see it used quite predominantly when we think of our computers. In fact, many of us are consistently archiving and unarchiving folders and files and documents on our computers.

But the word archive actually has a much longer history as you can probably imagine than just having to do with computers.

In fact when we think of archiving when we speak of computer activity we generally can mean one of 2 things. The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of the word archive with respect to my computer is the way we often compress files. So for example, .zip and .rar files are archive files related to computing.

Often times we create archive files on our computers from several documents or files and they are archived or compressed to save space or to make it easier to store. Archive files of this kind often contain additional information such as the original file type, recovery information, directory structure, source information and file comments amongst other things.

The second thing I think of related to computer archiving is creating a backup of some sort. Many of us backup onto external hard drives or perhaps into the cloud on Amazon’s S3 servers or we use Dropbox or other cloud storage software to backup and thus archive our files for safekeeping.

This second meaning of archive is perhaps the meaning most true to the original meaning of the word archive.

Let’s look at that meaning of “archive” as a noun, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary: a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people:

“Archive” can also be used as a verb: place or store (something) in an archive.

So an archive is essentially one of 2 things. It is the collection of documents that have been stored for safekeeping and it is also the process or action of collecting and making those documents or records into an archive.

Additionally, an archive as a noun is also the place or building or facility where such documents are stored. Think of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the USA or the National Archives of the UK or the French Archives Administration. Many of these are actual facilities as well as departments.

Interestingly and as an aside, the French Archives Administration is the largest archive in the world and they have records dating back to 625 A.D.

The French Governments combined archives at both the national, provincial and municipal level were over 3,000km long as of 2010.

In the most elemental sense, when we archive something we mean we are storing it for future use. And often we are storing several items in one box, folder or file.

Historically, to archive something was to store documents for safekeeping and for posterity because such documents and even paintings, sculpture or “objects” were seen as exceptionally valuable to a society, country or culture.

And indeed, an archivist is someone who studies archival science so that they might learn and practice the art of archiving so that those items being archived withstand the constant degradation of time.

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