Scandia debatt: An ethics for the archives?
Keywords:archival sources, procedural ethics, ethics of care, duty-based ethics, critique as ethics
In comparison to disciplines within the humanities and social sciences working directly with living humans, as well as in comparison to oral history, historians primarily working with archival sources lack a living discussion on ethics in connection with our methods. At the same time, archival sources that contain sensitive personal information are central in many fields – such as queer history – and the Swedish Ethical Review Authority has recently started to examine academic compliance with the Law on Ethical Review.
In relation to this and the need to find an ethical approach to my own sources, this essay is an attempt to stimulate a discussion on how historians can work with sensitive archival sources in an ethical manner. I do so by deliberating on three ethical positions – process ethics, ethics of care and duty-based ethics – and an attempt to reason regarding their respective consequences and benefits in terms of working with archival sources. The essay ends with an argument in favour of duty-based ethics and critique as a way to construct ourselves as ethical subjects in relation to our duty as historians.