Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressure past,
That youth and observation copied there.
- Shakespeare, Hamlet
Around 8000 B.C., the people in southern Mesopotamia began using clay tokens that had different shapes and markings used for such functions as counting and record keeping. These numerical notations gradually combined with pictures. Sometime before 3000 B.C., this combination emerged as the writing system known as cuneiform, which used wedge-shaped characters. Scholars believe cuneiform was the first writing system. So although record keeping has been around for a long time, it was not until the masses became literate that it really took off.
In the late nineteenth century, European and North American governments began creating even more interventions in society that made central administrations grow and compounded the increasing mass of paper. Private organizations had similar developments that gave birth to new forms of records management. This connected to F. W. Taylor's new philosophy of management based on systems and efficiency. Thus, procedures, rules, financial operations, and organizational information had to be documented at all levels, which made record management important for the repository of knowledge. With that systematic management arose the systematic control of records and information.
What is all knowledge too but recorded experience,
and a product of history; of which, therefore,
reasoning and belief, no less than action and passion,
are essential materials?
- Thomas Carlyle, On History
Luciana Duranti, a Professor at the University of British Columbia, discovered that record-keeping was not generally a function for artists, movers, and shakers, but rather for the guardians, guarantors, and facilitators. If information isn't captured into a filing system, it goes into the corporate mass in a disorganized way. Thus, even a good search engine will unlikely find the information you want.
Return to the History of Management and Leadership
Return to main History page