Our cataloguing approach

The Jencks Foundation holds the archive of Charles Jencks (1939–2019) - a writer, critic, designer and teacher whose work defined and refined the disparate and wide-reaching ideas behind Post-Modernism. Our approach to his archive aims to both uphold Charles' intellectual framework and meet international standards for the cataloguing of archival collections.

Archival cataloguing seeks to represent the context in which records were created, represented through multi-level arrangement. Records produced by an individual or organisation are kept together in a grouping called a Fonds. The Fonds can then be divided into distinct functions or activities which are represented by Sub-Fonds, and further sub-divided into groupings called Series. The hierarchical structure enables archivists to pass on to researchers all the information that they have learnt through the cataloguing process. Underneath the Series sit the individual Files and Items that make up the archive. These are the physical and digital records which can be consulted by researchers.

However, although the principle of multi-level arrangement is set out in archival standards, the particular arrangement of individual archives is not. While librarians refer to published classification systems such as the Library of Congress or Dewey, archival arrangement depends on the activities carried out by an individual or organisation, and the records generated by those activities. Therefore, although it might seem objective at first glance, the arrangement relies on the subjective judgement of the archivist. Two archivists approaching the same archive may have very different ideas on how to arrange the same material.

In his 2001 article Fashionable Nonsense or Professional Rebirth: Postmodernism and the Practice of Archives, Terry Cook encouraged archivists to embrace the academic turn towards Post-Modernism. He wrote that Post-Modernism "is an opening, not a closing, a chance to welcome a wider discussion about what archivists do and why, rather than remaining defensively inside the archival cloister". His article recommends a move towards a "fluidity of descriptive relationships and transparency of archival processes"; this has been our starting point in approaching Charles' archive.

"What is of course impossible is not to classify, for we look at things through categories not with uneducated eyes" as Charles wrote in his introduction to Bizarre Architecture (1979), referencing E.H. Gombrich. We have therefore used the standard archival arrangement of Fonds/Sub-Fonds/Series to separate out the different activities within Charles' life and work; however we are also using the hyper-linking capability of the cataloguing software to make explicit the many overlaps between them, and to communicate uncertainties around authorship. We have tried to be transparent about which information has been derived from the records themselves and where it has been determined by the archivist. Throughout the catalogue, information presented in square brackets should be understood as representing the direct voice of the archivist. Researchers are also encouraged to read the contextual information provided at the higher levels of the hierarchy.

Our intention is for the cataloguing schedule to both be informed by the Jencks Foundation's public programme, and for the archive in turn to generate new work, ideas and research. Our initial focus has been the records related to the building of The Cosmic House itself, as explored in the opening exhibition Cosmic, Comic, Cosmetic: Themes and Designs for a House. We are now working on an overview box listing for the rest of the collection, in order to get a better idea of its scope and to determine priorities, as well as starting work on cataloguing Charles' extensive library of books and slides - more on that here. You can explore some of the themes within the archive and the research we hope to support in the future, through the Jencks Foundation website .

The records within Charles' archive did not have one fixed meaning during Charles's own life but were re-arranged, re-used and re-purposed for multiple projects. We hope that they will be researched and interpreted in multiple ways in the future. We welcome feedback on our work, challenges to our arrangement, identifications of individuals or buildings, and additional contextual information. Please get in touch at archive@thecosmichouse.org