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In archival science, a fonds is the aggregation of documents that originate from the same source.[1] More specifically, a fonds distinguishes itself from a collection through its organic nature, as archival documents that have been naturally accumulated (made or received) by an individual, company, institution, etc. as a byproduct of business or day-to-day activities.[2]

Historical Origins[edit]

The term fonds originated in French archival practice in 1841, as part of the foundational archival principle of respect des fonds. This concept distinguished itself from earlier archival classification systems by saying that archivists should maintain the original order that a series of records was produced in. Previously, records were ordered according to the personal classification system of the archivist which could be built upon any criteria the archivist wanted. This new theory proved especially helpful in the wake of the French Revolution as pre-revolutionary records were seized from multiple institutions and recombined into new collections[3].

Modern-day Usage[edit]

In modern archival practice, principally in Europe, Britain and North America, fonds is generally the highest level of arrangement, and is usually used to describe the whole of the archives of an organisation or the papers of an individual. It may be divided into sub-fonds, generally the records of different branches of an organisation or major themes within the papers of an individual.[4] These are in turn further subdivided into series (which may in a smaller archive come directly below a fonds without the presence of a sub-fonds), usually used for groupings of individual types of documents (minutes, correspondence files, deeds, etc.), sub-series, files, and items. An item is the smallest archival unit, and is usually physically indivisible (a single volume or letter, for instance). It is technically possible to add any number of subs to the fonds, series or file, but in practice it is actually rare for more than one to be used. Australian archival theory recognises the principle of respect des fonds, but focuses on series as the primary descriptive level.

It should not be confused with the term collection, which is used for document aggregations assembled, but not created, by a collector.[5] In the United States, archivists still often use the terms "collection" and "record group" for comparable levels of archival materials.[6] It can also be compared with the term provenance or "custodial history."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archives Glossary". City of Victoria, Canada. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  2. ^ "Using the Archives". Queen's University Archives. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  3. ^ Kahin, Brian; Foray, Dominique, eds. (2006). Advancing Knowledge and the Knowledge Economy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p. 118. ISBN 9780262256452.
  4. ^ Laszlo, Krisztina (Spring 2001). "The Fonds and Creative Licence: The Morris/Trasov Archive". AABC Newsletter, Volume 11 No. 2. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
  5. ^ wd. "Multilingual Archival Terminology Database". Retrieved 2018-01-27.
  6. ^ "A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology". Society of American Archivists. Retrieved 2007-04-23.