Travellers in archives, or the possibilities of a post-post-archival historiography
Keywords:archive, post-archival historiography, pos-colonial
For some time now, archives have been viewed as a conspiracy of state-power with which the historian must not collude. It is possible now to discern a slow process of recovery from this post- or anti-archival condition. As historians learn to operate with a more active conception of an archive, ‘the’ archive is revealed to be a rhetorical move rather than a place where documents are deposited, and ‘archives’ become the body of material we draw upon, or can plausibly draw upon, to answer our research questions. This essay offers a reading of two peculiar archives whose own histories need to be written into the historiography that draws upon them. Discernible in the move from a passive to a power-knowledge view of archives is the acknowledgement of the possibility that archives have an intellectual history. But you cannot control the meanings of the archives you create: your own emplotment is undermined by what you have invented as an archive, in your own ordering and of course in others’ reordering. The singular control over history and memory attributed to ‘the’ archive has never existed. We invent an archive every time we have a question to answer; and then someone reinvents the archive in the service of a new question.