Introduction: The Aesthetics of Archival Evidence


This forum has arisen from the conviction that recent debates about historicism and reading have not fully addressed the evidentiary questions of text-based scholarship or the bewilderment, excitement, and material insights that distinguish aesthetically informed work with archival sources. Recent critiques of historicism, we suggest, have not allowed for the fact that archival work often doesn't feel like "work" at all. Reconceptualizing "evidence" through its etymological relation to vision (videre, to see) we argue that the "flat" information that statistical purviews, data-mining, and keyword searches tend to provide is only one type of evidence--and it is not obviously superior in nature to the qualitative forms of knowledge once associated with close-reading. Without recuperating the hermetic logic of formalism or feeling behold to historicism's tendency to value typicality (over variation) this forum stresses that archival research and aesthetic interpretation are not mutually exclusive--and that aesthetics is as much a part of the fabric of the archive as it is of the individual texts within it.